Had this been a situation that had never been encountered before, you could expect corrections to be made. However, this has become a regular occurence as an all too familiar scene reared it's ugly head as the Spartans once again dominated an opponent for most of the game, only to see the lead, and eventually the game, slip from their grip and evaporate into thin air.
So how often does this happen? So much so that his has to be a concern to the Spartan faithful. Consider these games in the Smith era and the connection to poor pass defense:
1. In 2003 Micigan State dominated Louisiana Tech and led by the score of 19-7 until Tech went 74 yards to score with 1:09 remaining, Tech then recovered the onsides kick and scored with just :02 left in the game for a shocking upset. They also loss to Rutgers in 2003 in a game they clearly weren't prepared properly to play.
2. In 2004 They led Michigan 27-10 with just 8:43 left on the clock. The Wolverines got a field goal, an onsides kick, and two touchdown passes to Braylon Edwards to push it to overtime. The Spartans left Edwards open once again in overtime for the game winning reception.
3. In 2004, they had a huge lead against Hawaii before losing 41-38, a game in which the Spartans built a 21-0 lead.
4. In 2005, they led Notre Dame by the score of 38-17 until shoddy pass defense let the Irish back into the game. Fortunately for the Spartans, they won in overtime.
5. In 2005, UM got the lead by early, and the tone was set up as MSU botched coverage on Mario Manningham. MSU still had a chance to win with a field goal but missed it.
6. In 2005, MSU simply dominated Ohio State on the road but the Buckeyes yet again burned the porous MSU secondary.
After the Notre Dame game, Coach Smith was asked by one reporter about struggling in big games, having the lead and losing it, and what could be done to fix it, and his answer spoke to the frustration setting in.
"Well", stated Smith, "You and I will have a personal conversation about it and I'll tell you what I think.... I'd rather not answer that."
So the frustration also continues for Spartan fans, who have had to live with the solid defense and no offense era of George Perles, and now have to be content with the explosive offense and shody pass defense era of John L . Smith. In fact, it makes you wonder when a Spartan team will be solid across the board and on the same page.
Make no mistake however, the blame clearly lies with the coaches and not the Spartan players as Smith alluded to:
"They played with great emotion," answered Smith. "The way you want to play football, they played that way. They played with heart, they play with emotion, they gave to one another, you have to be proud of the kids for what they did. I'm just not very proud of us (coaches)."
Even though Drew Stanton had key turnovers late in the game, had the defense not melted down, there would have been no pressure on Stanton to once again try and outscore an opponent. Smith was aware of that fact:
"Drew played his heart out, he's a great competitor, I just feel terrible for my kids."
While Smith's comments are sincere and heart felt, he does need to retain the blame for what has transpired in these games. John L. gets paid the big bucks to hire the correct assistant coaches to help MSU rise back to prominence. It is in this area that Smith's decisions can be questioned.
First, defensive backfield Chuck Driesbach was hired despite the fact he was one of the most maligned coaches in Ole Miss history. In fact, one of newspapers headlines read, "Driesbach Target Of Significant Criticism". Driesbach came to be directly blamed for the firing of head coach David Cutcliffe after continual pass defense breakdowns.
It got so bad that his defense gave up 30 plays over 20 yards, 6 plays over 40 yards, 5 plays over 50 yards, and 2 plays over 70 yards after just four games one year.
Some of the blame also has to go to defensive cordinator Chris Smeland since some of the breakdowns happened before Dreisbach's arrival. Smeland has been with Smith since the beginning of this Spartan era, and you have to wonder what the strategy has been in protecting leads late in games. Regardless, pass defense is shoddy at best.
Offensive Line Coach Jeff Stoutland was retained by Smith despite previous offensive line struggles in regards to pad level, false starts, and holding penalties. Smith stepped in when he arrived and corrected technique, and at least temporarily reduced penalties.
However, the penalties have reared their ugly head of late and was most evident on Saturday night when the Spartans had a 1st and 10 at the Irish 30 yard line late in the game in what could have been a "dagger" drive, they instead were pushed back by multiple holding and false start penalties.
Smith also alluded to the notion that the Spartans were too conservative in their offensive play calling coming out for the second half. Whether Smith or offensive cordinator Dave Baldwin gets the blame here is anyone's guess.
Yet the question remains, when is a John L. Smith team going to finish a game or finish a season. The Spartans always start fast, but can't seem to focus and finish. So where do the Spartans go from here? Let's have coach Smith have the last word:
"We have to get up tommorrow and find out what we are made of. We go to league (play) and see if we can improve. We have to make better calls and better plays. I don't have anything else to say except we have to get up tommorrow and go to work."
Hopefully for the Spartans, going to work will mean finishing what they started in the near future.