Michigan State inexplicably put on a stinker of a performance against a game Illinois squad that was a 26.5 point underdog and had no business even being in the game, eventually losing 23-20 on a last second field goal by the Fighting Illini.
Adding insult to injury, quarterback Drew Stanton was injured late in the fourth quarter and was outperformed by reserve Brian Hoyer who came cold off the bench to convert a clutch 3rd-and-9 situation and lead the Spartans to ten fourth quarter points nearly pulling out a victory. Also injured was starting running back Javon Ringer who returned on the sidelines in crutches, but vowed to return before the season ended.
Now the Spartans face a University of Michigan squad that appears to be on a mission at 5-0 and doesn't seem to be in the mood to show any pity on their crosstown rivals, who now have a reputation for talking a good game, but failing to show up on Saturdays.
After the Spartans stinking performance a couple of questions arise:
Is it time to bench Stanton?
That question would have been unthinkable heading into the season, but after committing another turnover, his fourth in two games and having another reverse by replay, is it time to consider a move?
Stanton was pressured all day by a tough Illini pass rush that came up with five sacks on the day yet Hoyer was able to engineer ten points simply by managing the fourth quarter offense and not trying to do too much.
That cannot be overlooked heading into a football game against a team that is among the NCAA leaders in turnovers averaging 1.2 per game.
Stanton was mostly ineffective all day. He was also at the helm of the 2005 team that tanked down the stretch, winning just one its last six ball games after starting 4-0. While he isn't the scapegoat, he might benefit by watching a game from the sidelines.
His bruised ribs could give the coaching staff the opportunity to see what Hoyer can do in a primetime situation, while also giving it the option to go back to Stanton if Hoyer fails.
Is it time to cut ties with a coaching staff that can't get the team ready to play? John L. Smith was on the hot seat before this season ever began, but dispelled some of the criticism with a solid start to the recruiting season, landing stars Mark Dell, Keith Nichol, George White and most recently landing for 2008 Corey Johnson of Muskegon. Now after blowing a 16-point fourth quarter lead against Notre Dame and worse, losing to one of the worst teams in the Big Ten, Smith's seat is hotter than ever.
"We didn't get the kids prepared to play the game," Smith said after the loss. "And if you go out unprepared emotionally and mentally, you're going to lose and you deserve to lose."
MSU deserves a coaching staff that can do its job and get the team ready to play. With some great up and coming coaches at non-traditional football powers like Greg Schiano at Rutgers, Mike Leach at Texas Tech and Randy Shannon at Miami, coupled with choices like proven winners Mike Price at UTEP and Dennis Erickson at Idaho, it might be time for MSU to give up on the John L. Smith experiment.
Smith is down to the last two bullets to save what's left of his MSU career. He must do two of the following: Beat Michigan, beat Ohio State, finish with seven wins, get to a bowl game. If Smith can do these, he might be able to stave off the critics and get one more season at MSU. Barring this, the alumni who've been calling for his head are likely to get their wish.