Michigan State plans to unleash its offense
East Lansing — A season ago, Michigan State’s offense was the best it’s been.
Records fell, one after one, as the Spartans racked up more points, total yards, offensive touchdowns and scoring average. And those were just some of the categories in which the team excelled.
Michigan State (5-0, 1-0 Big Ten) had scored 30 or more in 12 straight games before putting up 24 points last week against Purdue, and the big plays and domination haven’t been present this season.
There have been flashes, especially in the first half of games. But a dominating offensive performance from start to finish has eluded the Spartans, who are sixth in the Big Ten in scoring (31.4) and 11th in total offense (379 yards).
The victory over Purdue was a prime example of the frustrations. Michigan State led 21-0 early in the second quarter, and won 24-21.
In the second half, the Spartans were hurt by a missed field goal and a couple of dropped passes, but weren’t exactly going for the throat. They ran 27 running plays and seven pass plays — two were completed.
The weather was a factor, but even co-offensive coordinator Jim Bollman, while saying the rain did affect the ability to throw, said it didn’t bother the Boilermakers.
The day after the victory, coach Mark Dantonio bristled at the notion his offense has looked different in the second half this season, pointing out two late touchdowns in the victory over Central Michigan. This week, however, co-offensive coordinator Dave Warner said his play-calling probably was a bit more conservative against Purdue.
“It might not have been a conscious attempt on our part offensive-staff wise, but looking back I probably was a little over-conservative,” Warner said. “Part of it had to do with weather, who we had on the offensive line and we didn’t start the second half off throwing the ball well.”
Warner conceded the health of the offensive line might have been one factor in the play-calling, too. Things were thin up front entering the game, with tackles Jack Conklin and Kodi Kieler sidelined, but worsened with Dennis Finley was lost in the first half to a broken leg.
With the possibility of Conklin and Kieler returning Saturday at Rutgers, Warner intends to be more aggressive.
“Bottom line is we’re 5-0,” Warner said. “I think we understand as we move forward, regardless of who we have out there on offense, that we’re gonna have to open things up a little bit more.”
That could be easier if wide receiver Macgarrett Kings Jr. returns after missing last week with an undisclosed injury. If he doesn’t, expect more work for junior Monty Madaris. He had two catches last week, including one for 34 yards.
The oft-injured Madaris could be getting his shot at the right time.
“He’s a guy that is probably the closest to a Keith Mumphery that can take the top off in the pass game,” Warner said. “He showed that a little bit last week early in the game with the post route, but he’s been a guy that we’ve been excited for years and I think now is his opportunity and I think he took advantage of it last week and hopefully he continues to do that because we need him.”
The key for Michigan State will be putting it all together (the running game broke loose last week for 267 yards).
However it plays out, Dantonio is still concerned about the end result.
“The bottom line is you need to win,” he said. “I don’t feel frustration. I felt there was no frustration in that locker room after the game. It’s tough to win games. I don’t care who you play.
“At the end of the deal, if you win, I don’t care how you get there. We played well before and not won. So, bottom line is, do you win?”
Michigan State at Rutgers
Kickoff: 8 p.m. Saturday, High Point Solutions Stadium, Piscataway, N.J.
Records: No. 4 Michigan State 5-0 (1-0 Big Ten), Rutgers 2-2 (0-1)
Line: Michigan State by 13.5
Series: Tied 3-3