First there was preseason hype – then there was reality. First there were Rose Bowl dreams – then there was this sluggish 28-6 win over Youngstown State in the season opener on Friday night at Spartan Stadium. A win is a win, some might argue. And it’s true. It kept Michigan State at #17 in the AP Top 25 and even moved the Spartans up one spot in the Coaches’ Poll (now #16). But it was definitely not what Spartan Nation expected. Everybody in East Lansing expected one thing – and one thing only: total domination.
But that never happened. What happened, was the complete opposite: missed tackles, costly penalties and a lot of rust. “Everyone was mad”, wide receiver B.J. Cunningham said after the game. “The coaches were upset. The players were upset. We knew that we were capable of playing better.”
And for the Spartans’ sake, they better start doing so. Or they might prove “TheStateNews” writer Anthony Odoardi right, when he says: “To me, you have to walk before you can run… There’s only two teams in the conference that have earned the right to declare their season a disappointment if they fail to make it to the Rose Bowl: Wisconsin and Ohio State. Both are consistently good year-in and year-out and have earned the label of Big Ten powerhouses. The Spartans are a good team, but still not that caliber.”Looking at the impressive games of the above-mentioned powerhouses, I can only agree.
“But we’ll address our issues,” head coach Mark Dantonio said after the game. “I can promise you that. This is our first game, so maybe it’s good we don’t feel too good about ourselves. People have been saying a lot of nice things about us in August.” And therefore, people might have gotten a little anxious. And distracted. Emotions were flying high prior to the kickoff. The first start of Arthur Ray Jr. after surviving cancer, the funeral of Dantonios recently deceased father just 24 hours before taking the field.
“There’s not a doubt in our minds that we’ll correct the mistakes. We know it’s fixable”, says Cunningham.
And Dantonio already made some changes.
- After Keshawn Martin fumbled a kickoff return last week, Redshirt freshman Nick Hill will now take over that duty.
- Even bigger changes will take place within the lines. Junior college transfer Fou Fonoti replaces Jared McGaha at left tackle, who will now serve as backup right tackle behind redshirt freshman Skyler Burkland. In addition: “Blake Treadwell is now listed as the starting center, ahead of redshirt freshman Travis Jackson, who was not available to play in last week’s game due to an ankle injury. Chris Norman is listed as the starting Star linebacker and Denicos Allen is now listed as the starting Sam linebacker. Steve Gardiner is listed as the backup Sam and true freshman Taiwan Jones is listed as the backup Star. Last week, Allen was listed as a co-starter at both outside linebacker spots. Denzel Drone and Marcus Rush are still listed as co-starters at one defensive end spot, while William Gholston is now listed ahead of Tyler Hoover at the defensive end”, according to the “Detroit Free Press”.
The Spartans entered the season with new starters at both tackle spots and at center. So this has already been an area of concern. “Dan France, Fou Fonoti, Jared McGaha, all three of those guys could figure (into) playing at the left tackle position as we move forward”, Dantonio said during his weekly news conference Tuesday.”But I think it is important that we solidify the entire group as we go, not just the one position. I think the offensive line is a position where it takes the longest to get yourself on the field. Then you’ve got five of them, so it takes the most time to have a group that gels. And the best teacher for all of us is going out here on this field.”
The game against Florida Atlantic will tell. The Owls got (b)eaten by the Florida Gators last week (43-2) – and should serve as a final rehearsal on the way to converting the preseason hype into reality.