Smith will need time to rebuild football program

Michigan State's stunning three-game swoon is symptomatic of a long-term problem. Many of the players who quit on Bobby Williams last season are 'mailing it in' on Smith now that the going has gotten tough. There isn't much Smith can do except sit them down when it hurts the most....bowl season

(MADISON, WI)- Michigan State's stunning late season swoon took a dramatic turn for the worse when the Spartans defense collapsed. MSU gave up five touchdown passes to Wisconsin receiver Lee Evans and two more to tailback in a 56-21 smashing at the hands of the Badgers who had lost three straight coming into this one.

This loss was very costly to the Spartans in the race for a bowl game. While the Spartans assured themselves of a bid a long time ago, they fell behind Minnesota and perhaps Wisconsin in the bowl pecking order.

There is no shame in losing to the Big Two, Michigan and Ohio State, but Wisconsin is another matter. This loss looked disturbingly like last season's debacle vs. Penn State when senior running back Larry Johnson rushed for over 300 yards to get over 2,000 for the season against the Spartans.

Several players remarked privately that many of their teammates had "mailed it in", not giving 100% effort. While there isn't much that Smith can do at this point with one game left in the season, at home against Penn State, there is something he can do after the game.

A bowl game is a reward for what the players have accomplished over the season. Smith should take names and make a promise to his team. Anyone giving less than 100% in the season finale against the Nittany Lions can be assured of being benched or worse, left home on the trip.

"It felt like guys were playing hard, but at the end, it felt like guys were giving up a little bit," said weak side linebacker Mike Labinjo. "The crowd was getting to guys. Once it got to a certain score, some guys let up."

Quarterback Jeff Smoker took it even further. "I've never been beat like this. I'm totally embarrassed. There's only one game left before postseason and I'm not going out of here a loser. I'm going to get on some guys pretty hard this week."

Smith must make it clear in his inaugural season piloting the Spartan program that he means business. He must set a no-nonsense tone that nothing less that full out effort will be tolerated.

He did just that earlier in the season, demoting players like Greg Taplin and others to get their attention. It worked early on, players elevated their game and it carried the Spartans to a strong early season start including wins over Iowa, Notre Dame and Minnesota.

But once Michigan State lost to Michigan, those "I-75 eyes" resurfaced and the Spartnas turned in a poor effort against Ohio State and totally collapsed against Wisconsin.

It'll be interesting to see what Smith does with team leaders Greg Yeaster and Eric Smith out for the season. While a trip to El Paso or Nashville might not sound all that appealing, it beats watching the snowflakes fall in East Lansing.

That ought to be the threat to anyone who gives less that 100% Saturday.


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