For a few seasons running now, I’ve spent Michigan State week here on Off Tackle Empire lamenting the program’s consistent inability to put a productive, watchable offense on the field. And now, this year, that trend...will continue, hahaha buckle up and get ready for some numbers from Michigan State’s 2020 offense:
Points per game: 18.0
Passing Yards per Attempt: 6.91 (242 attempts)
Tailback yards per carry: 3.06 (172 attempts)
Final F+ ranking: 110 (of 127)
Any way to spin this to the positive?
Kinda? Let’s go unit by unit.
They...were pretty bad. Rocky Lombardi took about two-thirds of the total snaps, with then-redshirt freshman Peyton Thorne getting the rest. Lombardi had his moments, especially throwing the deep ball, but was mostly an inefficient turnover machine - 8 TD, 9 INTs, completing 53.5% of his passes. Granted, the number of deep shots MSU’s offense attempted probably nudged that completion number down a bit, but the TD/INT line doesn’t properly portray how often Lombardi flung the ball into coverage.
Consider, first, that in the second game of the season, Lombardi led MSU to a massive upset of then-regarded-as-good Michigan. That kind of win would normally buy a quarterback a leash longer than his remaining tenure in East Lansing, but in the next two games against Iowa and Indiana, Lombardi did this before the staff gave him the hook against the Hoosiers:
20/44, 248 yards, 0 TD, 5 INT
Blauugh. To his credit, Lombardi regrouped after the bye week and managed a more productive day in the upset of Northwestern, but still barely completed 40% of his passes. Thorne started the last two games of the year, and Lombardi left for Northern Illinois.
However, in what has become a theme, Mel Tucker’s staff has not been content to just make chicken salad out of the...raw materials...left to them by the previous staff. Even with Thorne showing occasional promise, MSU brought in Temple grad transfer Anthony Russo, and all the most recent information suggests the QB competition will continue at least through fall camp.
The numbers here aren’t any prettier than they are for the QBs. A committee of Connor Heyward, Jordon Simmons and Eli Collins handled the large majority of the work, and the best of the bunch, Simmons, couldn’t get to four yards per carry. The plummet Collins took was one of the more disheartening aspects of last season, and it’s still not really clear what happened there; granted, the run blocking was not helpful (more on that in a bit), but it hadn’t been any better in 2019, when Collins nearly broke 1,000 yards on the season.
All three of those guys are back, and to muddy the waters, Tucker’s staff brought in two high-level transfers: Kenneth Walker III (Wake Forest) and Harold Joiner (Auburn). Redshirt freshman Donovan Eaglin and incoming freshman Davion Primm round out the depth chart, as Anthony Williams Jr. transferred (Akron) and Brandon Wright flipped to the defensive line.
Your guess as to how this shakes out is as good as mine. Seven scholarship running backs doesn’t feel like a stable situation, but even if there’s another transfer or position switch or two, there’s still a ton of bodies available here.
This is the one area of the offense where Mark Dantonio’s late-career management doesn’t leave much to grouse about. Former transfer Jayden Reed, a finally-healthy Jalen Nailor, and ready-to-go freshman Ricky White formed a solid troika, though White didn’t really build off of his romp against Michigan they way one would have hoped.
Even with good production returning, Tucker hit the portal here as well, picking up Christian Fitzpatrick (Louisville) and Maliq Carr (Purdue) to replace outgoing Tre’Von Morgan (Kentucky) and Julian Barnett (Memphis). Get much of anything from those two, get better health from Tre Mosley, and the Spartan receiver room might have a stew going.
Speaking of tight ends...uhhmm. The position’s less important in Jay Johnson’s offense, which is good, because the depth chart, it be barren, lads.
Trenton Gillison has been one of those superb physical specimens you’re just hoping finds a way to utilize his abilities. In that context, it was kind of worrying to see him surpassed in target volume by a converted punter, Tyler Hunt, who would probably be the starter if a depth chart were released today.
Behind those two, there are a pair of barely-used converted defensive linemen, Parks Gissinger and Adam Berghorst, and that’s basically the entire group - Tommy Guajardo bailed (Bowling Green), as did square-fullback-in-round-scheme-which-doesn’t-use-fullbacks Max Rosenthal (Illinois). The shortage of proven bodies could leave an opening for early-enrollee Kameron Allen, and Carr might end up as more of a tight end as well.
On the bright side, Michigan State has a ton of experience returning on the offensive line for what feels like the 5th season in a row.
Moving right along.
Ok, fine. It’s no secret that this group just has not produced in recent years, particularly in the run game - and, what’s worse, the pass pro numbers backslid last year, as they yielded sixteen sacks in seven games, but a good portion of that was the quarterbacks not doing a great job getting the ball out promptly.
Yes, Mel Tucker did reach into the portal here as well, but for fewer bodies than I might have expected given this unit’s struggles. Jarrett Horst (Arkansas State) might be the most-coveted transfer MSU landed other than Quavaris Crouch, and JUCO Brandon Baldwin would be a logical candidate for some early time, as well.
But, for the third straight offseason, the welfare of Michigan State’s offense rests on improvement from familiar names up front - C Matt Allen, LT AJ Arcuri, RG Matt Carrick, G/T Kevin Jarvis, and LG J.D. Duplain. If the spring game was any indication (who knows if that’s the case), there isn’t going to be an abrupt youth revolution sending all these guys to the bench. If this offense is going to emerge from its multiyear stupor, improved play up front is the most direct way for that to happen.
Michigan State’s 2021 OF+ ranking will be:
This poll is closed
90 or higher (lower?)