What more can be said, really?
Michigan State (2-5, 0-4) lost once again Saturday, haunted by the same problems: everything from turnovers to injuries to penalties to not being able to finish.
MSU probably won’t take much solace in the fact that much of the nation was watching the Cubs win the pennant or Penn State upset No. 2 Ohio State instead of the Spartans’ fifth straight loss.
Mark Dantonio’s team was defeated once again, regardless of how many people saw Maryland come out on top.
The 28-17 final left MSU as one of two winless teams in conference play, joining hapless Rutgers. In three weeks, we’ll get to see that glorious battle on the field. But first, let’s take a look back at Saturday night’s defeat.
Typically, officiating tends to even itself over the course of the game. Feel your team got shafted on a call? Well, you’ll probably get something in your favor before all’s said and done.
However, calls at crucial times get magnified, which we saw Saturday. Trailing 21-17 with about 10 minutes left in the fourth quarter, Michigan State burst into Maryland territory via a 16-yard pass from Brian Lewerke to LJ Scott.
A flag was thrown, and a first down turned into second-and-25 after a second offensive pass interference was called on Spartans receiver Monty Madaris. Replays showed that Madaris had been called for screening a Maryland defender.
“If I was Mark Dantonio, I’d be a little upset at that call,” former Minnesota coach and current Big Ten Network analyst Glen Mason said. And judging from the sidelines, it looked as though Dantonio was upset. He subtly confirmed his confusion and disgust with the call after the game.
It looks as though Madaris simply ran his route and got to his spot before the defender did. He doesn’t appear to have intended to set a screen; the defender simply fell behind his assignment and into Madaris’ way.
Did this change the course of the game? Potentially. Who knows what would’ve become of that drive had the penalty not been called? Instead, Michigan State would punt three plays later, and, when the offense received the ball again, Maryland held a 28-17 lead.
The Spartans made far too many mistakes to deserve a win, but, looking back, fans can feel this call affected MSU’s chance of pulling out a win.
More so than that one call, Michigan State blame itself for the absurd number of penalties and yards incurred. With 64 yards in penalties after the first quarter, the Spartans had already surpassed what 11 Big Ten teams averaged in penalty yards per game going into Saturday.
The result was an 8-0 Maryland lead after one quarter. No too bad, but here’s the problem: Michigan State had been good in opening quarters this season, outscoring opponents by 17 going into Saturday. With how well this team has started games and how poorly it has finished them, the poor start set up the Spartans for failure.
First penalty: Riley Bullough barrels into Maryland receiver Teldrick Morgan, who is several steps out of bounds. Deservedly, Bullough gets slapped with a late-hit penalty.
The next penalty for Michigan State came on Maryland’s second drive: Bullough was hit with another personal foul after he shoved quarterback Perry Hills to the ground about half a second after he released a pass. Again, good call.
Bullough had a very good tackle for loss on the next play, but, directly after that, he was ejected for targeting. Instead of going low and/or leading with the shoulder, Bullough appears to lead with the crown of his helmet into the helmet of D.J. Moore as Moore makes the catch.
Is there much Bullough can do to avoid this contact? Maybe, maybe not. It’s a bang-bang play. But as the officials have been called upon to enforce targeting, they really didn’t have much of a choice except to eject him.
In retrospect, this isn’t about Bullough’s targeting ejection. It’s about him coming out in his second game back from injury and playing without discipline. He’s a senior, one of three captains on this team, so he should not be losing his composure and watching the final three quarters.
The impact could be seen immediately. Maryland would score on that drive, aided slightly by an offsides penalty that gave it a first down. The Spartans were then flagged for an illegal motion (which was declined because Lewerke had thrown an incomplete pass) and Madaris’ first pass interference call on consecutive plays.
We can’t get into the mind of Bullough, as he understandably didn’t speak postgame. But it appears frustration about this season may have gotten the better of him. As for the rest of the squad, most of these penalties can be traced to not paying attention to detail. When one player isn’t on the same page as the rest, the entire team gets thrown off.
What constitutes a big play? 20-plus yards? 30-plus yards? The threshold, of course, is completely subjective, but by just about any measure, Michigan State was dominated in that regard Saturday.
This game had nine players of more than 20 yards. Seven of those came from Maryland. The Terps also had five plays of 30-plus yards, while Michigan State had none.
Why does all this matter? Well, seven of the nine plays of 20-plus yards resulted in touchdowns on that same drive. Make a big play, and you’ve got the defense on its heels. Michigan State has not shown that it can grind out drives. At some point, it has to break through with a big play downfield. That didn’t happen this weekend.
But it did for Maryland. Take, for example, this 36-yard touchdown pass to D.J. Moore in the second quarter.
That busted coverage can’t happen if you’re Michigan State, and it must be seized upon if you’re Maryland. Keep in mind that the Terps were in this position because of a 40-yard run from Ty Johnson earlier in the drive. Occasional lapses in concentration not apparent a year ago are prevalent in 2016.
Conversely, Michigan State wasn’t able to take advantage of these situations on offense. Dantonio spoke Sunday about how he saw a Maryland defensive back tying his shoe throughout an entire play, but Lewerke didn’t audible into a pass play to take advantage – a big-play opportunity gone begging.
And when faced with the prospect of holding a lead in the fourth quarter, Michigan State folded, and it folded quickly. On the second play of the final quarter, Johnson broke free for a 44-yard rush. He then immediately followed it up with an 18-yard scamper. Perhaps, Michigan State gets worn out, loses focus or simply submits to the idea that it can’t win in the fourth quarter.
The only reason Michigan State could stay in the game against Northwestern a week ago is because Tyler O’Connor came into the game to throw two touchdown passes to R.J. Shelton. Ideally, teams don’t want to rely on having to make multiple big plays like that each week.
With the way the Michigan State offense has played, there’s not much of a choice but to go for it.
With each loss, Dantonio has gone into the postgame press conference by listing each big-picture thing that has gone wrong for his team. Those lists haven’t changed much over the weeks.
You can’t have (insert absurd number) penalties. You can’t turn the ball over. You can’t have busted coverages. And so on.
Michigan State has shown no signs of a turnaround. Until the Spartans prove otherwise, it seems these issues will continue to go unfixed. And with that, Dantonio will become a broken record, if he hasn’t already, in explaining what has gone wrong.