Michigan State may have won their Big Ten season-opener last weekend at Iowa, and the Spartans may now have a 4-1 record, but head coach Mark Dantonio still sees a very glaring problem.
And the rest of us see that problem quite plainly, too.
On Wednesday, Dantonio told reporters that he was extremely frustrated by his team's inability to close the deal and score touchdowns in the red zone. MSU fans have seen it time and time again already this season; Michigan State makes a spirited drive to the opponent's red zone and fails to walk away with at least six points. It can be maddening for any coach, let alone the fans.
The Spartans have been in the red zone 19 times this season and have scored only 16 times - including eight touchdowns and eight field goals.
But now, Dantonio says he's solved the problem that has kept the Spartans just "inches" away from touchdowns with 20 yards or less before a score. For instance, when in the first half of the battle against Iowa, Michigan State tailback Jeremy Langford was stopped on a fourth-and-1 in the red zone, Dantonio had decided that he'd had enough. He pulled Langford and took off true freshman Delton Williams' redshirt and threw him into the mix.
Dantonio's reasoning? If you can't get the job done, someone else will.
"The red zone is a point of emphasis, as you've said, (and) we've got to get down there and we have to score touchdowns,'' Dantonio said at a press conference at Spartan Stadium. "So right now, I think we're eight out of (19) getting touchdowns in that area, in the red zone when we get into it, so we're kicking too many field goals.
"Obviously we went for it on the one fourth down. So we've got to come up with short yardage plays and we've got to hit plays we have an opportunity to hit. We're off by inches, it's literally inches. So those things will come. We'll just keep working it, keep trying to do different things, and I believe those things will come.''
The difference between kicking a field goal and scoring a touchdown while in the red zone can literally make all of the difference for a team vying to win. And until Dantonio sees his players cross that goal line every time, he knows there's still work to do.
"We're not going to measure up completely until we hit that button, as well, until we hit that‑‑ overcome that hurdle,'' Dantonio said. "But that's the challenge. Like I said, everybody has got challenges, everybody has got different challenges. Some people are dealing with the defense, some people are dealing with the special teams.
"But the red zone is something that I think that needs‑‑ that's constantly addressed every day we're meeting. In terms of what we'll do with it, there are other things ‑‑ there are things that we can do, so we'll use everybody that we've got and try and get the thing remedied.''
You can follow MSU writer, Michael Ferro, at twitter.com/MichaelFerro.