Tuesday, September 24, 2013
Bye week to-do list: Michigan State
By Matt Fortuna
Michigan State enters its bye week following a 17-13 loss at Notre Dame, the Spartans' first defeat of the season. They will resume play Oct. 5 at Iowa, which starts a run of eight consecutive Big Ten games for the 3-1 squad. Here are a few things the Spartans need to do in order to make the most of their conference season:
Darqueze Dennard and the defense have been the strength of the Spartans.
1) Figure out the QB situation. Connor Cook appeared to take over for good with his strong Week 3 showing against Youngstown State, as he threw four first-half touchdown passes. But Cook quickly found out that an FCS school wasn't the same as Notre Dame, which held him to just 16-of-32 passing for 135 yards. Andrew Maxwell replaced Cook on the Spartans' final drive, with the Irish leading by four. Coach Mark Dantonio said Tuesday that Cook remains his starter moving forward. But Cook getting taken out during the biggest moment of this young season might speak louder than anything a coach says. Sparty has to find a guy under center to get this offense at least into some sort of rhythm, as it simply cannot lag so far behind what has been another great Dantonio defense.
2) Capitalize on prime opportunities. This might sound a bit harsh considering the defense forced eight turnovers through the season's first three games. This really applies to only one game, against the one good opponent Michigan State faced, in the one game Michigan State lost. But Notre Dame fumbled two punt returns, and the Spartans recovered neither of them. The Irish had their first punt of the game blocked, and the Spartans responded by missing a 30-yard field goal. Michigan State had just completed an eight-plus minute drive that resulted in a field goal to tie the game, and had just gained a first down on its ensuing drive, and some offensive momentum … and then threw it away by running a halfback pass with a true freshman that Notre Dame picked off for the game's only takeaway. Michigan State outgained Notre Dame and probably should have won. And while it is the lone blemish through the first third of the Spartans' season, it looked awfully familiar to Michigan State losses of the past, and everyone would be singing a much different tune about this squad had it entered the bye week 4-0 with a big road win going into Big Ten play.
3) Find offensive playmakers. This applies to the man under center, too, whomever it may be. The Spartans have lacked big plays through four games, and a questionable halfback pass is not going to change that. Maxwell taking off and running on fourth-and-20 with the game on the line pretty much speaks to that. So, too, does Michigan State punting it on a fourth-and-7 from its own 35 while down four with 3:12 left and two timeouts at its disposal. Nick Hill's 35-yard touchdown run against the Penguins marked the Spartans' longest offensive play of the season, and Aaron Burbridge and Keith Mumphery have suffered their share of drops so far. As Adam Rittenberg wrote last week, a small boost to this offense could go a long, long way — especially with a very favorable schedule in what is a wide open Legends Division of the Big Ten. Running for 119 yards at Notre Dame is a start, but the offense simply needs more big plays.