Spartan Football: if you can’t run, you can’t win!

If there was one single issue that distinguished Mel Tucker’s first season at Michigan State, it was the total ineptness of the Spartan Rushing Offense. Let’s recollect the dismal numbers:

  • The Spartans averaged just 91 Yards Rushing per game (the worst in Spartan history)
  • The Rushing Offense ranked #122 when measured against 127 D-1 Schools
  • Spartans Rushing Offense averaged just 2.7 Yards per carry (worst in Big Ten)
  • Not a single Spartan Running Back scored a Rushing Touchdown

The Offense also committed 20 Turnovers (nearly 3 per game), and averaged a meager 18 Points (worst in the Big Ten). Frankly, the preceding stats are an embarrassment for the proud rushing tradition of Michigan State Football.

Let’s remember, as recently as 2014, the Spartan Rushing Offense averaged a robust 235 Yards Rushing and 500 Yards of Total Offense. In that same year, the Spartans averaged 43 Points per game, compiled an 11-2 record including a Cotton Bowl Victory, earned #6 final ranking in the AP Poll, and finished #2 in the Big Ten behind National Champion, Ohio State.

Of course, last season under Mel Tucker, Spartan Rushing Offense averaged a dismal 91 Yards and 18 Points per game, won just two games and finished #13 Big Ten and the men most responsible for that dismal Offensive production was Jay Johnson (Offensive Coordinator)…Chris Kapilovic (Offensive Line Coach & Run Game Coordinator)…and William Peagler (Running Back Coach).

Make no mistake, in 2020 those 3 Offensive coaches were out schooled and out schemed by a cadre of savvy Big Ten Defensive Coordinators, so let’s take an updated look at Spartan Coaches responsible for the Rushing Offense.


Jay Johnson:

I have written about Jay Johnson several times, most recently on Aug 27. Its notable that Jay Johnson has only been an Offensive Coordinator at the Power 5 level for 3 years. In fact, he has only been an Offensive Coordinator in 3 of the past 5 years including: Minnesota 2016…Colorado 2019…and Michigan State 2020. However, in 2017 and 2018, Johnson was a Quality Control analyst, which is a noncoaching job analyzing film, breaking down statistics and filing reports. At any measure, in his brief history coaching at the Power 5 level, Jay Johnsons teams averaged just 142 Yards Rushing and it would be fair to call that production middling at best. Of course, Rushing production is only as good as the capability of ones Offensive Line, and that brings us to Chris Kapilovic.

Chris Kapilovic:

Since 2012 Chris Kapilovic has plied his trade as Offensive Line Coach and Run Game Coordinator at 3 schools, including University of North Carolina, University of Colorado and Michigan State. Yet his Rushing production has declined over time. In his first 4 years at UNC, Kapilovic teams averaged a respectable 179 Yards Rushing. In the next 3 years, at UNC Kapilovic teams averaged 161 Yards. Yet in the last two years at Colorado and Michigan State respectively, Kapilovic Rushing average declined to a meager 121 Yards, so it would be fair to say, opposing Defensive Coordinators sorted out Kapilovic blocking techniques and rushing tendencies and thereby opposing Defensive coaches took advantage.

But a Rushing Offense is only as good as its Running Backs, and that brings us to William Peagler, Michigan State Running Back Coach.

William Peagler:

William Peagler’s photo is the featured photo. Peagler assumed the role of Running Back Coach with virtually no previous Power 5 “hands on” coaching experience. Prior to taking the job at Michigan State, William Peagler’s last job as a position coach was 2015 at Olive Branch High School in Olive Branch, Miss, whereby he had a “one year” stint as “Offensive Line Coach and Offensive Coordinator”. In between Olive Branch HS and Michigan State (in other words 2016-2019), Peagler was either a Graduate Assistant (GA) or Quality Control analyst which we know is a noncoaching position, breaking down film and filing reports regarding opponents.

In brief, William Peagler did not have a body of work as a college position coach prior to being employed by Mel Tucker!

Think about that! Michigan State’s Running Back Coach had never been a “hands on” position coach in D-1 or at a Power 5 school prior to taking the job at Michigan State. From the perspective of organizational staffing, and organizational architecture, that is a bona fide, ill-advised hiring decision. After all, work history matters and that is why we look at previous job experience and previous job performance, but apparently that didn’t matter and Peagler found his way from High School all the way to Michigan State with no “hands on” coaching stops in between. How did it work out? Not good. Not a single Spartan Running Back scored a rushing TD for the first time in Spartan football history, that’s how it worked out.

Anyhow, the numbers make it easy to be blunt: Johnson, Kapilovic and Peagler did not measure up to the Big Ten’s best Defensive coaches last season.


At the bottom line (if you can’t run, you can’t win):

It’s an historic fact that running the football is the best means of controlling the Line of Scrimmage, controlling possessions, controlling the clock and wearing down an opponent, so it’s no surprise that championship teams consistently average more than 200 Yards Rushing per game.

In fact, immediately below is a “short list” of teams from each Power 5 conference which have averaged more than 200 Yards Rushing over the past 5 years (in other words, 2016 to 2020):

  • Oregon (PAC 12): 200 Yards Rushing avg.
  • Clemson (ACC): 201 Yards Rushing avg.
  • Alabama (SEC): 209 Yards Rushing avg.
  • Wisconsin (Big Ten): 219 Yards Rushing avg.
  • Oklahoma (Big 12): 224 Yards Rushing avg.
  • Ohio State (Big Ten): 237 Yards Rushing avg.

It’s easy to take note that 2 of the most productive rushing teams in the land are Wisconsin and Ohio State and of course, they ply their trade in the Big Ten. They also happen to be the two teams which have made the most appearances in the Big Ten Championship Game.

By comparison, Mel Tucker’s team averaged just 91 Yards Rushing last season. Will Tucker’s Rushing Offense get better? Coaches across the land, and at every level will tell you that fixing the blocking choreography of an Offensive Line is arguably the biggest challenge in football, and of course there is “no” indication the Spartans have fixed anything.

Let’s take an itemized look at last season…

Iowa, Indiana, Ohio State, Penn State and even Rutgers stopped the Spartans Rushing Offense dead in its tracks:

  • Rutgers yielded just 60 Yards Rushing to the Spartans on 38 attempts, or 1.6 Yards per (Spartans lost 38-27)
  • Iowa yielded just 59 Yards Rushing to the Spartans on 32 attempts, or 1.8 Yards per (Spartans lost 49-7)
  • Indiana yielded just 60 Yards Rushing to the Spartans on 24 attempts, or 2.5 Yards per (Spartans lost 24-0)
  • Ohio State yielded just 81 Yards Rushing to the Spartans on 28 attempts, or 2.9 Yards per (Spartans lost 52-12)
  • Penn State Defense yielded 64 Yards Rushing on 31 attempts, or 2.1 Yards per (Spartans lost 39-24)

To say the Spartans Rushing production was feeble would be a grand understatement.

To add insult to injury, prior to playing the Spartans, Rutgers had lost 21 consecutive Big Ten games, yet they only yielded 60 Yards Rushing to the Spartans on 38 attempts at 1.6 Yards per attempt. More than any other team, Rutgers Defense dominated the Line of Scrimmage (yielding just 1.6 Rushing Yards per attempt) and the Spartans lost 38-27. And Mel Tucker can’t play the “first year” excuse, because Rutgers was led by a first year coaching staff as well.

In summary, Mel Tucker may not be under scrutiny by the “outgoing” AD…or under scrutiny by the “incoming” AD…and he may not be under scrutiny by Michigan State President, but Mel Tucker’s job is to win football games and fill Spartan Stadium so he will be under scrutiny by the people who matter most: Spartan stakeholders.

We are about to find out if Mel Tucker’s unorthodox roster strategy is a solution to self-inflicted wounds, or is it simply an exercise in rearranging Deck Chairs.

We’re about to find out and the answers will start to come Friday night.


Thank you for reading.