The Michigan State Spartans(3-2, 0-1) have struggled as a team in 2012 after two straight 11 win seasons and New Year’s Day bowl games to go with them.
The Spartans have achieved a 47-23 record in the six seasons that Mark Dantonio has been the head coach, to go along with two straight seasons with just one loss in Big Ten play. Dantonio has turned the program around, to say the least.
Right now, MSU is looking for answers after losing two out of three games at home and starting out conference play with a close loss against a secondary-rival, Ohio State(5-0, 1-0).
The Spartans have a lot to work on for Saturday’s game against Indiana(2-2, 0-1), a game that is no longer considered an easy win given how the season has played out thus far.
Here is what we should be watching for.
Andrew Maxwell’s chemistry with his receivers
Junior Andrew Maxwell had seemingly his best game as a starting quarterback for the Spartans on Saturday against the Buckeyes. Although he couldn’t lead his team to victory, all of his passes were on target and he seemed calm, cool and collected throughout the game. He gained the confidence he needs going forward as a starter in the Big Ten and he showed flashes of Kirk Cousins-like play.
The only problem with Maxwell in week five’s game was his inability to run from pressure. At times it seemed as if the pressure was too much and a sack was inevitable, but other times it seems like if he committed to running from pressure, he would have picked up positive yardage instead of settling for a one-yard run or a toss out of bounds. His receivers need to catch the ball, as they’ve racked up numerous dropped passes to begin the season, and have hurt the momentum of the Spartans’ drives down the field.
The defensive line’s ability to pressure the quarterback
This aspect of Michigan State’s defense has a huge affect on the rest of the defense. If the line can’t get any pressure on the quarterback, it causes the defensive backs to have to cover receivers longer and eventually tire out. The defensive line led by star defensive end William Gholston, has recorded just four sacks this season through five games a year after being on of the best in this category.
Michigan State has seemingly gotten no pressure on quarterbacks this season and that is alarming, especially since they have an experienced and fully talented defensive line. No pressure means less turnovers, which has held true because the defensive backs have recorded just four interceptions this season. They are ranked in the bottom half of the country in interceptions and close to the bottom in sacks. It will be interesting to see how the Spartans, who rank 12th in the country in points allowed with 12.2 per game, can step up and get some pressure on Indiana’s unproven quarterbacks.
The offensive line’s ability to open holes for Le’Veon Bell and protect Maxwell
If the offensive line can deny pass rushers and pick up blitzes like they are capable of, Maxwell will have an easier time finding the open receiver and his confidence will shoot up.
The line also has to be weary of Le’Veon Bell and his presence in the backfield. Granted, there usually is a fullback leading the way for the junior running back, if the hole isn’t there, Bell will be on his back before getting to the line of scrimmage. He can only hurdle and spin past opponents so much before he gets tired of getting stuffed for a majority of the plays. He had a season low 17 carries and 45, with his longest rush being just eight yards. He did help Maxwell out with eight catches for 58 yards, acting as a solid check-down receiver while the Midland, Mich., native was getting rushed.
If these things play out in the Spartans favor, they could see a turnaround in their season. If not, East Lansing will be looking gloomy in 2012 and a New Year’s Day bowl will be out of the question.