Nov 26, 2016; University Park, PA, USA; Michigan State Spartans quarterback Tyler O
Who, or what, were Michigan State football’s biggest disappointments during the 2016 season?
Setting the mantra up to be ‘Back 2 Back’ was almost asking for the 2016 Michigan State football team to live up to the hype too much. It wasn’t going to be easy to emulate what the previous year’s team did, but many thought that the talent level was high and it was very possible.
However, 2016 happened to be the ultimate hangover season. After making the College Football Playoff and winning the Big Ten title in 2015, the Spartans took about nine steps back, going 3-9 with wins over Furman, Notre Dame and Rutgers only.
No, the Spartans weren’t blown out each week. Heck, this team put up good fights against Michigan and Ohio State, nearly pulling off upsets, but missing out on a bowl game for the first time in the Mark Dantonio era was definitely crushing.
It’s time to regroup and look toward the future. But first, let’s take a glance at who/what the biggest disappointments of the 2016 season were.
5. Demetrious Cox
Sep 24, 2016; East Lansing, MI, USA; Wisconsin Badgers running back Corey Clement (6) is tackled by Michigan State Spartans defensive back Demetrious Cox (7) during the second half of a game at Spartan Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Mike Carter-USA TODAY Sports
I’ll say it, outside of a couple of games this season, Demetrious Cox played like a freshman. The senior captain was expected to be a bright spot in the secondary, moving back over to his natural position of safety instead of switching between that and cornerback like he did last season.
Cox just had a rough season. He was constantly getting beat and missing assignments and he even missed a couple of games. He didn’t make the trip to Penn State in the season finale, which is surprising for a guy who is supposed to be the leader.
The young kids looked up to Cox and he let them down. He was, at time, a great leader and showed flashes of brilliance, but it was one step forward, two steps back with him.
The safety finished his final season with 55 total tackles, five pass deflections and a pick-six and will likely be passed up in the NFL draft. He missed an opportunity to take over the defense.
Sep 24, 2016; East Lansing, MI, USA; Michigan State Spartans offensive lineman Kodi Kieler (79) prepares to snap the ball to Michigan State Spartans quarterback Tyler O
4. Offensive Line
The offensive line struggled for much of the season. Although it did get better near the end when guys like Cole Chewins, Thiyo Lukusa and Tyler Higby were sprinkled in, the Spartans had a tough time building momentum in the trenches. Guys like Miguel Machado and David Beedle were constantly getting beat and that led to way too much pressure on the QB.
It wasn’t only the pass game that suffered from the mediocre play up front, but the run game had a few setbacks during the season because of an inability for this group to open up holes.
We did learn that the future is bright on the line. Although Kodi Kieler is gone after this season, guys like Brian Allen, Higby, Chewins and Lukusa could lead a strong, young core next year. They will engineer one of the youngest lines in the Big Ten and look good doing so.
Through the first half of the season, though, the line looked awful. Tyler O’Connor was getting very little time to throw the ball, he was having to take sacks in big third-down situations or just throw the ball away. The offense couldn’t get anything going, and the line was a big reason for those struggles.
Dec 5, 2015; Indianapolis, IN, USA; A helmet is raised in celebration after the Michigan State Spartans defeated the Iowa Hawkeyes in the Big Ten Conference football championship game at Lucas Oil Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Brian Spurlock-USA TODAY Sports
3. Dave Warner
Not everything can be blamed on a single coach or player, but Dave Warner’s play-calling was borderline atrocious all season long. I’ll give it up to him, though, he continued to stick with it and some plays during the Michigan and Ohio State games were impressive. However, when something worked, he had a tendency to veer away from it.
- 11/28 – Michigan State Football: 5 biggest disappointments in 2016
- 11/26 – Michigan State vs Penn State live stream: Watch online
- 11/26 – Michigan State Football: Injury report vs. Penn State
- 11/26 – Michigan State Football: Betting odds vs. Penn State
- 11/26 – Michigan State Football: Weather report vs. Penn State
For example, against BYU in the first month of the year, the Spartans moved the ball through the air with ease on the first drive and then Warner decided to only run the ball for the rest of the half and most of the third quarter. Michigan State couldn’t do anything after that.
Moreover, he needs to abandon reverse plays and end-arounds to the short side of the field. Oh yeah, and when Damion Terry comes in during the middle of a drive, the defense automatically knows he’s going to run the ball. The creativity just wasn’t there and the offense couldn’t gain any traction, leading to an anemic offense.
Playing to his players’ strengths was also not part of the plan, apparently. Letting a weak-armed O’Connor air the ball out often led to picks.
Warner needs to either switch things up in 2016 or find a new job because what he did just did not work for this group.
Nov 26, 2016; University Park, PA, USA; Penn State Nittany Lions quarterback Trace McSorley (9) scrambles out of the pocket as Michigan State Spartans defensive end Demetrius Cooper (98) defends during the fourth quarter at Beaver Stadium. The Nittany Lions won 45-12. Mandatory Credit: Rich Barnes-USA TODAY Sports
2. Defensive Line
This was one of those years which players would like to forget. With Malik McDowell more than likely headed to the NFL, the defensive line needs to figure out a way to build on what happened during the final couple of games.
Over the year, the Spartans accrued only 11 sacks while giving up 27. That’s not the kind of ratio a team wants to have as Michigan State was one of the best defenses just a couple of years ago and had an elite defensive line just last season.
Long gone are the days of Lawrence Thomas, Joel Heath, McDowell and Shilique Calhoun as those guys are now giving way to a younger crop of talented players. However, true freshman defensive linemen are not going to find their way into a backfield on a regular basis.
That’s just how it works. First-year linemen are just trying to adjust to the speed and strength of the game and Josh King, Mike Panasiuk and Auston Robertson will be much better next year after gaining a ton of experience.
Still, guys like Kevin Williams, Gabe Sherrod and Demetrius Cooper were a bit disappointing this season. They failed to live up to the high expectations and the lack of pressure on opposing QBs led to a tired secondary.
1. Tyler O’Connor/Damion Terry
A year after people criticize Connor Cook for not being a captain, the Spartans name Tyler O’Connor a captain and he does a horrid job of leading the offense. The only two active quarterbacks in the Big Ten to have recorded a win over Ohio State resided in East Lansing, but that has since changed, adding Penn State’s Trace McSorley to the list.
However, Terry and O’Connor just couldn’t repeat the success they had against the Buckeyes last season in the upset win. You can look at O’Connor’s numbers and say he wasn’t that bad, but everyone who watched the games knows just how poor he played.
O’Connor finished the year with 1,970 yards and 16 touchdowns with nine interceptions and a 58 percent completion rate. Terry wasn’t any better, passing for 258 yards and a touchdown, completing 48 percent of his passes.
The real bright spot in the quarterback race was Brian Lewerke. The redshirt freshman played very well in the limited time he was on the field. He passed for 381 yards and two touchdowns and brought a different feel to the offense before breaking his leg.
Many thought O’Connor would be a strongpoint heading into the 2016 season, but he turned out to be a poor man’s Andrew Maxwell. Terry may also never have a chance to be MSU’s starting quarterback with Lewerke and Messiah deWeaver battling it out next year.
More from Spartan Avenue
- Michigan State vs Penn State live stream: Watch online2d ago
- Michigan State Football: Injury report vs. Penn State2d ago
- Michigan State Football: Betting odds vs. Penn State2d ago
- Michigan State Football: Weather report vs. Penn State2d ago
- Michigan State Basketball: 3 things we learned from Wichita State win2d ago