As college football enters its sixth week, the Michigan State Spartans (3-2, 0-1) are underachieving based on their own standards, and the expectations that “homer” Spartans have put on this team are clearly not met.
The team has struggled through the air, as first-year starter Andrew Maxwell has had a tough time finding reliability within his young receiving corps.
The running game has been decent, but junior running back Le’Veon Bell has carried the entire load for MSU on the ground.
The special teams of the Spartans is unpredictable. From senior kicker Dan Conroy missing five field goals in five games, yet has been able to make all three of his attempts for 50 plus yards, to sophomore returner Nick Hill dropping two punts in the first four games for the Spartans.
Defensively, the Spartans are very solid, I wouldn’t say they’re as dominant as many people thought coming into the season, but they are able to cause a lot of turnovers which is always good.
With that being said, if I had to sum up this team in two words it would have to be “predictably unpredictable.”
Makes sense, right?
Let’s break this down.
After the Spartans impressive week one win against Boise State we saw exactly what we suspected would happen. The offense would go as Bell goes due to the fact that the receivers and quarterback were inexperienced on the field, and that’s exactly what happened. Bell had 44 carries for 210 yards, and put on a show for Spartan fans.
We expected the offense to make mistakes because of that lack of experience, and Maxwell and the receivers showed their true colors by dropping passes that turned into turnovers and missing on some throws. We got exactly what we expected from the Spartans to open the season, but game two is where the roller coaster ride really begins.
The Spartans headed to Mt. Pleasant to take on Central Michigan in a game where everyone except the Chippewa die-hards expected a big MSU victory. The majority was right in picking the Spartans, as they won 41-7, but the manner in which it was done was the most surprising.
The Maxwell to Bennie Fowler connection was the driving force behind the Spartans victory, as Maxwell went 20-of-31 for 275 yards and two touchdowns. Fowler had eight catches for 99 yards and a touchdown looking as if he was going to be the receiver that was going to separate himself from the receiver pack for the Spartans.
The defense did an amazing job not letting up any scores, as the CMU lone touchdown came on a Connor Cook interception return, and definitely looked like the defense that everyone was raving about in the preseason.
In week three however, after many Spartan fans believed that the offense was going to come full circle, backed with an amazing game from Bell and a solid game from Maxwell and Fowler, and the defense would continue to dominate, the Spartans met their match in the Fighting Irish.
It was as if Notre Dame set the Spartans back two weeks with the way the victory turned out.
Even with no interceptions thrown, Maxwell and the receivers had their worst outing as a unit through this part of the season. Maxwell completed 23-of-45 passes, with no touchdowns, for 187 yards. The leading receiver was Keith Mumphery with six catches for 71 yards, but the receivers, including Mumphery, had a hard time hanging on to the ball with at least seven dropped passes in the game.
Bell, a top five candidate for Heisman at this point, only had 19 carries for 77 yards. With a struggling passing attack you would think that Bell would be the focus, but credit Notre Dame for controlling the line.
The MSU defense struggled getting pressure on true freshman quarterback Everett Golson, and that allowed him to beat them on the ground and in the air. The Notre Dame quarterback ran and passed for a touchdown, which were the first two touchdowns the MSU defense allowed all season. The secondary struggled, giving up a few big plays, the highlight being John Goodman’s 36-yard touchdown reception over senior corner Johnny Adams.
Conroy missed his third field goal in three games, one every game, and Hill muffed a punt.
In the first big test for the Spartans they failed to progress as unit, even at home, they looked sluggish and unsure.
After falling to the undefeated Fighting Irish, MSU was given a chance to redeem themselves the following week, as the winless Eastern Michigan Eagles rolled into town, and even though the Spartans were victorious, it was one of the worst games the Spartans played all season.
With the Spartans inconsistencies in full effect at this point in the season, the outcome against EMU came as no surprise.
Bell, who hadn’t rushed for over 100 yards since Boise State, decided to enroll in “Ball So Hard University,” and rushed for a career-high 253 yards and a touchdown. Dan Roushar finally realized that getting the ball to Bell as much as possible is probably the best thing for this offense, as Bell had 36 carries.
In the three games this season that Bell had under 20 carries he had 192 yards, combined. In the two games he had 30 or more carries he had combined for 463. I’s clear that if you want productivity from Bell you must feed him the rock.
Okay, back to my point, sorry for the minor tangent.
The passing game continued its struggles as the receivers dropped the ball six times.
Oh wait, I forgot to clarify, those six drops weren’t the whole game, but… the first-half.
The defense played solid, but once again Adams gave up another big play when receiver Donald Scott scored on a 23-yard reception in the second-quarter. This touchdown gave EMU a 7-3 lead going into the second-half.
In the second-half the Spartans passing attack was able to show some life, as Maxwell found comfort with tight end Dion Sims who had six catches for 112 yards and a touchdown all after halftime.
The Spartans were able to pull-out the victory against a feisty EMU team, but things were not looking good for the following week’s game against Ohio State.
In regards to the game against OSU, I can honestly say that I had no idea how the Spartans would come out and play. However, I did predict them to lose this game, and also the Notre Dame game (*cough* ESPN *cough*), but I wasn’t sure which Spartan team would show up.
Since it was a big game I assumed that Bell, MSU’s best player when given touches, or not given touches for that matter, would carry the team to victory. That wasn’t the case at all as Bell had 17 carries for 45 yards. I credit the OSU defense more than blaming Roushar for not getting him the ball.
I didn’t expect Maxwell to perform as well as he did, 22-of-42 for 269 yards and a touchdown, as he played much better than his completion percentage shows.
The receivers struggled again early, dropping a handful of passes, but picked up play in the second-half.
Conroy missed another field-goal, but there were no problems in the return game for the Spartans.
Defensively, the Spartans were able to force 3 turnovers, and did a pretty good job on quarterback Braxton Miller.
Miller still was very productive and had his way with the defense at times.
Once again, Adams was beaten deep on a 63-yard catch by Devin Smith that gave OSU the lead in the third quarter.
The Spartans started the Big Ten season off 0-1, and possibly even worse, they still don’t have an identity.
We know in their minds that they want to be a running team that wins football games with stellar defense, but your mind can deceive you. Ask my dad who still thinks he can play college basketball almost 20 something years after graduating from a junior college.
The fact that there has only been two games this season where Bell has carried the ball over 20 times is almost disrespectful. The man is a workhorse, and if you’re not going to feed him the ball then who are you going to feed it too?
Certainly, not the receivers, as true freshman Aaron Burbridge is no longer receiving a redshirt and will possibly now start next week against Iowa because the “veteran” receivers can’t make plays.
Maxwell has show flashes of being a solid Big Ten quarterback, but it hasn’t come consistently enough for me to be sold on him. It’s strongly due to the fact that his receivers aren’t helping him out much, but I still have seen some iffy throws from him.
Sims has been the only consistent spot from this offense and he is one of the big reason why Maxwell has progressed from week 1.
Offensively, coming into the season I expected this team to be a running team that passed the ball 20 to 25 times a game. It’s clear that they are a running team at heart, but on the field and on paper they pass more frequently then many thought they would.
But can you really call them a passing team?
Some would say that this receiving corps is the worst in the Big Ten, and you could make a solid argument for that.
The defense, like I said before, has been very good but they give up on average a BIG play every game, and it seems like Adams is the culprit every time.
Conroy needs to be more consistent, and until that happens the Spartans are going to miss out on points every game.
So, are they really what we thought they were?
I thought they were going to be a run heavy team with a passing attack that would eventually grow to complement the rush immensely, but that’s clearly not the case. Yet, I can’t call them a passing team because that’s probably their weakest dynamic. The defense is exactly what I expected, as I never had faith in the secondary, and thought a few huge plays would be given up here and there, and the special teams is clearly a letdown especially with the recent success they’ve had over the years.
Like I said above, this team is “predictably unpredictable,” and at this point in the season I don’t know what I will get from this team on a week-to-week basis, but I do know whatever it is, it won’t last long.