I hope you all enjoyed your Thanksgiving and that you all finished all your holiday shopping yesterday. I got my shopping done, but I certainly did not enjoy these past two days, at least not from a sports perspective. In chronological order, I watched my Detroit Lions play like they had gone out hard on “the biggest bar night of the year”, saw my Michigan State Spartans basketball team play like they were digesting their Thanksgiving dinner during the first half, and was there in person to take in my MSU football team get skunked on national television. So rather than my usual article detailing what I liked and disliked about each game individually, I am just going to go into full grinch mode and share everything I disliked about all three games (Yes, I am including some Lions coverage here; feel free to skip it).
- Coaching. This may be an example of being victims of their own success. Maybe Head Coach Dan Campbell just assumes his fourth down conversions and fake punts will all be successful since the Lions have been converting such a high percentage of them over the past two seasons. And maybe Offensive Coordinator Ben Johnson just assumes his trick plays will fool the opposing defense whenever he decides to insert one into the game. Well, I hope that after the atrocity that was the Lions’ 7th consecutive Thanksgiving loss, these coaches start having more of a pulse on the game. There is certainly a time to fake a punt; in fact, there was an instance earlier in that game when they should have done it. When they did actually do it, down nine in the middle of the third quarter at their own 23, was the wrong time. And a 2nd & 12 play when down two touchdowns in the fourth quarter is not the time to draw up a misdirection bubble screen (that ended up an incomplete pass to force a 3rd & long that helped lead to a failed 4th down conversion); that is when you need to do what your team does best. Either throw it to St. Brown or run it with one of your great RBs and get some yards to help make 3rd down more manageable. Yes, the Lions have been doing great this year. But they have not been doing great the last two weeks, and part of it has do to with playcalling.
- Front office. Please, for the sake of all that is holy, go sign Ndamukong Suh. He is still out there and waiting to cherry pick onto a Super Bowl contender. The Lions have some money they could give him on a deal for just this year and they can probably promise him instant playing time. The defensive line has not been performing well lately and needs a jolt of talent.
- Turnovers. For the second straight game, Jared Goff had three turnovers. This time they were all fumbles while in the previous game he threw three interceptions. Some of this is on poor protection from his offensive line and some of this is on his uncharacteristic bad decision-making over the last two games. This needs to be shored up immediately. With the vulnerability of the defense, the Lions cannot be giving away short fields.
Michigan State Basketball
- Lack of low-post game. I have said this before and I will beat the dead horse if I have to. MSU needs to be sending the ball into the interior more for some low-post shots. In the game against Arizona, Carson Cooper and Mady Sissoko combined for three FG attempts and two FTs. If opponents know for certain that one of the players on the floor is not going to try to shoot the ball, that makes their defensive strategy that much easier. And when that one player not shooting is the guy in the middle, that means they never have to send a double team down low to help out, which means MSU will never have the opportunity to kick out to an open man. At worst, let them try and get to the foul line. Carson is 11-18 from the stripe this season, and that is including his 0-4 effort in the opener. And Mady is 10-11 so far. So the ability to hit FTs is there for our centers. They need to become more involved.
- Slow starts. I won’t harp on this much since you all already have talked about it. MSU did not get to ten points until over ten minutes had gone by, and by then they were already down double-digits. And two starters, AJ Hoggard and Jaden Akins, were both scoreless at the half. Coach Izzo needs to figure out this issue as it has been a plague all season long.
- Scheduling. Okay, I am going to say it. For as much as Izzo claims to enjoy these early season big games, I am getting to the point where I don’t like them anymore. Maybe we could throw them in in December, after we’ve played a few more cupcakes and had a chance to iron out the early season issues we always seem to have. I just don’t see the benefit in racking up losses anymore. If there was a correlation between each year’s eventual champion and Final Four teams having a few November losses, then I would be a bit more okay with it, but I have not been shown that study yet. Play more non-contenders first please.
Michigan State Football
- Second half adjustments. I looked at the box score at halftime, and MSU had exactly 100 yards of offense and had been outgained 308-100. As well, the first down discrepancy was 13-4. The final stats were 586-53 on yards and 23-5 on first downs. So yes, MSU had one 2nd half first down on their way to negative 47 yards. MSU got sacked several times in the 2nd half and there was that snap that went over Houser’s head on the second drive after the break that cost them 21 yards. I know there is a talent deficiency between MSU and pretty much all their B1G competition. But somehow, after being blanked through two quarters, the coaching staff either made no adjustments in scheme (Barnett was evasive in answering that in the post-game press conference) or they made the wrong adjustments. Can’t wait for the new coaching staff.
- Speaking of the coaching search, apparently Harlon Barnett has had an interview to get the job permanently. A week ago, I was walking my dog in the neighborhood and I bumped into another person walking her dog, so while our dogs were sniffing each other’s butts, we started chatting. And since it was a Saturday, college football came up. She name-dropped that she is good friends with Barnett’s son (Tim or Tom IIRC) and she knows Harlon, and she said to me that Harlon never wanted to become a head coach. Now obviously she is not the ultimate source of information, but it was an insight into his personality. I was surprised that Barnett got an interview for the permanent role; I think having the courtesy to interview him out of respect is actually disrespectful. And from what I think I know about him, I am surprised he is campaigning for the job. During the press conference last night, someone asked him what he will say to MSU’s next coach, and his response was, “Well, I’d be looking in the mirror...” The response drew an awkward response in the room, with a couple of reporters doing their best to cut off their laugh after just one chuckle and everyone else being very silent as Barnett studied us all. Tied to this all, a few minutes before Barnett came in, I saw AD Haller come in the room from the back door, take a seat in the back row, and sit with his head down. I had never seen him at any other press conference before. Also, he left the room before Harlon arrived. It was my initial thought that he was coming to tell some of the other coaches that that was their final game on the MSU staff. I have not read any news about that yet. But I hope he does tell Barnett soon that he is not being considered, even if a new coach has not been decided on yet.
Here are Barnett’s post-game comments.
3. The last thing I will say to wrap up this article is that I don’t like having to go through a Saturday and Sunday without either a Spartans or Lions game. All I get to do today is root for the Buckeyes.