The lights stayed on late often last fall in the Skandalaris Center. Long nights were rather commonplace for the offensive coaching staff at Michigan State as they burned the midnight oil to find answers.
Questions lingered from the end of the previous season, through spring football and into the fall at quarterback, running back, wide receiver and tight end.
Truthfully, even the offensive line was not set either.
"We were searching," offensive coordinator Dave Warner said. "It was a daily discussion why our offense wasn't clicking."
A few months later, things look and feel a lot differently for the Spartans and their second-year offensive coordinator as spring football came to a close – both in Warner's confidence and in the confidence of the offense he leads.
"Basically, we are approaching it different in the sense that we have some questions answered, where a year ago we did not at different positions," Warner said. "From a confidence level as an offense, certainly I'm more confident and I think our offense is more confident in what we were able to accomplish."
The confidence was built last season, after the Spartans' offense took a little while to grow and suffered early season struggles – "sluggish, to put it bluntly," Warner said. But each month the average yards per play went up, as it increased from 4.65 in the season's first month to 5.84 in the postseason.
As the offense began to click, Warner too began to find his niche as the season grew older.
"As things started clicking for us offensively," Warner said, "it becomes that much easier to call plays and to dial up guys plays, whether it be receiver or running back and get the ball to them.
"That's just been the biggest difference is just that much more at ease at getting the ball to guys and calling on them again."
The difference and ease has carried over to his players, who also see the difference in him this spring.
"Just seeing him this spring, he just commands the way our offense goes," senior Travis Jackson said. "We kind of go with his attitude, which is playing hard and getting better everyday."
Sophomore quarterback Connor Cook said it is evident Warner is more comfortable now with calling plays.
"Last year, he was just testing things out in his first year being the coordinator after six years (as quarterbacks coach)," Cook said. "Now, he's just calling plays that he believes in us and knows we can execute – that we know we can execute.
"He's just really comfortable."
Cook, entering his second year as starting quarterback just as Warner is heading into his second year as MSU's offensive coordinator, pointed to the Spartans' 26-14 win at Iowa that marked Warner finding his stride.
"I think he called a great game then and I think from then on, the game just kept getting better and better," Cook said.
That momentum continued into this spring and with experience returning – and the questions answered – Warner has spent the time looking for ways to get better. Part of the search has included finding new playmakers – tight end Jamal Lyles has been a common recipient of praise – and some tinkering included.
"I think what that's allowing us to do is to maybe more forward a little bit more with our offense and experiment with some things because I think the guys that we have returning have a good grasp of our offense," Warner said. "So we are looking at different things and just trying to tweak things and make us even better."
But in it all, Warner has his stride, he is confident and his players could not be more confident in him, Cook said.
"In the things that we've installed this spring so far that are pretty new that Coach Warner did research on and he picked up from other teams and other clinics," Cook said, "you can just see the confidence that he has not only in us, but in himself to draw up these plays and script these plays and drives that put us in good situations."
So as this spring came to a close, the late nights that were prevalent last spring seem a thing of distant memory for Warner and the Spartans' offense.
"It's very nice and much more enjoyable," Warner. "We still have to go out and do it all over again.
"The challenge is still there is the bottom line."