COLLEGE PARK, Md. — Michigan State had scored first in each of its previous four games coming into its matchup at Maryland Saturday night. It had also lost all four games, so when Maryland took an 8-0 lead in the first quarter, the thought that maybe things could turn around for Michigan State entered the mind.
Or maybe not.
The Spartans lost 28-17 to the Terrapins, falling to 2-5 overall and 0-4 in the Big Ten. They were tied 14-14 at halftime, led 17-14 at the end of the third quarter but were — once again — overtaken in the fourth quarter. Opponents have now outscored Michigan State 87-30 after the third quarter ends this season.
The Spartans host arch-rival Michigan (7-0, 4-0 Big Ten) next Saturday for noon (ET) kickoff. Michigan State has won seven of the last eight games against the Wolverines but Michigan will come into the game as prohibitive favorites. That is next week.
Let’s look at the grades from the Maryland game, rated on a scale from one star to five:
Offense (2 stars)
Brian Lewerke’s second start went better than his first but the redshirt freshman still missed some key throws, and in the end the offense couldn’t provide more than three points in the second half. Lewerke completed 11 of 24 passes for 156 yards. He was intercepted once in the first quarter on a deep ball intended for Donnie Corley. A strong headwind may have held the ball up some and allowed defensive back Alvin Hill to come back and pick off the pass. Lewerke also added 79 yards rushing on 10 carries.
His decision-making was better this week than his last game against Northwestern. If he starts again next week against Michigan, it will have to be even better.
The running game had its best effort of the season, producing 270 yards on 44 carries. LJ Scott led the way with 128 yards on 20 carries, including a 48-yard touchdown in which he showed a finishing burst to outrun a defender who appeared to have an angle on him. Gerald Holmes added 59 yards and a touchdown in which he bulled his way into the end zone behind a jumbo package that included freshman Thiyo Lukusa, redshirt freshman Cole Chewins and tight end Matt Sokol all lined up on the right side.
There were positives, but missed opportunities — like Monty Madaris’ fumble at the Maryland 4-yard line in the third quarter and Lewerke’s low throw to Corley in the red zone on the next possession — left everyone wanting more.
Defense (1 star)
The point total was down from last week but Maryland had 447 yards total and made it four weeks in a row for an opposing running back to go over the 100-yard mark against Michigan State. The Spartans were so obliging that they let two Terrapins backs to top 100 yards. Ty Johnson had 115 yards on just nine carries, while Lorenzo Harrison gained 105 yards and scored once on 17 carries.
Quarterback Perry Hills threw for 200 yards on 21 of 28 passing and rarely was he bothered in the pocket. Malik McDowell had the only sack of the game for Michigan State, which wasn’t credited with any other quarterback hits.
Senior linebacker Riley Bullough played less than 11 minutes after being ejected for targeting. It was his third personal foul penalty of the first quarter. His loss forced freshman Joe Bachie to make his debut and no matter how well Bachie played, he couldn’t possibly fill Bullough’s role completely.
Injuries to McDowell and safeties Demetrious Cox and Montae Nicholson brought in more inexperienced players. Redshirt freshman David Dowell had his most extensive action, and freshman Kenney Lyke made his debut. That’s a lot of holes being filled with first- and second-year players. It’s too many holes to plug at the moment.
Special teams (4 stars)
Michigan State has been in need of a spark from its return game and R.J. Shelton gave just that with three kickoff returns for 92 yards, including one for 52 yards. After a tough game fielding punts against Northwestern, Brandon Sowards made good decisions in getting to punts for fair catches.
Michael Geiger made his only field goal attempt of the game, from 34 yards. The coverage units did a good job containing Maryland’s returners. Jake Hartbarger had four punts, and all four were downed inside the 20-yard line. Michigan State won the field position battle with an average drive start of its own 33 compared to Maryland starting at its own 16.
Coaching (2 stars)
The coaches haven’t lost the players. Michigan State’s issues have nothing to do with effort. The fact that so many freshmen and sophomores and older players who just don’t have that much experience is a contributing factor to the losses, but even more experienced players are making mistakes at critical moments. The fourth quarter scoring deficit has been an ongoing problem. That goes back to an ineffective job of making in-game adjustments. The decision by Dantonio to attempt a fake field goal at the end of the first half instead of allowing Geiger to attempt a 45-yard kick was ill-advised.
Overall (2 stars)
Five straight losses and again the Spartans were their own worst enemy. Two turnovers, seven penalties, missed throws and poor tackling added up to more frustrations. It certainly doesn’t get any easier next week with Michigan next on the docket.
Kevin Goheen covers Michigan State for Landof10.com. Follow him on Twitter at @CincyGoGo