Spartan Stadium
East Lansing, MI

I predicted the Michigan State vs. Furman football game to be 45-6. I was wrong, but other than the score my pre-game scouting report and prediction was almost spot on.

I have written many times that the way this season unfolded with MSU playing Furman first followed by a bye week and heading to Notre Dame that MSU was in a tough spot. That is why last spring I told you it would be the most generic spring game ever. It was.

This past camp you saw limited information coming out on the record about scrimmages because the Spartans did not want to let any information leak. They were successful. I also said that the Furman game would be the most generic first game ever. Why? Because at MSU expectations aren’t just getting bowl eligible anymore.
The Spartans know that this team can be special and that they were dealt a blow with how the schedule played out. Notre Dame will have two real tests prior to the Spartans coming in with only one game. Frankly, one that wasn’t as big of a test as others are proclaiming it was.

Let me dig deep. I watched the game live and I have watched it nine times since Friday. Yes, the penalties were frustrating, but you can explain a couple of them (not all) and those are fixable. Other than that, there was nothing else that I saw Friday night that concerned me. I explain it all with reasons.

Now on my own message board I have been told, “You are too close to the program” and “I take what you say with skepticism because of your relationship with coaches and players.” As ignorant as I think those statements are, I laugh and move on. People are entitled to feel as they do, but I think those give me a perspective others do not possess.

For example, over the past three years Mark Dantonio is the only coach to lead a team that finished in the TOP SIX at the end of year. How much have they done worthy of heavy criticism? It isn’t like they have done much to warrant the ship is sinking. The MSU offensive game plan was terrible against Alabama, I was brutal in my analysis (read it right here) to the point that NO OTHER media member was, and Coach Warner himself has leveled criticism that echoed my thoughts. Sometimes people just like to hear others complain to make their complaints seem salient.

My job and that of any reporter is to tell the truth about whatever they cover. That is what I do. I am close to many of the players and have called several coaches friends for multiple years, but that doesn’t mean I won’t “call it like I see it.”

Mark Dantonio said it best on my radio show. “Hondo you have never hesitated to do your job and call it like you see it and you have never made it personal. You’re fair and I respect that.” So let’s dig deep on the Furman game and see if it is as “horrific” as some have said, or as “brutal” and even, “embarrassing.” The people talking are simply making noise and as my late father used to say, “Better to be thought a fool than prove it.”

Vanilla!

This off season MSU has installed some new things to the offensive and defensive play book. Guess what? You didn’t see it in the spring game or against Furman. In fact, neither has Notre Dame. Heading into this game I reported, “The Spartans are in a very unique situation. They do not want to run the score up, and they will stay incredibly vanilla and show nothing. In the spring, MSU was careful to show nothing new and even avoided showcasing some new players. Yet, they want to get reps for some inexperienced player. It is a true quagmire for Mark Dantonio.”

MSU knows that they can still get to the College Football Playoff with a loss to Notre Dame. IF MSU had suffered a loss to Furman, even if the go 11-1 would almost certainly keep them out. The Spartan coaches made the decision to trust their team to overpower Furman (they did) for the win and to stay disciplined and did. At no point was the game as far out of reach as anyone wanted, but it also was never in jeopardy.

MSU had 171 yards rushing and 190 yards passing, but go back if you DVRed the game and tell me of one play or route you saw different from the past? Tell me of one newcomer that made a major impact especially on offense?

Did anyone else notice that the MSU D didn’t show one thing new or anything old that has been improved? How many times did they shoot the A gap or run a cross dog blitz? Waiting….waiting….crickets…..ALMOST NONE. For those wondering what that means in Greek: Nearly Zero. If MSU had needed to pull anything out new on offense or defense they would have, but that is just my point. They didn’t and they won.

I asked Dantonio about his team being so vanilla in this game. He was coy, not wanting to say much, but he did agree. “You are never going to show everything the first game I guess, but you better be ready for the second game, we need to be able to get better. Hopefully the second game usually you are little bit more loose, a little bit more experienced but again a great challenge awaits us in South Bend but we’ve got time.”

MSU will head to Notre Dame in two Saturdays with a full quiver of arrows that Brian Kelly and the Irish will have to adjust to. Conversely Furman did MULTIPLE things on both sides of the ball that they had never done in Coach Fowler’s previous five years, openly embracing that a win over #12 MSU was the equivalency of their Super Bowl.

Coach Dantonio addressed Furman doing so many new things that they were unable to prepare for, “They have to keep you guessing. They did a nice job. They had a plan. They changed their plan from last year. They had a fullback-oriented team. They ran some three wide receiver sets, but it was a different type of offense completely from what they did this year. Pistol, dive, they run pass-options, RPO’s (run-pass option), the option itself in the second half. They held it until the second half and we had to adjust from there. Some different things, a trick play, it was well designed. Thought we had it roughly covered, but they made the play. We made some plays too and that is the thing that we are going to have to look and say, `What could have happened?’ and, `What did happen?’ and evaluate both.”

MSU, while superior to the 1AA team, still was facing young people playing with house money and good enough to get a scholarship to play college football whose entire career would be made with one win in East Lansing.  While MSU had to leave many things they had worked on all spring and summer in the play book for future games, Furman brought it all.  This was their Super Bowl.

You saw MSU coaches take many young players and make adjustments to each thing Furman did that they hadn’t planned on. That is not only great coaching, but great adjustments from the players. What impressed me more was watching some players who are new in the playing rotation that aren’t used to a week of game planning for one thing and having to switch do so. Furman capitalized on some errors by young players who made some mistakes to changes, but MSU recovered. That is going to be a great benefit and Spartan Nation should thank Furman for going all out to win.

Michigan showed multiple things that were new (something that MSU did not), and while they did play multiple players, they played key players as a whole considerably more. Hawaii showed nearly nothing new and Bowling Green vs. Ohio State was vanilla as well while the Buckeyes showed some (not as many new wrinkles as UM) and played starters as a whole for a considerable time.

We know that certain MSU players did get considerable reps, but they went to the bench as early as the first drive getting key players reps for the future of this season. Think about it. MSU was generic by literally not showing ONE THING that they will surprise with in South Bend and both UM and OSU did. UM also was going against a team that had SOME key injuries from playing a week before ON ANOTHER CONTINENT before heading across an ocean and the nation to get to a 3:00 a.m. (Hawaii Time) football game. Let me say a win is a win. Good for UM and it was impressive. That doesn’t change reality.

Ohio State has another tune up vs. Tulsa next week. Had MSU been facing Tulsa this week, I think the Furman game would have been different as well. That is why one can’t read too much or too little in the first game. Circumstances and schedules are different. I don’t know if it is that some Michigan State fans are so sick of disrespect of Spartan football in favor of Ohio State and Michigan that everything that happens is viewed in light of them, but it needs to stop.

The Score!

As I stated previously, I predicted before the Michigan State vs. Furman football game to be 45-6. I was wrong, but other than the score my pre-game scouting report and prediction was almost spot on.

Sure Ohio State destroyed Bowling Green 77-10 and Michigan decimated Hawaii 63-3. Those are big scores and impressive. Both of those schools are excellent and had great wins. However to judge the Spartans by those games while logical in the world of fandom, it is ignorant in light of reality.

Michigan will always be the biggest game for MSU. In 250 years, that will still be true. Spartan Nation knows that MSU will never win the narrative on that game for 364 days a year. Who cares as long as they do on the one day they play on the field.

Urban Meyer and the Buckeyes will always win on the set of ESPN and national publications for 364 days a year that will not change. Does it matter? My father once dated Ms. Rhode Island who went on to compete in the Miss USA pageant. He took her on one date and took her home early. He couldn’t stand her personality. She looked good, but he couldn’t stand to be around her. Some guy saw her as a prize, but my dad didn’t want her.

Who cares if UM and OSU win the press conferences and look good, MSU wins on the field and has the hardware to prove it. Ms. Rhode Island never wore my father’s wedding ring, my mom did. I guess she won. That is reality.

Did the MSU score look like UM? Nope. OSU? No way. Did I think it would be farther apart than 28-13? I sure did. But MSU also chose to take a knee rather than punch it in vs. a winded and wounded Furman at the end and in perhaps the most concerning event, Michael Geiger missed a field goal. 38-13 certainly looks more impressive, but it isn’t.

Mark Dantonio is loved around the world of college football. Dantonio is respected nationwide for his integrity. Scoring again wouldn’t have made any less of a man of integrity, but he didn’t need to. You might not like it, but he isn’t embarrassing you with actions that make no sense. Dantonio has said, “Once you have a team beaten and you can run the clock out that is what you do. It is respectful of the game and your opponent.” We have seen him score against teams for emphasis.

Spartan fans know what I am talking about; he felt an additional score was necessary when a statement was needed, perhaps after one had been planted. You get my point. Why did so many fail to remember a score left on the table?

Dantonio said of not running up the score, “Well, you are going to run the clock out first of all. We are going to win the game. That is the number one objective. So, there was really no need to go down the field and do that. Just kneel the ball and run the clock out and everybody can get home. That is probably the biggest reason, especially me. I was a little tight on that sideline. I don’t know if you noticed.”

Penalties!

That is not acceptable. In fairness, I don’t have a lot of issues with them coming from young players getting their first penalty as they adjust, but from older players or more specifically experienced players I do. Having said that, there are two penalties in particular I want to break down and talk with you about.

#1 Furman had a 4th and seven at the MSU 12 with 6:53 on the clock in the second quarter. They punted. Sophomore Brandon Sowards got the ball at the Paladin 49 and returned it to the 46. Josh Butler the redshirt freshman (and very talented CB) playing in his very first collegiate game engaged the Furman player at the 41. His hand touched the Paladin’s back (DID NOT HOLD) and quickly moved his hand to the front of the player and threw him to the ground. Ideally you want his hand to NEVER touch the opponents back, but he took it off and reengaged the front before throwing him down. In my opinion that was NOT ONLY a penalty, that was a tough aggressive play by the youngster.

#2 3rd Quarter of the game and the very first play. Furman had the ball 1st and ten at their own 25. Furman had a TE right, the QB was in the pistol with an offset right FB, and two receivers to the right. Darian Hicks was called for a pass interference while face guarding the wide out. It was a terrible call. It was well played by Hicks. In fact, the official who was right there didn’t throw the flag. It was an official 40 yards away who threw the hanky. It was an absurd call when the other official was eight yards away and clearly in position to see it. Hicks played it exactly as asked.

Now officiating was not the reason why MSU won the game. I know that sounds funny, but so many like to blame it for losses, but it is to demonstrate that not every stat is accurate. Still if you take those two penalties away, that means MSU would have had eight for 100 yards and that is not acceptable. No excuse whatsoever, but it paints a clearer picture.

How about we take a look at Raequan Williams playing in his first game last Friday for more analysis. Furman had a 3rd and 15 at their own 35. It’s called The Money down. MSU had a chance to get the ball back. 14:08 on the clock in the 3rd quarter. Clearly MSU had recovered from the terrible PI on Hicks. Furman lined up in a pistol simply to hand off up the middle to garner more field position and punt. As mentioned, playing in his first game Williams at well north of 300 pounds comes in late with a full head of steam and nails the Furman RB who is already on the ground. A clear penalty, no argument with the zebra. My point is that he is a new player who sat out (red shirt) last year playing on emotion and so desperately wanting to make a play he didn’t have his body under control. No excuse, but I bet you don’t see that again from him. He was playing aggressively until the whistle. I don’t like that penalty, but again a new player making a new player mistake. Better against Furman than in South Bend.

Dantonio wasn’t as upset with young guys making mistakes, but the older players penalties were not as readily excused. He said, “Yeah they are frustrating but I think the key to anything is how you handle the disappointment or how you handle some of the things that don’t go right for you. So we aren’t going to lose our minds over there, we are going to keep coaching and coach the next play, and that is what we did. Some things are out of our control and some things are in our control, and I will have to look at the film to see which is which. I thought our guys came out and played hard, I thought we played aggressively, and we got the win so that is the bottom line at the end of the day.”

OC Dave Warner echoed his head coach when addressing penalties. “I’m just speaking from an offensive standpoint, we’ve got some holes, I think we, the personal fouls – we had two at least. I’d hope that as we evaluate this film, we won’t get to it until Sunday with our team, but I certainly hope that when we sit down and watch this film as an offense, guys understand now the relevance of making sure we don’t shoot ourselves in the foot. Hopefully it’s a wake-up call, hopefully we learn from it and move forward, and improve and get to the point where we’re not doing those things.”

More things you didn’t see!

I said in my pregame scouting report, “This was one of the most physically brutal camps of the Dantonio era and he felt he needed to do that to send a message. How brutal? There will possibly be some familiar names NOT playing as they recover from camp.”

MSU was able to keep some key people out who didn’t play or played VERY sparingly in order to get healthy for the Irish. Notre Dame will have two legitimate games prior to MSU with no time to heal. Could MSU have played some guys that didn’t play or played some more that did sparingly? Yes, they could have, but while people were complaining about margin of victory, this is about a long season. Not just beating Furman.

I realize that my analysis may not comfort those perennial complainers that want their misery to have comfort. Sorry, I can’t bless your skepticism, but I don’t get that luxury. I live in Realville. I am the mayor of Realville. My point is that there was far more to be excited about that even remotely worried about.
Coach Dantonio had a team in 2013 that people bemoaned until after week 10 when they FINALLY entered the top 25 and went on to win a Rose Bowl. That was a team that people all complained about early. People wanted Pat Narduzzi fired as well. I was called a shill for supporting him and told I was “ignorantly loyal” to Dantonio after 2012.

Football is about more than just numbers. I said prior to this season that the way the schedule panned out, MSU could have a worse record this season than last and I think they are better. Furman was a win, but BYU and Notre Dame are better opponents than any of last year’s four non-B1G foes and Wisconsin is better than Nebraska was last year and MSU lost to them.

The sky is not falling, the season is not over, and the Spartans are still right in the hunt. I know that ESPN isn’t going to tell you that and the national media won’t set the record straight, but I just did. And you know better. Would Dantonio had loved Furman to pull starters like Hawaii and Bowling Green did? Sure. Would he have loved Furman to stay in what they had game planned for? Of course. They didn’t.

Football is a glorious splendid thing of beauty that was graciously given to us as a gift from God. It is complex, it is easy while difficult, and MSU has some amazing young men playing the game and some terrific men coaching them. The Furman game was a win with so many positives that the disappointments were only overshadowed by those looking at life through lenses covered with the crimson and maize smoke of expectation. For now, Dantonio will keep working while in Columbus and Ann Arbor celebrated yet again a national title after dethroning Bowling Green and Hawaii.

Now take two minutes and watch this video, after reading what you just were reminded of: