With just one game left in a very disappointing 2018 football season, the Michigan State offense has proven to be historically bad after yet another lackluster performance in Saturday’s loss to Nebraska.
But just how bad has the Michigan State offense really been this year? Our colleague Bob Tripi provided thoroughly researched statistical evidence.
Through 11 games of the 2018 season, the Michigan State offense has totaled just 3,506 total yards, which are the fewest the program has had in nearly 30 years. The 1991 Spartan football team that finished with a 3-8 record managed just 3,142 in its 11 games.
With Michigan State’s 9-6 loss to the Cornhuskers, it marks the second consecutive game where the Spartan offense has been unable to find the end zone, marking the first time since 1983 that the Spartans have been held out of the end zone in back-to-back games.
But despite another troubling effort from the offense, Michigan State head coach Mark Dantonio said after Saturday’s game that execution, not play-calling, has been the problem for his team this fall.
“I would think if there’s a level of frustration, I think it would come from the head coach, too. So, yeah I’m frustrated about points,” he said. “But, play calling was fine. We’ve got to execute. There’s an execution factor that’s involved here. Now, some of it’s weather, some of it’s them playing, making plays on the ball. Some of it’s us. So, you’ve got to be able to sort it out and look at it and see what the underlying factor is here. But, you’ve got to score points. We’re all inclusive in that, which means it’s a football team. We’re not keeping score of the offense and defense, it’s a football team. We either win together or we lose together. There are teams out there losing 42-41. They’re going the other direction in frustration.”
While the Spartans have been injury plagued for much of the 2018 season, offensive coordinator Dave Warner and his play-calling have come under heavy scrutiny, which is more than understandable. Michigan State ranks 120th in the country in scoring offense with just over 20 points per game and 113th in total offense with 346 yards per game.
Dantonio has repeatedly stated this season that regardless of his team’s inability to run the ball this season, he still feels that in order for the Spartans to be successful on offense they need to run the ball as many as 40 times per game.
“If you can run it 40 times — I don’t care if you get 120 yards or 130 yards or 140 yards or 240,” Dantonio told reporters back at the beginning of October. “If you can run it 40 times, you’ve got a pretty good chance to win. That’s been our success.”
But with that philosophy, Michigan State is ranked No. 118 in the country in rushing offense with just 120.6 yards per game on the ground and 3.48 yards per carry.
Michigan State’s 1,329 yards on the ground through 11 games is the fewest the Spartans have had dating back to 2003, John L. Smith’s first season with the program, when the team rushed for 1,129 yards.
In Saturday’s loss to Nebraska, Michigan State showed signs of life in the running game, rushing for 143 yards on 38 carries. But facing windy and snowy conditions late in the fourth quarter, the Spartans inexplicably threw the ball on 14 of their final 15 offensive plays after falling behind 9-6 midway through the fourth quarter.
The play selection late in Saturday’s loss was the latest instance that has drawn heavy criticism to the Spartan offensive staff and considering how the game played out, Dantonio even admitted during his weekly press conference on Tuesday that he could have handled things differently in the fourth quarter.
In addition to Michigan State’s anemic offensive production in terms of yardage and points, the Spartans have also been ineffective on 3rd downs, ranking 124th in the nation on 3rd down efficiency, converting 31.9 percent of the time, which is on pace to be the worst 3rd down efficiency the Spartans have had since 2000.
The Spartan offense will have an opportunity to close out the regular season on a high note when Michigan State hosts Rutgers on Senior Day this Saturday. The 1-10 Scarlet Knights allow over 400 yards per game and rank 102 in the nation in scoring defense.
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