Let’s reflect back to September and October when the Spartans compiled an 8-0 record and received all manner of accolades and fanfare as darlings of the college football world.
The accolades included warm comments from national pundits as well as a lofty #3 ranking in the College Football Playoffs, but perhaps we should have stopped in October and savored those moments, because 8-0 seems like so many years of broken dreams.
As I write this missive, the Spartans are 9-2 overall, but just 1-2 in the their last 3 games. The lone victory of course came against lowly Maryland yet any sense of euphoria was offset by a humiliating 40-29 loss to Purdue, and well as a devastating 56-7 beat down at Ohio State.
And while a win vs Maryland is a win, yet there is precious little dignity beating Maryland which is #10 in Big Ten standings overall.
Now, as the regular season comes to a close, the Spartans are #3 Big Ten East with a 6-2 Big Ten record, but the CFP pollsters have lost interest and installed the Spartans #12 in the most recent College Football Playoffs and that makes the Spartans a prime candidate to earn the well-travelled, “wait until next year” trophy.
Some folks contend that a 9-3 or 10-2 regular season record is great achievement based upon last year…(maybe it is)…but since when are participation trophies acceptable?
At one time, the Spartans ruled the football landscape in the 1950’s and 1960’s as a dominant football power by winning or sharing 6 National Titles in 15 years, but that was more than 50 years ago.
Today, the Spartan are a nice story, but not a Championship contender.
Yet, there may be hope…
By all accounts, former Spartan alums and exceedingly successful businessmen Matt Ishbia and Steve St. Andre have anted up enough money to compensate Mel Tucker more than $95 Million over 10 years, which will make Tucker the second highest paid coach in the land.
Of course, compensation doesn’t mean a thing unless it is accompanied by Championships, and Championships require impeccable planning. Look no further than Nick Saban.
Whether you like Nick Saban or not, he is renowned for impeccable planning and no one has won more Championships than Saban.
So let’s hope the compensation package put forth by Matt Ishbia and Steve St.Andre comes with measurements and benchmarks to measure Championship progress. Further, let’s hope Mel Tucker is up to the task of developing a Championship plan.
But, right now, the first order of business for Mel Tucker is “fixing” the Spartans abominable Pass Defense, so let’s take a look at the challenge that awaits.
Pass Defense or Fools Gold?
Like it or not, Mel Tucker is the overseer and architect of “the worst” Pass Defense in the land when measured against 130 D-1 Schools, yielding nearly 340 Yards per game!
Some “Beat Writers” gratuitously refer to the Spartans porous Pass Defense as “Bend but don’t break”, but I refer to it as a recipe for losing…or better yet, the Spartans porous Pass Defense should properly be referred to as “Fool’s Gold”!
In fact, Fool’s Gold is an apt descriptor. From afar, the mineral Pyrite has a yellow hue and brassy luster which gives it a superficial resemblance to Gold, but upon examination Pyrite is soon determined to be a fools substitute for Gold.
Similarly, while the Spartans deploy 4-2-5 Defensive alignment which includes 5 Defensive Backs’, the alignment is specifically designed to “shut down” opposing Pass Offenses. In fact, when opposing QB’s scan the field against 5 Defensive Backs, there is precious little geography for opposing Receivers to get separation.
And yet, while the Spartans defensive deployment appears to look right on the “white board”, and while the deployment appears to look right on the field, yet as soon as the football is snapped, Defensive coverage breaks down, gaps appear and opposing receivers run free.
- Purdue receivers ran free for 40 Receptions and 536 Yards (13 Yards per reception), including individual receptions of 53, 46 and 39 Yards and Purdue won 40-29.
- Meanwhile, Ohio State receivers ran free for 449 Passing Yards, including an astounding 393 Yards in the 1st Half alone whereby the Buckeyes completed an extraordinary 29 of 31 passes (94%). Let’s be honest, it’s difficult to complete 29 of 31 Passes in warm ups, and yet Ohio State blitzed the Spartans “time and time” again at game speed and won 56-7.
Most often, Spartan Defensive Backs weren’t even in the same time zone. In fact, ten different Ohio State receivers were targets while 3 receivers gathered passes for more than 100 Yards each, including receptions of 77, 43 and 28 Yards.
It would be fair to say, Ohio State could have compiled more than 1000 Yards passing for the day, but they chose to take their foot off the Pedal, yet still won 56-7.
Even lowly Maryland compiled an astounding 350 Passing Yards, so, let me ask Harlon Barnett a rhetorical question: please tell us you learned better Defensive play calling and strategic coverage in the NFL? Please tell us this is not the best you got?
And let’s make this point as well, the coverage break down is not an athletic thing, it’s not an experience thing, it’s not a speed thing…it’s a coaching thing (or lack thereof).
The breakdown in coverage starts and ends with a break down in assignments and an inability to “read” opposing Offenses, which means opposing Offensive Coordinators are beating Harlon Barnett at chess, and to be clear, Scottie Hazelton and Mel Tucker each own a piece of this mess as well.
Let’s remember, the Spartans Pass Defense is “last” in the Big Ten, and “dead last” when measured amongst 130 D-1 schools, and nationally, pundits are scratching their heads and commenting it is nearly impossible to be this bad…yet it is!!!
At the bottom line: Mel Tucker inks Championship caliber contract (but is he up to the task?):
Let’s remember, Mel Tucker is a middling 11-7 as Spartans Head Football Coach.
It also bears repeating, the Spartans are 1-2 in the month of November, underscored by yielding 536 Yards Passing to Purdue…and 449 Yards Passing to Ohio State.
If we total it up, the Spartans Pass Defense yielded an “eye glazing” 985 Yards in two losses to Purdue and Ohio State, or an average of 493 Passing Yards per loss. In fact, Purdue and Ohio State didn’t even try to establish a Rushing Offense but why would they? They simply lined up, threw at will and got “chunk” yardage to move the chains.
Let’s agree to agree: “Bend but don’t break” is a flawed scheme. And let’s remember, the Spartans Pass Defense dodged bullets through the first 8 games when they went unbeaten yet yielded 388 Yards to Miami…406 Yards to Michigan…and 488 Yards to Western Kentucky…but those results pale when compared to Defensive breakdowns against Purdue and Ohio State.
So, winning in September and October is nice, but it doesn’t mean much if a team is unable to dominate and win Championships in November.
Now, Mel Tucker is on the clock.
We all know, Matt Ishbia and Steve St. Andre have anted up enough money to compensate Mel Tucker $95 Million, making him the second highest paid coach in the land.
So, good for Mel Tucker and let’s hope he delivers, but I also hope Matt Ishbia and Steve St.Andre are on the same page with MSU President, the Board of Trustees, the Athletic Director and the Head Football Coach, and let’s hope collectively they will not be content unless the subject compensation package is complemented with multiple Big Ten and National Trophies?
If the goal is reached, then steady as she goes.
But if Mel Tucker falls short of expectations, then changes must be made.
Compensation doesn’t stand for much unless it is accompanied by Championships. Let’s remember, Jim Harbaugh got a windfall in 2015, yet 7 years after the fact, Championship Trophies s are conspicuously missing at the Big House, and Michigan hasn’t won an outright Big Ten title since 2004, nearly 20 years ago.
So, what did Michigan achieve by paying Harbaugh a windfall?
Let’s hope Ishbia and St. Andre’s along with Michigan State administration get on the same page for the first time since John Hannah built a football dynasty. Let’s hope Ishbia and S. Andre are committed to ensuring that Michigan State Football takes its rightful place as a consistent Championship contender.
In full disclosure, some readers believe I am too critical of Spartan Football, but let me say, I will not be content until Michigan State marshals all of its resources to consistently compete for Conference and National Championships.
For my taste, I have experienced too many “Participation Trophies” and too many broken dreams, and I won’t be content until a plan is implemented to rise once again to the top.
Maybe the Spartans can beat Penn State and capture a measure of respectability this weekend, but .500 in November is unacceptable to me, and I hope it is to other Spartan faithful as well, because it’s been 6 years since the Spartans earned their last Big Ten title, but let’s remember, that fleeting glory was underscored by a 38-0 beat down to Alabama to conclude the season.
Let’s hope Matt Ishbia and Steve St.Andre demand Championships in exchange for their compensation commitment, and let’s hope Mel Tucker is up to the task.
If Mel Tucker succeeds, then steady as she goes and stay the course, but if Mel Tucker falters, then “…thank you Mel, but we need to make a change”.
But right now, the first order of business for Mel Tucker is “fixing” the Spartans abominable Pass Defense, because teams cannot win Championships by deploying “the worst” Pass Defense in the land.
And, is Harlon Barnett on the Hot Seat? Well, he should be…
So, let’s see how Mel Tucker handles the problem, and let’s see if Harlon Barnett has the wherewithal to fix the Defensive secondary, after all, the hole he dug is nearly impossible to dig out of.
And let’s see what role Scottie Hazelton plays: can Hazelton, Barnett and Tucker collectively fix the problem?
After all, they are now officially getting paid Championship compensation to fix problems…let’s see if they are up to the task?
Let’s hope so…
Thank you for reading.