MSU’s problems on offense begin up front

Matt Charboneau
The Detroit News

East Lansing — The heat is on the Michigan State offense, and while most of the attention has been placed on quarterback Tyler O’Connor, players and coaches understand it goes deeper than one player.

For the Spartans, who are 12th in the Big Ten in scoring, the issues run the gamut — poor quarterback play, dropped passes, incorrect route running, poor blocking by running backs, and generally average play up front.

It’s the play from the line that might be at the core of all the problems.

“We haven’t been running the ball and Tyler has been getting hit, so it’s a lot on us,” fifth-year senior Kodi Kieler said. “If we pick up all the guys and don’t have any mental mistakes that just helps out the offense so much more. You always look at the O-line when a team is losing. Look up front and see how they are doing.

“It’s a lot of what we do and we have to get better to getting winning again.”

Entering Saturday’s game against BYU, coaches will be shifting some players.

■Kieler started the first three games at center and last week at right tackle. He’ll move to left tackle this week with Brian Allen getting his second straight start at center.

■Benny McGowan is listed as the starter at left guard with Miguel Machado at right tackle and Brandon Clemons at right guard.

■Clemons will spend most of his time on defense, which means left tackle David Beedle gets some work at left guard and redshirt freshman Tyler Higby sees more time at guard.

“We’re just trying to make sure the right people are playing the right position,” offensive line coach Mark Staten said. “Beedle started out the season doing really, really well and like I’ve talked to you guys before, when your flaws are figured out and they use them against you, then you can struggle. I’ve got to make sure I get him in and out of that left tackle position.”

It helps to have someone as versatile as Kieler who can be plugged into nearly any position, as well as Allen, who has started to settle in at center.

But as a whole, things need to get better. The Spartans are middle of the pack in the Big Ten in total offense and haven’t found any consistency. They’ve allowed eight sacks, the last two coming in overtime to the Hoosiers last weekend.

Indiana brought blitzes on those plays, and that’s something that has confounded Michigan State’s offense. Staten points to himself to turn it around.

“Just make sure during our blitz periods that not only the linemen but the running backs also know what’s going on and how it’s going on and why it’s going on,” Staten said. “That’s the biggest thing. Like in the overtime, we had an issue with the twist exchange on that last play. That’s just some simple technique stuff. I’m sure BYU is going to bring a ton of twists and we’ve got to be ready.”

The Spartans are young, overall, up front, and Staten has been happy with Higby’s progress and wants to get more playing time for freshman Thiyo Lukusa. It’s part of a rotation that continues to evolve.

“They’re all heading in the right direction, we just have to get there quickly,” Staten said. “That’s the urgency ... When it comes on you right now, you can’t blink. I think that’s youth as a whole. They sometimes blink and then, oh, man it’s on me. We just have to get through that.”

“I think overall we are playing well enough to win, but not consistent enough to.”

Twitter @mattcharboneau