MSU mailbag: Playing the blame game after loss to Arizona State

Matt Charboneau
The Detroit News

Taking a week off after a loss might be good for Michigan State, but when it comes to the psyche of the fan base, having extra time to stew over a defeat isn’t that great.

As with any loss for any team, most are looking for reasons why, which often translates to who do we blame?

Michigan State head coach Mark Dantonio left the Arizona desert Saturday night with a loss.

In this week’s mailbag, there are several theories, but it seems co-offensive coordinator Dave Warner is catching most of the heat. We’ll tackle that issue and more as the Spartans get set to return to action next week when they open Big Ten play at Indiana.

Question. To compete with the Ohio State, Alabama, Clemson, on a consistent basis does Dantonio need to finally hire and pay a big time OC to get the offensive where it should be with the talent MSU has? —@scalka74

Answer. Well, here we go. This has been the standard response any time Michigan State has lost over the last five-plus years. OK, some of it has been warranted, but I’ve said it in the past and I’ll say it again — Dave Warner is running the offense his boss wants. That means, of course, this is the approach Mark Dantonio wants his team to take. And, quite frankly, there has been no indication Dantonio is at all dissatisfied with Warner calling the plays.

One other note that tends to get glossed over is the fact Warner is the same guy who was running the show in 2014 when the offense set program records in nearly every category, including points, scoring average, touchdowns and total offense. Yeah, I get it, he’s also the same guy overseeing the group that was in the bottom third in the nation in scoring last season. So, like it or not, don’t expect a change.

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Q. It’s pretty clear they miss (Harlon) Barnett. I think Coach D would benefit from a change in O and D coordinator next year. Change is good. Warner is ordinary and (Mike) Tressel still learning. Hoping Dantonio not too loyal. — @timmsu

A. A little different twist on the first question because it pulls Tressel into the mix. Here’s what I’ll say about this. Mike Tressel has been with Dantonio since his first season as the head coach at Cincinnati, and he’s spent the last three seasons as co-defensive coordinator with Barnett. So, still learning? I guess, when you say this is his first season as the sole coordinator, that makes sense and there is definitely an adjustment period. But let’s not forget that defense allowed one touchdown and it came in the fourth quarter when it was after 1 a.m. Eastern.

So, I’m not trying to make excuses for the numbers allowed in the passing game, some of which is life when you don’t have a pass rush. But is that really the coordinator’s issue? In this case, I don’t think it is when you’re starting a walk-on at defensive end.

Arizona State defensive back Dasmond Tautalatasi (30) intercepts a pass intended for Michigan State tight end Matt Dotson during the first half Saturday night in Tempe, Ariz.

Q. (Brian Lewerke) has had a difficult time connecting with his tight ends. Most of his throws have been off, low or too high. Last week to (Matt) Dotson was not a drop. Why can’t he hit them in the numbers? — @WGFredericks1

A. Not sure the inaccuracy problems have much to do with the tight ends, but he sure missed an open Dotson on that play in the end zone. Part of it is on the offensive line, which has not played well the first two weeks. But instead of back away and throw off his back foot, Lewerke needed to step up in that pocket. If he does that, it’s an easy pitch-and-catch touchdown. To his credit, that’s exactly what Lewerke said after the game.

Overall, I believe the tight ends could have a bigger role in this offense. I know it’s hard to argue considering the receiving corps has been so productive, but with young players like Dotson and true freshman Trenton Gillison, there are some potential playmakers at that position.

It appears Matt Allen will get a shot to be Michigan State's full-time center.

Q. Why, in your opinion, are they forcing (Tyler) Higby at center? He’s a big issue, and (Matt) Allen seems to be fine. Untrained eye here, I know, but Higby was a disaster at ASU. — @WaiteMarc

A. Hard to argue with this, and it sounds like Dantonio and the coaching staff are leaning toward sticking with Allen full time. The younger brother of Jack and Brian was much better against Arizona State, and it appears the adjustment from guard to center just isn’t working with Higby. He’s worked at left tackle a bit, but when Cole Chewins is 100 percent, you’d have to expect those snaps to dry up. So, what role does Higby have moving forward? Hard to say. But a guy with his experience won’t just be cast aside. I’d expect him to rotate in some at guard, as well, over the next few weeks.

Q. Where’s Elijah Collins? — @redwingandy1

A. It looks like he’s becoming the odd man out this season. The true freshman traveled to Arizona State, but when LJ Scott went out with an injury early in the second half, it was redshirt freshman Weston Bridges and freshman La’Darius Jefferson whogot the call. Bridges didn’t get a carry but Jefferson showed some burst, gaining 20 yards on three attempts.

The new redshirt rules mean there’s not guarantee on the rotation moving forward, but for now, it sure looks like Collins is the odd man out.

Q. Does MSU utilize its strengths and play calls outside the tackles? Or are we stuck with same old Dave Warner? — @phillipsc11

A. One more shot at Warner before we leave. I’m not so sure they’re ignoring plays outside the tackles, but is it really the strength for a guy like LJ Scott, or even Connor Heyward? Maybe that changes if Bridges and Jefferson get more work, but until then I’m not sure there will be a big shift. The jet sweeps they like to run typically go to receivers, including Darrell Stewart and freshman Jalen Nailor. Stewart runs hard and Nailor has the speed to come close to breaking it every time he touches the ball.