Brian is using some of his spare time to consider our football team’s plight. His main point is quickly conceded, as it’s a point I’ve made repeatedly over the last three months: This is fundamentally a 7-6 football team, not a 9-4 one. He goes on to cite the following quote from an Atlanta blog, Braves & Birds:
Mark Dantonio is Jim Tressel without the talent base. Exhibit A: punting in the first quarter on 4th and 1 from the Georgia 39. Exhibit B: an offense built around running the same guy over and over between the tackles. (At least Tressel came out of the dark ages with Troy Smith.) Exhibit C: a kicker who attempted 25 field goals this year. Exhibit D: an on-field personna that makes Ben Stein’s character in Ferris Bueller’s Day Off look like Sam Kinison. With the way Dantonio’s team approaches offense, I’m constantly reminded of the Japanese officer who said in 1944 that Japan didn’t need radar because its soldiers could see perfectly well.
In terms of the specifics cited, I’ll concede to Exhibits A and B. I complained about A yesterday and B earlier in the year. But we’re missing some important context here.
Regarding A, Dantonio’s actually been fairly aggressive on fourth down this season–in several cases, even more aggressive than I would have preferred (example: going for it on 4th and 1 from the 10 against Purdue, up 7-0 at the end of the 2nd quarter). MSU was third among the seven bowl eligible Big Ten teams in fourth-down conversion attempts during the regular season with 12. (Bad teams tend to go for it more often because they’re usually trailing.) And last season, MSU ranked 2nd in the entire conference in fourth-down conversion attempts with 19. So yesterday’s conservative calls on fourth down (after the failed fake punt) are not part of a long-term pattern.
Regarding B, the offense was, in fact, on the conservative side of the ideal aggressiveness-conservatism equilibrium this season. But that’s partly a function of the personnel available. Last year, when Devin Thomas and Kellen Davis were around, the offense was pretty wide open, averaging 30.2 pass attempts and 33.1 points per game. This year, those kind of weapons weren’t available, and those weapons that were available spent a lot of time banged up (Mark Dell, in particular).
From a bigger-picture perspective, the primary piece of context that’s missing is that this is only Dantonio’s second season. Imagine a world where we did, in fact, go 7-6 this season. That’d be two seven-win regular seasons to start Dantonio’s tenure in East Lansing. (Let’s ignore the fact they lost all their close games last year, meaning Dantonio’s overall regular season record of 16-8 is probably pretty accurate in terms of the program’s overall performance the last two seasons.)
Those results are building off a team that won just one Big Ten game the season prior to Dantonio’s arrival. Ironically, I think most Michigan fans would be happy with a seven-win season in Rich Rodriguez’ second season, building off a team that won six Big Ten games in Lloyd Carr’s final season. (The departure of Michigan’s entire offense is conceded. Of course, the 2006 MSU team lost Drew Stanton–who practically was our entire offense.) If Dantonio had won just five games in his first season, which was a reasonable prediction, this season’s results would look even better than they already do.
(I realize I haven’t gotten to exhibits C and D yet. Regarding C: Again, Dantonio was pretty aggressive on fourth down this season. So a lot of field goal attempts is probably a good sign, on balance. Regarding the persona-part of D: So what? And I’ve already addressed the offensive-philosophy part of D.)
Brian’s concluding sentence:
At best he makes Michigan State into a Wisconsin or Iowa level program, and even that seems pretty doubtful.
There are, of course, no guarantees that any coach is going to get any college football program to a certain level, but it’s unclear what exactly Brian’s standard is for Dantonio to be judged as a success to date in terms of moving MSU into the upper echelon of the conference. He’s won the games he’s supposed to win, despite the core of the team still being guys recruited by the previous coach for a different system. And he’s doing a pretty good job locking up in-state talent for the future, as far as I can tell.
Wait a minute. Boring offensive philosophy designed to avoid upsets? No personality? Recruiting focus on in-state talent?
Hey, that formula worked pretty well in Ann Arbor for a few years, didn’t it?