I’ve been saying this on Twitter for weeks.
At 5-1, MSU football is exactly where everyone thought it would be. Coach Dantonio’s QB-selection process has been absolutely vindicated.
— isportsDave (@isportsDave) October 13, 2013
Although it was not without drama and definitely caused panic and hysteria for some of the Spartan fan base, Dantonio handled this year’s quarterback controversy correctly. How can I say that so definitively? Thanks for asking…
It was somewhat safe to assume before the season began that this is exactly where MSU would be at this point in the season, heading into its rivalry game with Michigan: Seven wins, one loss. With the only loss coming on the road to last year’s BCS runner up.
In fact, I don’t know anyone who picked the Spartans to be 8-0 at this point in the season. I do, however, know plenty of folks who picked them to be 6-2. So, if the Spartans are at – or ahead – of where they were expected to be heading into November, why did anyone doubt Dantonio’s process? And, to the extent that there is still concern among MSU fans, what is the reason for that concern?
Is it the offense? Maybe. But Connor Cook did his part to allay concerns regarding the offense by bouncing back from an off-day against Purdue to win on the road at Illinois in the most complete game by an MSU quarterback since Kirk Cousins was under center for the Green and White.
Is it the defense? Most certainly not. No explanation even needed here. MSU has a once-in-a-generation defense this year which has carried this team when it needed to… while the coaching staff was figuring out the quarterback situation.
Is it the special teams? Shouldn’t be. Mike Sadler is among the best in the country at flipping field position and pinning opponents deep in their own territory. Kickoff returns and punt returns have definitely been average, to be sure… but that isn’t a good reason to be concerned either.
The real reason that Spartan fans are concerned is quite simple: Spartan fans don’t truly trust Mark Dantonio.
For fair-weather fans, that’s understandable. For non-intellectually honest fans, that’s understandable. But for those who truly understand how difficult it is to “Tom Izzo” a program – that is, to take it from mediocrity to sustained national prominence – it is my opinion that Mark Dantonio is right where he should be in the process.
To be fair, though, the panicky fans’ concern is somewhat understandable. It really is. Fans got used to the feeling that comes with back-to-back eleven-win seasons. Fans caught the scent of roses in Indianapolis and thought to themselves: that’s gonna be us soon. They witnessed a triple overtime win in the Outback Bowl over a very good SEC team and thought the program had turned a corner for good.
Then Kirk Cousins, Mark Dell, BJ Cunningham, Keith Nichol, Edwin Baker and Keshawn Martin left town and took MSU’s offense with it. Andrew Maxwell did not live up to the hype that had surrounded his orchestrated replacement of Cousins.
The Spartans lost to:
- Ohio State by 1 point (still the only team to come within 1 point of beating Urban Meyer’s Buckeyes, by the way)
- Iowa by 3 (by far, the worst loss of the year)
- Michigan by 2 (four field goals for the Wolverines)
- Nebraska by 4 (outscored in the 4th quarter)
- Northwestern by 3 (stopped twice on the 1-yard line)
Connor Cook had to rescue the Buffalo Wild Wings victory over TCU in the 4th quarter… a fitting down-to-the-wire finish to a season that was defined by heart-pounding fourth quarters. The 2012 season was a step back, admittedly – and in the harshest of manners, too, ripping the Spartan fans’ hearts out with last-second losses and oh-so-close defeats.
So, yeah, the fans’ disappointment was real… and warranted. But perspective should always win the day. While the 2012 season was below expectations, it wasn’t the crash-and-burn type of season that other programs have had during their off years.
Here’s the bottom line (and what I’ve been saying all season long): Spartan fans should trust Mark Dantonio until he gives them a reason not to.
Coach Dantonio’s job is to run the MSU football program. Not this season. Not next season. Not this game. Not next game. His job is to run the entire program. Fans will not always have full information with which to analyze all of Dantonio’s decisions. That’s why it comes down to trust.
Do you trust Coach Dantonio? You should.
It is my opinion that Coach Dantonio has only made one truly poor decision since the 2012 regular season ended – the R.J. Shelton forced pass that resulted in an interception was the result of focusing too much on explosive plays and not enough on the fundamentals that have built the Dantonio era. That decision turned that game around for the Irish and ultimately led to the Spartan loss.
So, there… a poor decision. (I don’t actually believe he made that decision… he was certainly covering for his play caller in the booth on that one… as he should). But still. That was a bad decision.
Sure, there are many questionable decisions that Dantonio has made – but that’s part of the nature of the beast. To go through all of them would be a lesson in futility. But, for those willing to look at the situation from an un-attached point of view, Dantonio has made many good, difficult decisions over the last 10 months.
- Dantonio shook things up for the Buffalo Wild Wings Bowl game. He was willing to practice, prep and play Cook instead of just sticking with Maxwell. He made the right choice in benching Maxwell when the game was on the line.
- He opened up the QB competition during spring practice and let the quarterbacks go “live” (quarterbacks were not off-limits) to help push Maxwell, O’Connor and Cook.
- Dantonio used fall camp to push the quarterbacks as hard as he could, pitting them all – including true freshman Damion Terry – against each other. This created some fan angst of course, and maybe if he had it to do all over again, he might change it a bit – but, bottom line, he didn’t settle for the status quo. He used everything he had at his disposal (including the media) to try to influence his QB situation.
- Dantionio used MSU’s favorable schedule to take the proper time to figure out the QB situation, get co-offensive coordinators Dave Warner and Jim Bollman integrated into the offensive scheme and, most importantly, DID NOT LOSE in the process.
- Dantonio went with his senior quarterback until it was clear that he no longer could. This was a very tight rope he had to walk. Don’t forget that these decisions have huge consequences on the recruiting trail. Recruits want to know that they will get a fair chance to play but they also want to know that their coach will stick with them through the tough times. If Dantonio had done what so many fans were demanding and chanting, he could have really damaged his reputation with future recruits.
- He has stuck with his guy, Cook, through thick and thin. Dantonio didn’t overreact to Cook’s struggles against Purdue. He didn’t overreact to Cook’s goal line fumble against Illinois. Cook’s play has improved because he is getting the practice reps and, more importantly, has the confidence of the coaching staff.
At 7-1, the Spartans are right where any reasonable fan would have expected them to be entering the Michigan game. Coach Dantonio has this program headed in the right direction, even if it means that the two steps forward will ultimately come after one step back.
In the world of big time college football, it is nearly impossible to not take some steps back sometimes. Look around the league at the dramatic drop-offs that have occurred for other teams. Michigan State’s step back in 2012 pales in comparison.
If MSU can beat the Wolverines on Saturday (which would absurdly be considered an upset thanks to the convoluted poll system — even though the Spartans are playing at home and favored by 6 points), Dantonio will be smack dab in the middle of those two steps forward that need to happen after one step back. The Spartans would be playing at Nebraska the next week with the ability to all but clinch a trip to Indianapolis with a win.
A return to the Big Ten Championship game is within reach. Dantonio has put this program in a position to possibly grasp it. Spartan fans shouldn’t take that for granted. Mark Dantonio has yet to give MSU fans a reason to doubt him. So don’t.