Spartan Red Zone: X-Factors for Rutgers

Where to start for Michigan State? The Spartans are currently 2-7 overall and winless in the Big Ten. They come off a disappointing 31-27 loss to an Illinois team many fans thought MSU would easily defeat. For this week, there isn’t one specific X-factor player or group; instead, the consistency between both the players and the coaches is the X-factor.

The execution of the players throughout four quarters must be paired with good play calling by the coaches. Ever since the second half of the Notre Dame game, MSU hasn’t played the same football. Yes, they did put up a good fight against Michigan, but they still lost.

Normally, Michigan State is able to move the ball on the first drive and score, but after that, the offense stalls and the Spartans cannot score. Now that might come with the injuries to Brian Lewerke and Tyler O’Connor, but that doesn’t explain why has gone away from LJ Scott when he has the hot hand.

Before last week, Scott had rushed for 100-plus yards and a touchdown in games against Maryland and Michigan. Although he didn’t put up those numbers against Illinois, he had the hot hand in the weeks before and proved he deserved another game with more than 20 carries. It looks like the coaches are quick to split carries with Scott and Gerald Holmes if LJ doesn’t find success early on.

[su_pullquote]The execution of the players throughout four quarters must be paired with good play calling by the coaches.[/su_pullquote]

Holmes has done well this year lately with the limited time that he has played. He has less carries (129-74) and yards (653-364) than Scott, but more touchdowns (5-4). It’s hard to find consistency and flow of the game when either running back doesn’t play the whole game.

As for the players, there doesn’t seem to be any motivation left. Is it the fact that the season is over? No, because there wasn’t pep in their step in any of the games that they lost besides Michigan.

Rutgers competed with Indiana last Saturday and Minnesota the week before, and they are more than capable of pulling off the upset in Spartan Stadium on Saturday. Rutgers is a team that has talent, and under first-year coach Chris Ash, they could win in East Lansing. Last season when the Spartans visited Rutgers, MSU had to score in the last minute to win 31-24.

The Spartans have the talent to win games; the pieces are there. But execution from the players and more consistent play calling from the coaches is key.  

Mark Dantonio has already played nine true freshmen this season, which is the most he has ever played in his 10 years at MSU. He won’t admit it, but it is widely speculated that he is playing for next year and is looking to develop his young players.

This isn’t your typical X-Factor article, but it is one that needs to be written. Not one person or group will be able to fix the troubles on this football team. It all comes down to working together, being on the same page and executing.

In order for MSU to beat Rutgers and avoid an eight-game losing streak on Saturday, they will need to find motivation in their players and consistency in their coaching staff. Keep an eye out for how players respond to adversity and the way the coaches call the game.