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January 01, 2011

Final report card

A great MSU season ended with a stunning look at how far Mark Dantonio's program must go to reach the level of Nick Saban's Alabama program. "Sometimes there's an avalanche that comes upon you," Dantonio said, and I dare say the Crimson Tide would have buried most teams today.

    MSU's players didn't want to admit that they were physically overmatched, but that's not easy for a player to do. Yes, MSU made some mistakes and ultimately lost its emotional edge, but it's hard for me to come up with a scenario in which the Spartans hang with the Alabama team I saw play on that field today. I'm pasting my final "Rating the Spartans" in here because I have a lot of other work to do and a short time to get it done. Much more tomorrow.

    Rating the Spartans on a scale of 1-10


Offense
    Do you grade on a scale, given Alabama’s physical prowess? If not, it’s pretty much 1s across the board for the Spartans.
    MSU made some plays through the air early, but the offensive line basically had no chance in this game. Minus-48 rushing yards says it all.
    But very few teams would have done anything against that defensive front. It was as healthy as it’s been this season, and it’s scary good. Overall, a rough way for Don Treadwell to go out.
Rating: 2


    Defense
    The early pass interference call on Chris L. Rucker was a spirit crusher for the Spartans. Even with a stop there, MSU’s defense was headed for the inevitable.
    Greg McElroy, Mark Ingram, Trent Richardson, Julio Jones and an offensive line that hadn’t been fully intact since October. They were all too much, way too much, for Pat Narduzzi’s defense.
    The Spartans talked about the importance of tackling in the open field in this game, but talking it and doing it are different things against an opponent like this.
    Rating: 2


Special teams
    The MSU kicking game didn’t get a chance to make a difference, although Aaron Bates got a lot of work (seven punts, 43.4 average, long of 55, two inside the 20). Bates will be missed.
    Bennie Fowler did some good things on kickoff return, and MSU’s kickoff team had good coverage – on the one kickoff it got to cover. Kevin Muma got a touchback on the other one. Kicker Dan Conroy didn’t get a field-goal attempt but returns in 2011 as one of the Big Ten’s best.
    Rating: 5
   

Overall
    This game was more of a stunning blast of reality than a terrible MSU performance. The Spartans didn’t play well, but let’s face it – the Crimson Tide wouldn’t let them play well.
    The hard thing to figure is what some early success may have done for MSU. What if the Spartans punch it in at the goal line to make it 14-7 in the second quarter? Does that change things?We’ll never know. But MSU was ill-equipped more than ill-prepared for this game.
Rating: 2
   

    Bottom line
    The question now is of residual damage. How much does a loss like this hurt MSU?
MSU players talked about getting over it right away. The 2011 recruiting class looks like another good one, but this is the type of loss that can hurt in that arena.
    This team won’t get a ton of preseason respect now. And if U-M hires Jim Harbaugh … well, fairly or not, a lot of people are going to say the Spartans are headed right back to this position in the state: 2

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Joe Rexrode
MSU Sports Reporter
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