The Big Ten conference has taken a blow both in perception and in the win column this season. The most disappointing program has been the Michigan State Spartans. After struggling against the Boise State Broncos in the season opener, the Spartans have had up and down performances that have fans questioning how legit the squad as a whole can be. The elite defense handled their business as much as possible against the Ohio State Buckeyes on Saturday.
MSU forced three turnovers, two fumbles and an interception by the hand of Kurtis Drummond. There were three turnovers in the game against the Buckeyes and to no one’s surprise the Spartans’ offense was not able to capitalize off of any of them. The game was not lost by the defense. As a matter of fact, it was the defensive efforts spearheaded by Chris Norman and Will Gholston that kept Michigan State alive until the end of the fourth quarter. The offense is what killed the Spartans in the end and the unit has become a problem that will neutralize MSU’s chances in conference play and more importantly, the postseason.
The Ohio State – Michigan State game was not a great comparison of quarterbacks. Braxton Miller is the more influential leader of the two by far. Andrew Maxwell still has a lot of work to do before he can win a game primarily by his hand and foot. Maxwell is not the type of explosive, athletic player that is going to light up the scoreboard.
What became painfully obvious against the Buckeyes was that when the rushing game is absent, so are the Spartans’ touchdowns. The conclusion is not riding solely on LeVeon Bell’s performance against the Broncos back in August. When MSU’s leading rusher is not spearheading the Spartans’ offensive efforts, the scoreboard is bleak and the offense consistently settles for a field goal and three measly points. There are moments in the season where Maxwell can just sit back in the pocket and be the game’s manager.
When defenses put a lid on Bell, he has to learn how to become a better decision-maker and finish strong in the endzone.
Maxwell has only thrown three interceptions this season, but embarrassingly that number is only one less than the amount of touchdowns he has thrown in five games, four. Those types of numbers are not going to work if the Spartans wish to keep their Top 25 ranking and eventually be strong competition in the Big Ten championship game.
Before Saturday Michigan State was becoming a more deserving candidate than their in-state rivals, the Michigan Wolverines. Both programs seem to have leveled off to become the most complete reasons why the Big Ten is a punch line more than a strong contender in any BCS bowls, despite their strong preseason rankings.
The bright side of Saturday’s game is that the Spartans’ receivers made a huge effort in keeping the ball in their hands. In that respect, as opposed to the game against the Notre Dame Fighting Irish, Michigan State has improved. The defense was as stout as it could possibly be against Miller and the Buckeyes, holding them to two touchdowns and a single field goal score. Ohio State was not an offensive juggernaut in this game. If Michigan State’s quarterback played better than “well enough to win”, things may have been different.
Going into the Spartans’ meeting next weekend against the Indiana Hoosiers, the Spartans should have a more impressive outing. Yet, at this point in the season, no one can be sure about anything when it comes to the Michigan State Spartans.