Mark Dantonio gets defensive over MSU offense's shortcomings

Matt Charboneau
The Detroit News
Michigan State head coach Mark Dantonio looks on during the second half.

Madison, Wis. — It was no secret after last season that Michigan State needed to make some changes with its offense.

The Spartans had just completed a season where they ranked among the worst in the nation in scoring, and after several years of failing to measure up on that side of the ball. So it was clear, a shake-up in philosophy and coaching was likely.

Instead of cleaning house, though, Mark Dantonio simply shuffled his offensive staff, reassigning his assistants and elevating former quarterbacks coach Brad Salem to offensive coordinator while moving Dave Warner and Jim Bollman out of the co-offensive coordinator spots.

It was met with skepticism then, and after getting shut out at Wisconsin on Saturday, 38-0, the uncertainty had Dantonio feeling defensive.

In his postgame press conference, Dantonio was asked if it was a mistake not to bring a new offensive staff and the Spartans’ head coach wasn’t pleased.

“I don't think we ask those questions right now,” Dantonio said. “We're six, seven games into the schedule. I think that’s sort of a dumb-a-- question to be quite honest with you.”

While some Michigan State fans probably like the coach’s swagger, the numbers say the question was nothing like Dantonio described it. In fact, it was a perfectly relevant question.

By the time the game had ended on Saturday, the Spartans hadn’t scored a touchdown in six quarters. And until the final drive of mop-up time, they’d failed to gain 100 total yards for the game, something they hadn’t done since gaining 94 in last season’s loss to Michigan.

Michigan State also managed just seven first downs, a low in the Dantonio era. The previous low under the 13-year coach came when the Spartans picked up nine first downs against Ohio State in 2007.

More: 'We couldn't stop them': Wisconsin adds to MSU's recent defensive struggles

“You can look at all kinds of things, you can make a list probably,” Dantonio said when asked where Michigan State’s offense isn’t measuring up. “You know, I hate to say it like that.

“This is collectively a group of people that didn't succeed — coaches, players, and I'm not going to stand in there and blame players. I'm not going to do that.”

He’s also, apparently, not blaming the coaches or the moves he made — or did not make — in the offseason.

While there had been some signs through the first six games that Michigan State was getting better offensively, the numbers still weren’t very impressive. The Spartans entered Saturday’s game 75th in the nation in scoring and 81st in total offense. Their inability to consistently run the ball was also evident as they ranked 100th in rushing offense at 131.7 yards a game.

The biggest changes made by Salem have been slight, at best.

Michigan State has been running less power-type runs and has been trying to use a quicker tempo. At least, a tempo quicker than it typically has used.

But with five more games to go, there’s not much more that can be done to the offense, Dantonio said.

“We made the decision to switch to this, this type of tempo and this type of offense right now,” Dantonio said. “And that's been sort of evolving over the last couple years, I would say. You can't turn back the clock to 2008 or 2007. You gotta look at it and critique it and everything like that. When you watch the film, even last week, you’ve got opportunities to make some plays. You’ve got opportunities to make plays, you got to execute.”

There hasn’t been much execution, that is clear. However, there has to be some question if the Spartans are asking their players to execute under the right game plan.

It seems obvious that’s a fair question as the offense continues to struggle on a week-to-week basis.

Just don’t try to convince Dantonio.

Twitter: @mattcharboneau