Spartans celebrate a bowl victory, but lots of questions remain

MSU Wins the Pinstripe Bowl

The Spartans beat Wake Forest 27-21 in the 10th annual renewal of the Pinstripe Bowl at venerable Yankee Stadium in the Bronx, NY, and the frustrations and disappointment suffered during a 6-6 season were replaced with joy…at least for the time being.

The Spartans Defense, while not perfect in the 1st Half, stifled Wake Forest in the 2ndHalf. The Defense surprisingly yielded 21 points in the 1st Half, yet held WF scoreless in the 2nd Half. The Defense even scored a 1st Qtr Touchdown after an Interception, which was fortuitous, because the Spartans Offense only manufactured 20 points by way of two Touchdowns and two Field Goals. So, the Defensive Touchdown served as the final margin of victory.

For their part, the Spartans Offense also had success of a fashion. The Offense compiled an impressive 177 Yards Rushing at 4.1 Yards per…and 320 Yards Passing for a total of 497 Yards. In addition, Brian Lewerke completed an impressive 70% of his passes (26 of 37).

Missed opportunities in the Red Zone:

Yet the Spartans Offense only manufactured 2 Touchdowns, and 2 Field Goals, while missing two scoring opportunities in the Red Zone: one opportunity was a 3rd Qtr Interception at WF 19 Yard Line, and the other was a 4th Qtr fumble at WF 6 Yard Line.

The Spartans also missed a high percentage 28 Yard Field Goal with just 3 minutes remaining in the 4th Qtr. So, at the minimum, the Offense left 9 points off the scoreboard if those possessions were simply converted into Field Goals, or at best, if the Offense could have converted those scoring opportunities into 2 additional TD’s as well as a FG, it could have rendered an additional 17 points. But they didn’t.

Yet a win, is a win!

It wasn’t the Big Ten Championship game…and it wasn’t the College Football Playoff, but for a team that struggled Offensively all season, the Spartans posted a 27-21 victory in New York City on a late December afternoon with a national audience all to themselves.

So, Spartan fans can celebrate, but they need to ask themselves, what are their expectations for Spartan Football?

Do Spartan fans want to be Championship participants or Championship spectators?

Yesterday, the first round of the College Football Playoffs were played and for the 4thconsecutive year, Spartan players, coaches and fans were third party spectators to the event.

This is also the 4th consecutive year the Spartans were spectators to the Big Ten Championship Game. In fact, this season the Spartans played in the lowest tier bowl available for a Big Ten team by way of compiling a Big Ten record of 4-5. Last year the Spartans played in the next lowest tier bowl available by compiling a Big Ten record of 5-4. The trend is not favorable.

At the end of last season, Mark Dantonio made changes to his Offense. Were the changes cosmetic or tactical? Regardless, Mark Dantonio deserved the benefit of the doubt as it relates to restructuring his Offensive unit, but now it’s time to grade the changes that were made.

How will Mark Dantonio rate the Spartan Offense during the post season review? After all, the Spartans finished the 2018 season with a Big Ten record of 5-4. Yet, this season, after “shuffling the deck”, the Offense finished with a Big Ten record of 4-5. If that isn’t improvement, they what is the grade?

In Big Ten competition, the Spartans finished #11 in scoring (19.8 Points per game) and #12 Rushing (111.6 Yards per game) which is virtually no improvement from 2018.

I read that President Stanley endorsed Mark Dantonio at a press conference prior to the Pinstripe Bowl: fair enough, no one is suggesting that President Stanley “oust” Mark Dantonio, but what grade will Mark Dantonio receive from President Stanley? What is President Stanley’s grading criteria? Unequivocally, there is a grading criteria for every department within the University, so how will President Stanley grade Spartan Football? After all, managers and CEO’s shouldn’t be graded upon loyalty alone.

Let’s remember, President Hannah wrote the script, so I would be interested to see how President Hannah would rate Spartan Football over the past 4 seasons.

And let us ask this question: did President Stanley consult with his constituents? How about the folks who pay the bills? How about 50,000 students, 75,000 ticket holders, and 500,000 Alumni donors, what do they expect from the most visible symbol of Michigan State University? What do they expect from Spartan Football? Did President Stanley ask the folks who pay the bills if a record of 4-5 in the Big Ten is acceptable?

I get a lot of anecdotal feedback from readers of my Blog, and I can say without hesitation, there is no one with an affiliation to Michigan State University who is celebrating a Big Ten record of 17-19 over the last 4 seasons.

At the bottom line:

Spartan partisans should celebrate their victory in the Pinstripe Bowl, after all, a “win is a win”, but it can hardly be construed as a season ending “Badge of Honor”.

After all, having compiled a 4-4 record in the weakest Power 5 conference in the land, Wake Forest is not a national football power. And while the Spartan Offense rolled up nearly 500 Yards vs Wake Forest, partisans need to be mindful that Wake Forest had one of the worst Defenses amongst 14 ACC teams, ranked #9 in terms of Rushing Defense and Scoring Defense…and #10 in terms of Pass Defense.

At the bottom line, Wake Forest simply had one of the weakest Defenses in the land and yet in spite of rolling up nearly 500 Yards, the Spartan Offense only accounted for 20 points. To put the Spartan point production into perspective, Clemson pounded Wake Forest 52-3 and Clemson could have arguably posted 65 points.

So, restructuring the Offensive staff was supposed to improve scoring efficiency, but scoring just 20 points and failing to convert on three additional opportunities raises lots of questions.

So how will Mark Dantonio rate the Spartan Offense during the post season review? After all, the Spartans finished the 2018 season with a Big Ten record of 5-4, and then made changes to the Offensive staff and finished 2019 with a Big Ten record of 4-5. Perhaps there are subtleties that casual fans are unable to see, if so, then the President, the AD, and the Head Coach need to inform their constituents “why” or “why not” further changes will be made to the Offensive staff.

Once again, when measured against 14 Big Ten teams in Big Ten competition, the Spartans finished #11 in scoring (19.8 Points per game) and #12 Rushing (111.6 Yards per game), so where is the improvement?

The unrelenting truth is, there is a lot of work required to return to the top echelon of the Big Ten, and being at the top of the Big Ten was the vision of President John Hannah more than 70 years ago.

Nevertheless, Spartan fans can savor a season ending bowl victory for the time being and await to see if Mark Dantonio has a plan to correct course, but one thing is certain: the President, the AD and the Head Coach need to be mindful that a Big Ten record of 4-5 and a 6 point victory vs Wake Forest will not sooth the soul of Spartan partisans!


1 thought on “Spartans celebrate a bowl victory, but lots of questions remain

  1. I believe any record under 500 except for a batting average is not very impressive so with that said what can MSU do? Well for starters get on the recruiting trail and bring in some talent! Then coach them up beefing up the DL and OL are where games are won in the trenches. An outstanding running back and QB are a must as well.

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