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Michigan State mailbag: Fans’ mood mostly doom and gloom

Matt Charboneau
The Detroit News
Cam Chambers

Another week and Michigan State fans are no happier with the coaching staff. In fact, it’s spread from co-offensive coordinator Dave Warner to most of the offensive staff and the head coach himself, Mark Dantonio.

So, following last week’s loss to Northwestern, in this week’s mailbag we try to make sense of what is wrong with the Spartans, whether any of it can be fixed and is the program in trouble.

We get at least one basketball question – on recruiting – as the Big Ten is set to host its media day this week in Chicago, a day after the media picked the Spartans to repeat as conference champions.

Question. Is it as bad as it looked in the 4th quarter against NW, or are they closer than it seems? – @Adam_Burke_

Answer. Well, to use the old sports cliché, it’s never as good or as bad as it seems. That said, those last couple of drives were pretty darned bad. Look, we can sit here and dissect this one all day, and the bulk of folks here and on Twitter – and message boards and airwaves and everywhere else – will tell you the offense is a mess because of Dave Warner. That sentiment has started to spread to offensive line coach Mark Staten and, frankly, every other assistant on staff, it seems. And, of course, Dantonio is feeling the heat, too.

And yes, much of the criticism is warranted. Everyone get that? The coaching has not been good. But – again – there is no simple answer. Execution has been bad and injuries have played a huge part. So, as Dantonio often says, it’s all-encompassing. No one gets a free pass. Is the offense close? Eh. Doesn’t seem like it.

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Q. How do we fix the O line? – @pennell828

A. It would sure help to be healthy, and to that end, junior left tackle Cole Chewins played the most he has all season last week and has a good chance to start this week at Penn State. However, left guard David Beedle is out and right guard Kevin Jarvis we’ll have to wait and see. Chewins’ return allows Tyler Higby to move back to left guard, where he’s started 13 games in his career, while Matt Allen at center and Jordan Reid at right tackle have settled in. That leaves former walk-on Blake Bueter as the likely starter at right guard if Jarvis can’t go.

But let’s be clear, that unit wasn’t playing well before everyone outside of Chewins got hurt. That includes Luke Campbell, who is now, apparently, a backup. How does it get fixed? At this point the only way will be to keep playing. If we look at the line as it should be by the first snap Saturday, only Higby and Chewins have extensive experience. So, unfortunately, some of this is growing pains. Would a different coach have them better prepared? Maybe, but that’s not changing in-season.

Mark Dantonio

Q. Is the run game salvageable if they change up some schemes, because successful Dantonio teams all have had decent run games? – @Ryan_giancotti

A. Potentially, but I don’t see signs there is a willingness to change too much. Of course, a lot of that can go to personnel. While the line isn’t good enough right now to power opponents, there isn’t a ton of pure speed, either, to be pushing the edge. I wonder sometimes why we don’t see a lot of the shorter passing game we saw in past years. Think back to the Kirk Cousins ere. You saw a lot more wide receiver screens and quick slants that can often times work like runs. When MSU has done some of that – namely the receiver screens – it hasn’t blocked them worth a darn. So, it’s the age-old question – is it execution or coaching?

Q. Are we doomed for years to come? I’m also a Cowboys fan (live in Dallas now) and between Warner and Linehan/Garrett, it’s almost enough for me to stop watching football. Please get me off this ledge. – @RealKyleHoward

A. That’s easy. When I was about 13 I watched John Elway orchestrate “The Drive” for the Broncos in the playoffs against the Browns and I was hooked. It allowed me to become Lions-free, which has been a fabulous way to watch the NFL. Sure, I’d prefer the Lions to win, but I don’t sweat it. Now, I’m not saying give up on your teams. OK, maybe that was the point, so don’t. Don’t do that.

Doomed for years? Man, it’s hard to think that. Some in town have been very vocal that this is the end for Dantonio. Who knows? Maybe I’m not cynical enough, but I’m not buying that one yet.

Q. First time buying season tickets. Might be the last. Convince me otherwise? – @DenDakota

A. The tailgating is fun, right? I mean, that’s what it looks like as I’m walking into the stadium. So there’s always that. Come up with some new things to throw in the grill, have different themes each week. And who knows, maybe, several years down the road, you’ll think, ‘Glad I kept these tickets.’

Q. Where has this version of Cam Chambers been in the past two seasons? – @SpartyH

A. Stuck in a deep receivers room. He redshirted his first season because he was playing behind RJ Shelton and by last year, it wasn’t long before Cody White and Hunter Rison stole the show. It’s been injuries that have given him this shot, but he’s making the most of it so far. He’s a highly-recruited kid who’s bright and works hard. Something tells me he’ll continue to be a factor.

Q. What bowl would we be looking at with either an 8-4 or most likely 7-5 record? – @ParenteRob

A. At 8-4, there would still be a lot in play. Pretty much everything outside of the New Year’s Six games, which means Citrus Bowl and Outback Bowl could be in play. At 7-5, that starts to look a lot more like the Gator Bowl or San Francisco Bowl. Add the Music City Bowl to that mix but eliminate the Holiday Bowl since the Spartans were there last year.

Drop down to 6-6 and you’re bringing the Pinstripe Bowl into play and – gulp – the Quick Lane Bowl.

Q. Vernon Carey. Isaiah Stewart. Trayce Jackson-Davis. None? One? Two? All three? – @TheRealUDJG

A. Yay, basketball question. Hey, it is Big Ten media day on Thursday and did you see a poll of suspect sports writers picked MSU to win the regular season? Anyway, this is tough to call. I know Tom Izzo and Co. are legitimate possibilities for all three, but if I had to pick now I’ll say Stewart and that’s it. And that, by no means, is seen as a done deal. MSU could miss on all three, I just think Stewart is the best chance of the three. Carey likes MSU but could move his decision up, which would eliminate a final official visit. I’m leaning Duke for him. Jackson-Davis seems pretty strong to Indiana at this point.