Opinion: Fans Shouldn’t Worry After Shaky Spartan Opener

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No. 12 Michigan State squeezed by the Furman Paladins 28-13 last Friday night at Spartan Stadium.

As always, the Spartans got the job done with a gritty defense. MSU held Furman to only 226 total yards and allowed just three of their 14 third down conversions. The Green and White came up clutch in the shadow of their goal post, forcing two field goals in the Paladins three trips to the red zone.

However, it wasn’t all smiles for Spartan Nation. The self destructing penalties, costly turnovers and inconsistent offense popped out as the main headlines of the season opener which has East Lansing in a frenzy.

After a quick seven play, 76 yard opening touchdown drive, it seemed that Michigan State would easily cruise to victory. However, that was far from the case. The Furman defense tightened by forcing four consecutive scoreless possessions and yielded 28 total points to MSU.

On the Spartan’s part, they committed ten penalties for 120 yards and surrendered two turnovers. They were also only four-of-ten on third down conversions. All these components hurt the Spartans with field position, which held them from scoring more points.

Is it a logical reaction for some fans to be worried after the Spartans mediocre efforts? Absolutely. But I’m here to assure you that the issues at hand aren’t as dire as you might think.

First off, MSU has adapted to prevailing in crunch time in utmost thrilling fashion. The Spartans won six games, four of them ranked games, by a touchdown or less last season. Regardless of the quality of their opponent, the Spartans thrive with their backs against the wall.

Whether it was the improbable win against Michigan, or the game winning field goal against Ohio State, Michigan State seems to find a way to get the job done. That’s no exception with the Furman game. These types of outcomes will once again become the theme of MSU’s season.

Next, the penalties and turnovers are easily correctable problems. Both traits are very uncharacteristic of Michigan State football, as the Spartans are reputable for forcing opponents to commit turnovers and penalties.

Senior tight end Josiah Price was hit with two personal fouls, but those are completely preventable. The MSU coaching staff wants to see their troops have self-control before they nitpick the holding and pass interference calls.

Speaking of which, the offensive line needs to hold their end of the bargain while remaining aggressive at the point of attack. The secondary as a whole, especially Darian Hicks, need to grasp the concept of turning around and locating the football when in the air while crafting good timing on pass breakups. This will avoid drawing flags for pass interference.

The turnovers can be limited with an emphasis on ball security and better decision making.

Now let’s move to the root of the problem: fundamentals. There was sloppy execution on offense that led to the bizarre penalties and turnovers due to a maturing offense.

Tyler O’Connor had a nice showing, but had some mental miscues along the way. The fifth-year senior had a sense of panic and hesitation in the pocket throughout the night. Even with solid protection, he impulsively scrambled right into the defensive line. O’Connor also did a poor job of reading through his progressions, staring down one side of the field far too often.

There was miscommunication at the line of scrimmage that caused disruption. O’Connor bobbled a few of the snaps and some of the hand off exchanges were not handled cleanly. The poor timing caused him to improvise when things broke down.

There is no doubt that O’Connor was nervous for his first career start, and coach Mark Dantonio hopes that he got all the jitters out of his system. Thanks to the upcoming bye week, O’Connor and crew will have two weeks to sort things out by watching film and building on chemistry before the Notre Dame game.

There is a lot for Spartan fans to be optimistic about after the first game that was overshadowed by the minor errors. LJ Scott is the head honcho of the deep running backs. Even with studs R.J. Shelton and Josiah Price, receivers Monty Madaris and Felton Davis stole the show against Furman. Fullbacks Prescott Line and Delton Williams also shined in their new roles.

The defense came through as usual with star linebacker trio of Riley Bullough, Chris Frey and Andrew Dowell carrying the team on their back. Minus the penalties, the defensive backfield is showing shades of the No Fly Zone with their lockdown coverage. Aside from Michael Geiger’s missed field goal, the special teams unit looked much better than last year’s version with better tackling and spot on coverage on kick and punt returns.

If Michigan State can make adjustments and improve on the basic fundamentals on offense, the rest will take care of itself. The penalties and turnovers will start to dissolve with more effective communication.

There are two different directions that the offense can go from here on out. They can reflect the one-dimensional 2012 offense, where the unit will struggle to score and put all the pressure on their defense to lead them to victory. Or they can mirror the 2013 offense, where O’Connor comfortably settles into his role while a variety of different playmakers emerge to help him out. Despite not being the most efficient group, this version will set up the defense in prime position for success, where the opposing offense is forced to march the entire length of the field to score.

The MSU faithful will find out just how well the Spartans have fixed up their kinks when they head to South Bend in just two short weeks.