OK, the Notre Dame loss was bad, one of the worst things I’ve seen on a football field, but to follow it up with a home loss to ILLINOIS? I wish I was kidding, but unfortunately when I predicted that the Spartans’ season was over after falling apart in the Notre Dame game it appears I was 100% correct. To put this loss in perspective I’m going to give you a stat from the Illinois-Rutgers game earlier in the year. In that game Illinois was shut out, but even worse, they never made it across the 50 yard line into Rutgers territory. Now I know that Rutgers is much better than Rutgers is usually, but I’ve never heard of a Big Ten team not making it into enemy territory the ENTIRE GAME. So that should tell you how not good Illinois really is. Click the read more if you want to find out how bad the Michigan State Spartans really are.
Where do I start really, there is so much material with a HOMECOMING LOSS TO ILLINOIS. I’m sorry for the yelling but I’m just really in disbelief. I grew up in Northern Illinois, didn’t even really realize that U of I had a football team for much of my childhood if that tells you how good they have been over the years. Add in a coach, Ron Zook, who may be one of the best recruiting coaches in America, and one of the few coaches that can have so little success with the type of talent he brings in. And yet it seems the Drew Stanton for Heisman campaign rolled right over Michigan State’s chances of winning this ball game.
Watching this game from the comfort of my own home certainly made this loss better to watch than the Notre Dame game, but it had much the same feeling. Stanton turning the ball over, John L. Smith making stupid calls and the opposing team out hustling the Spartans was the same story we all saw last week in the second half. First, Drew Stanton is not that good. I’m not sure how everyone convinced themselves that he was to start the season, but let’s not act surprised that he turns the ball over and doesn’t make the big plays when needed. That was pretty much his modus operandi throughout his career. Since when did just being a 5th year senior mean you’re going to make better decisions? Obviously Drew was too busy paying people to wear Drew Stanton for Heisman T-Shirts to read that memo. Maybe part of it is his complete unwillingness to pitch the ball on the option, which lead to him taking far too many hits each game that makes him fumble prone late in the game. At least that’s my theory.
And while Stanton is obviously deserving of blame, let us not forget about our good friend John L. Smith. A buddy of mine’s brother asked while visiting last weekend “Why is it John L. Smith?” The consensus answer seemed to be because John Smith just sounded to ordinary, or like a fake name. Well from here on out we’ll be referring to him as John Smith because he has proved deserving of the ignominy fitting John Smith. Well John, blame your parents not me. Once again Smith ridiculously under utilized Jehuu Caulcrick. Instead of some of those option calls that YOU KNOW Stanton is going to keep, call some more hand offs for the guy that is running pads down over people. Illinois proved completely incapable of tackling Caulcrick one on one, or really even two on one. The best part might be, that on a 3rd and 1 in the fourth quarter, Smith does call Caulcrick’s number but still managed to fuck it up by having him run an outside sweep instead of letting Caulcrick put his 6 foot 260 pound frame straight ahead to pick up that yard. What exasperates the inadequacy of Caulcrick’s carries is the fact that starting running back Javon Ringer left the game near half-time with what appeared to be a knee injury.
At a couple points it almost looked like John Smith was asking for someone to fire his ass. One of the more “interesting” calls came late in the fourth quarter. After Drew Stanton left the game with some kind of injury, Michigan State was faced with 3rd and 3 or 4 inside Illinois’ twenty yard line. So with the back-up quarterback already on the field, Smith runs out some trick package with a running back or wide receiver, I’m really not sure at this point, in the shotgun with an empty backfield. The play did almost gain enough for the first down, but down three late in the fourth and that is your best chance to pick up the first down? You’ve got the Illinois defense on its heels backed up to the endzone, I’m thinking with so many things that can go wrong on a weird package like that you may just want to pick a different play. I’m assuming that Smith was just confused because he couldn’t call an “option” play for Drew Stanton with him in the locker room not wanting to be around for the loss to Illinois.
Perhaps the funniest part is that the game shouldn’t have even come down to Illinois’ game winning field goal. That fumble by Stanton that was overturned on review was in fact absolutely a fumble. I’m not sure if the arm was moving forward or not, or if he was trying to bring it in to his body when he was hit, but seeing as how the play was ruled a fumble on the field I don’t see how you can say there was indisputable video evidence that it was an incomplete pass. But Michigan State held on to the ball and tied the game with a field goal which is probably almost worse for them. How is it worse you ask? Let me explain. So know MSU has the momentum back, tied game at home less than two minutes left. Ron Zook gets the ball back and looks pretty content to run the clock out and play in overtime. Then Illinois moves the ball a little, then a little more and finally Zook in embolden enough to let his freshman qb, who is named Juice by the way, throw the ball. Maybe Zook was just set free with the knowledge that he wasn’t the coach most likely to be fired after the game which is really a rare feeling for him. Illinois moves the ball with relative ease on MSU, and Zook shows suprising acumen in managing the clock. Couple big throws get Illinois in field goal range, and with ten seconds left the Illinois kicker nails a 38 yarder. Then in fitting fashion Illinois with a three point lead squib kicks the ball and MSU falls on it with NO TIME ON THE CLOCK. I’m not saying they would have picked it up and ran it to the house, but I mean you have to at least try right? Not sure why MSU feels the need to down kickoffs all the time, but it’s becoming a trend. I’m not going to say that John Smith made that call but it certainly smells like it.
After leaving the MSU-Notre Dame game I really felt that the Spartans’ season was done. Thought they would still probably make it to a bowl game given the state of the lower half of the Big Ten, but now I’m not so certain. They have managed to put two terrible losses back to back, and their next two games. . . At Michigan and home for Ohio State. That feels like a 4 game losing streak to me. That leaves them at 3-4 with games against Northwestern, Indiana, Purdue, Minnesota and Penn State left on the schedule. Do they win three of those games and get bowl eligible? Probably, because Indiana and Northwestern are really bad. Assuming they win those two games that means they have to beat one of Purdue, Minnesota and Penn State. Definitely possible, but after losing to Illinois at home I guess I can’t assume victories over Indiana or Northwestern. Even if they make a bowl, its not going to be one on the good side of New Years. Regardless of whether or not they go to the Motor City Bowl or the Music City Bowl, they hold on against Notre Dame this whole season is a completely different story.
I guess this leaves us with a couple of questions: Are we sure that Nick Saban doesn’t want to reconsider this whole NFL thing, and if not does anybody have Steve Mariucci’s phone number? Hopefully John Smith will enjoy being a secondary coach in the MAC.