East Lansing — The chemistry between the offense and defense is going well up at Michigan State.
The question is, how long will it last when offensive players can’t hold their end of the bargain?
What happens when the defense wears down during the second half of a big game because the offense can’t stay on the field long enough or score some points?
That is when family can become fractured.
Linebacker Denicos Allen insists there is no anger or angst against offensive players, although he admits there is a bit of frustration. So far, the Spartans defense has outscored the offense, 28-19, during two cream-puff, nonconference victories. MSU is 2-0, but both of its opponents are 0-2 and lost a game to a Football Championship Subdivision program.
Michigan State ranks 111th among 123 Division I programs in total offense (281.0 yards per game) and 119th in passer rating (76.46).
And, oh, by the way, the defense ranks fourth nationally (179.5 yards per game).
“We have a championship defense. We have to raise our level on offense,” coach Mark Dantonio said. “We are not shooting for 7-6. We need a spark to light the flame.”
Dantonio is right. MSU has a championship defense. It is one that can beat Michigan and Notre Dame — for 30 minutes. But it can’t hold up to their firepower for 60 minutes without more assistance from the offense.
Any QB want to step up?
If the flame is not lit by Notre Dame in two weeks, this whole thing could implode. There were grumblings among defensive players last season. They won’t be able to bite their lips for another 13 games if things do not get better.
But Allen said that is what the Spartans plan to do.
They love playing defense, whether it is for six minutes or 60 minutes.
“If the offense is slacking, we pick up for them,” Allen said. “That is what we’ve been doing the past few years. We never get negative about it. We stay positive. We love being out on the field. We actually kind of like it. Hopefully, they will get better which we know they will because this is the kind of offense they are. They are like we won’t accept this.”
The defense must accept this quarterback rollercoaster because that is how team sports work. The coaching staff should get most of the blame for failing to develop a competent starting quarterback out of Andrew Maxwell, Connor Cook and Tyler O’Connor. Of course, you must throw in the poor play of the wide receivers who drop too many balls. But the Spartans mixed it up during a 21-6 victory over South Florida, and receivers held onto the ball.
The problem is, the Spartans failed to recruit an 8-foot receiver, and most of the passes fall harmlessly to the ground.
Defense can't do it alone
Meanwhile, the only way for the Spartans to win is through defense. It simply can’t stop people. It must score. Sophomore defensive end Shilique Calhoun was named Big Ten and national defensive player of the week after he took a fumble recovery and interception into the end zone. He buys into that Spartan mentality — to crush, destroy and score. But defenses can’t be counted on to score every game.
“It is definitely a mentality,” Allen said. “Instead of making tackles, we got to think big play with the team being the way it is. We know we got to step up and do a lot of turnovers. That is what we have been working on all summer.”
I asked Allen if this defense needed to keep making big plays in order to win games.
“Big plays win games,” he said. “So, yes. If we make big plays, we obviously win the game.”
The road gets rocky after Saturday’s home game against Youngstown State. Road trips to Notre Dame and Iowa are next on the agenda. And this type of football won’t cut it in those games. Later, there are games against Michigan, Nebraska and Northwestern. They all look like losses unless the Spartans can get some spark in this sputtering offense.
Allen insists he will embrace what lies ahead rather than gnash his teeth. He is ready, willing and able.
“It is up to us to keep playing and making big plays,” he said. “Everybody wants to make big plays. Our defense is strong. We carry this team and we do a good job for us. It doesn’t matter what people say about the offense. They need to look at the positives and look at how good we’ve been.”