Everyone in the stands at Spartan Stadium could see it. Anyone watching on national television couldn't miss it.MSU's Bennie Fowler, right, drops a pass in the end zone against Notre Dame. (LSJ Photo)
The Spartans' lack of offensive firepower was evident to all against Notre Dame on Saturday night -- and it could be the flaw that proves to be the Achilles' heel of this Michigan State team.
"We need to have more explosive plays on offense," MSU coach Mark Dantonio said. "We didn't get in the red zone and missed a field goal."
"We had a lack of explosive plays, that's the first thing that jumps out," MSU offensive coordinator Dan Roushar said.
The players agreed -- on both sides of the ball.
"We need to make plays and create in situations ... ," Bullough said. "We weren't able to do that tonight."
Quarterback Andrew Maxwell added, "we just didn't have enough explosive plays."
Fact is, the Spartans have had almost no big plays this season.
The Spartans' longest play of the season is 48 yards -- a pass from Maxwell to DeAnthony Arnett against Central Michigan. The Spartans are tied for last in the Big Ten with no plays of more than 50 yards. Last year, Michigan State tied for first in the conference with seven plays of more than 50 yards.
The longest touchdown play? A 20-yard pass from Maxwell to Dion Sims, also against Central Michigan.
Against Notre Dame the longest play was a play-action pass from Maxwell to Sims that gained 22 yards. Keith Mumphery also had a 22-yard reception.
So, where is the production and downfield threat going to come from?
Bennie Fowler, who led MSU with 99 yards on eight receptions against CMU, didn't have a catch against Notre Dame -- and how a big drop in the end zone and another on a third-down pass.
It appears Fowler could be that or will it come from a freshman? Macgarrett Kings was used on a jet sweep and a bubble screen against Notre Dame -- neither going for a big gain. Both plays came early and it appeared the staff would utilize the dynamic freshman in its game plan, but two plays was all.
But it goes beyond just the quarterback and wide receivers -- the offensive line really struggled against Notre Dame. With Fou Fonoti out for at least six weeks, seven offensive linemen played against Notre Dame, and consistently looked out of sorts.
As the Irish got pressure on Maxwell -- many times while rushing just three down linemen and dropping eight into coverage -- all of the MSU receivers were blanketed and the young MSU quarterback was left with no choice but to check down to Le'Veon Bell or Larry Caper.
Maxwell was sacked for the first time this year, and wound up being taken down behind the line four times.
Even the MSU defense had a rare lack of game changing plays, with no sacks, no interceptions and allowed five plays of more than 20 yards to the Fighting Irish. Two possible interceptions were dropped, as well.
Games can be won without big plays, but the offense is going to need to start showing it has the ability to gain big chunks of yards through the air, or teams will continue to key on Bell and keep forcing Maxwell to beat them -- something he will have to do this year.
It's not time to panic, yet, but with Eastern Michigan on the docket for this week in the final nonconference game, the Spartans need to start patching up some holes and finding some answers. Ohio State and the Big Ten season is on the not-so-distant horizon.
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