How did the Spartans fall this far, this fast?

It’s worth reminding ourselves that on the 4th Saturday of October in 2015, the Spartans beat Indiana 52-26 for the Spartans 8th consecutive victory of the season complemented by a #6 ranking in the country.

The Spartans would go on to beat Ohio State 17-14, and then beat Penn State 55-16 in the final game of the regular season to post an overall record of 11-1 as well as capture the Big Ten East Title with a record of 7-1. Thereafter, the Spartans went on to beat Iowa 16-13 for the Big Ten Championship and that earned the Spartans an invitation to the College Football Playoff.

The Spartans were near the summit of the College Football world, and playing at a Championship level they hadn’t experienced since the mid 1960’s…but then something happened. It took 9 years to climb the mountain, but it has taken just 5 years to slide from the summit.

Since 2015, the Spartans cumulative record is a middling 24-22, but shockingly, the Spartans record in Big Ten competition is a deplorable 15-17. How in the world did the Spartans fall this far…this fast?

After all, this is the same coaching staff that climbed the mountain, but it seems as though they have been trapped in an avalanche of inexplicable circumstances.

Penn State was vulnerable:

In previous weeks, Penn State was taken to the wire by Iowa and Michigan and by all measure, Penn State was vulnerable.

And while the Big Ten title dreams of the young Spartan players were crushed after thorough beat downs at Ohio State and at Wisconsin, I thought the Spartans would regroup and reset with a sense of resiliency. And as stated, I thought Penn State was vulnerable inasmuch as they generated less than 300 Yards of Offense vs Iowa and Michigan respectively.

When we include stats padded in games vs Idaho, Buffalo and Maryland, Penn State was averaging nearly 440 Yards of Total Offense and 40 Points per game, and while the Spartans Defense didn’t exactly “shut down” Penn State, nevertheless they did enough to post a win: yielding just 302 Yards, and 28 Points and limited 3rd Down conversions to just 29%, all of which were well below Penn State averages.

Moreover, the Spartans limited the electrifying KJ Hamler to just 4 Yards Rushing and just 55 Receiving Yards, well below Hamler’s season averages as well.

But the Spartans stopped themselves by committing Turnovers. Granted it was a miserable weather day, but problematically the Spartans committed 4 Turnovers, including 2 Interception and 2 Fumbles.

Offensive momentum was difficult to manufacture considering the weather conditions, yet Turnovers offset the little bit of momentum the Spartans Offense generated and at the bottom line, the Spartans posted just 7 points. In fact, in the last 3 Big Ten games the Spartans have manufactured a total of 17 points, and that’s an average of less than 6 points per game. Let that sink in.

A fumbled Punt Return stands out:

As we all know, Football games aren’t won or lost on a single play, but the Spartans fumbled Punt Return at about the 11 minute mark of the 3rd Qtr underscored the Spartans futility and further underscored how a multitude of football fundamentals have broken down. There are too many to itemize here, but the fumbled Punt Return stands out.

The Spartans Defense had just held Penn State to 3 & out, thereby forcing Penn State to Punt. Although it was low probability, the game was not out of reach. The Spartans needed to continue to stop Penn State’s Offense of course, while the Spartans Offense needed to generate some momentum, but it was the start of the 2nd Half and there was time to turn it around.

The football rested 4th & 5 from Penn State 48. Penn State punted.

The Spartans Punt Returner (I’ll avoid mentioning the players name) was backpedaling inside his own 10 Yard Line. Coaching fundamentals should have dictated that in inclement weather, the Punt Returner should not attempt to receive or return a punt inside the 10 Yard Line unless the Punt Returners feet are set. In this case, they were not: he was backpedaling.

The wind was swirling, the football was sailing, and the Punt Returner was backpedaling and that’s a recipe for a fumble, and indeed that’s what happened. Even if the football was downed at the 1 inch line, it would have been a better scenario than a fumble.

In turn, Penn State recovered the mishandled Punt at the Spartans 6 Yard Line, and with precious little time to set the Spartans Defense, Penn State took advantage and scored a Touchdown in just one play. The Touchdown was Penn State final score of the day, yet at that point the scoreboard registered 28-0 in favor of Penn State, and the rest is history.

How did the Spartans fall this far…this fast?

At the bottom line, Spartans Athletic Director needs to fulfill his role:

The Spartans overall record since 2015 is 24-22 overall, and just 15-17 in Big Ten competition, and this is where the Spartans Athletic Director needs to fulfill his role as overseer of Football operations.

Mark Dantonio needs help and guidance from his Athletic Director. I have been amongst Mark Dantonio’s most fervent supporters since his arrival in East Lansing…still am…but all executives need occasional help and guidance from their Boards.

Something is wrong, and the solutions seem to transcend Mark Dantonio’s ability to resolve the problems, whatever the problems may be (even though we all have well-conceived opinions).

In a metaphor, the wheels are wobbling on the Spartans Football Cart, and while it’s impossible to fix the cart as it is moving down the road (in other words implement midseason fixes) nevertheless, the Athletic Director and support staff needs to step in with best guidance and support until the season is over, and then oversee a full review as soon as the season comes to an end.

Sadly a full review of football operations is needed. To not conduct a full review of football operations is to revert back to 2000 and that’s not a place 500,000 Spartan Alumni wish to revisit..