I waited until todat to post my thoughts because I didn't want to post in the heat of emotion or until I had a chance to re-watch the game (which I do on Sundays with my young son). So, on with my useless opinions:
1. Our offensive line had a terrible game, other than Lewan.
While Denard had a terrible game (more on that in a bit), not all of it is on him. He was consistently running for his life, as large men with ill intent came at him practically unimpeded. I know that MSU has a great front 7, but come on - we need to be able to at least slow them down. Denard couldn't run, but even the mest runner needs some hole to run through. Denard couldn't pass, but it even Tom Brady requires 2-3 seconds to allow his receivers to go through their routes (even a short route takes a few seconds to develop. The O-Line really didn't do Denard any favors.
Also, when we got Hoke, and he used the word "toughness" in every single sentence, I thought we would be . . . tough? MSU was taking personal foul after personal foul, beating up our star player (who happens to be a wee bit smaller than the guys body slamming him), and call me crazy, I would have liked to see Lewan make them pay. Nothing dirty - I love that we stayed classy - but I would have been ok with a penalty for a late hit on Cousins (again, nothing dirty or aiming to injure at all), just to send a message that it is not ok to do what they tried to do to Denard.
2. The Running Backs
I know that we didn't run them nearly enough, which is partially on Borges (more on that in the coaching section), but this is really an area of weakness. V. Smith is a great blocker, and has been productive, but he is NEVER productive against the faster, bigger teams, going back two years. He was stuffed on every run after the first drive. Fitz - I know, fast, strong, Chris Perry mated with a cheetah, but I just don't see it. Hopkins is clearly goingg to be a FB. Finally, Shaw. I am usually own on him, but with MSU owning the interior, why not bring in Shaw to try to get the edge? Either way, we need help at this position, pronto. Hoping that Hayes is working his ass off in the weight room and that either he or Rawls will take over here next year. Or that Brionte comes to Ann Arbor (please come to Ann Arbor, Brionte).
3. Denard at QB
I saved this for the middle since, given the number of posts on this topic, it is a hot button for some peope. My take: Denard is an amazing runner, and is more effective running the ball from the QB spot than he would be from the RB spot. However, I do not feel that he will ever improve enough as a QB for us to really hang with the better teams. There are three problems, some of which are not solveable. (a) He is too short to see over the front when the line is stacked to hit his receivers over the middle and punish stacking the box. Unless he grows 4 inches, this is going to continue to be a problem. (b) His decision making is horrible. Sure, coaching can help this but it has now been a problem under two different coaches. Several different sets of game announcers have now commented that once Denard makes up his mind on a play, he gets locked in, even if the intended play is not there. If 2 sets of coaches cannot chance this, I am fearful that this issue ain't going away. (c) Poor throwing mechanics - this may be able to be fixed, but again, two sets of coaches haven't been able to do so.
In the end, I think that we are going to see the Devin / Denard set become more standard, with Devin lining up at QB, and Denard playing RB, slot, WR, decoy and on at good percentage of those plays QB (think hand off and then pop up and throw, or lateral pass to enard who then takes a step to run and then backs up to throw). To me, this is the perfect blend. I don't recall a major team running a standard 2-QB base set - the possibilities really are endless. Hoke conceded that Devin is more accurate, which is something that we will need once we hit the hardest part of our schedule, but at the same time, enard is our playmakes, so having both in for most of the game makes sense to me.
I love me some Hoke and Borges - I was complimentary of Hoke and openly campaigning for him before, during and after the Process. However, he and Borges coached a terrible game. How do you not go for it on 4th down TWICE, when we clearly need to score points. Poor choices. As for Borges, clearly the inside running wasn't working. Go outside. Call some slants, some screens, some short quick-strike passes. Enough of this down-field throwing until Denard shows that he can do it. I know that Borges said in an interview a few weeks ago that even if the downfield passes are not completed, they have a value because they force the defense to respect it and stretch out (taking pressure off of the line), but MSU was not buying. They were not moving off the line, no matter what we did, so stop wasting downs on long throws and start moving the ball.
I don't fault Borges for not using the RBs more, however, for the reasons listed above.
Finally, I know that MSU moved the ball on us well, but no failt to Mattison. He has essentially made water into wine with this defense - there are still limits on how much of an effect coaching can have. But, the D played well and came up with some big stops.
5. Going forward
Unless we crator (not happening), Purdue should be an auto-win, and Iowa should be a win. That would get us to 8 wins, which would satisfy most predictions. We then have a tough schedule against Illinois, Neb and OSU. We should be able to win 1 of these three, and possibly two, giving us between 9 and 10 wins, which would be a wildly successful season, in my opinion.