EAST LANSING, Mich. – Michigan State took a 7-0 lead on its opening possession of the game but that was the only positive aspect of a 31-14 loss to Brigham Young Saturday afternoon at Spartan Stadium. The loss was the third straight for Michigan State, the first time the Spartans have lost three in a row since 2009.
Quarterback Tyler O’Connor was replaced by junior Damion Terry in the fourth quarter but his first drive ended in an interception that set up an 8-yard scoring run by Jamaal Williams. After gaining 72 yards on 15 plays on the first drive, Michigan State managed to gain just 134 yards the rest of the game.
Here’s a quick look at what happened and why:
Five things we learned
- Michigan State came out throwing the ball but it didn’t last long. The Spartans opened up the game with four straight passes and eight of the first 10 plays were pass attempts. Tyler O’Connor was 6 of 8 on that touchdown drive but he attempted just one more pass the rest of the first half. Circumstances dictated some of that; there were drive starts at their own 3- and 5-yard lines and they were going into a strong wind during the second quarter but there was little effort shown to continue passing the ball. It allowed BYU to focus on stopping the run until Michigan State fell behind by 10 points in the second half.
- The defense is on the field way too much. It’s a combination of the offense not sustaining drives and the defense not getting off the field on third down. Michigan State converted three of its first four third downs but then failed on its next seven attempts. BYU converted (10 of 16) third downs and reached Michigan State territory on eight of its nine possessions. Indiana ended regulation last week with seven consecutive drives in Spartan territory. You simply can’t play defense with your back to the wall that much.
- Damion Terry brought a spark to the offense. He was intercepted on his first drive but did a good job on his second possession, completing 4 of 5 passes for 41 yards plus drawing a pass interference penalty that set up his 1-yard touchdown run. He has a legitimate claim to replace O’Connor full-time as the starter.
- The pass rush issues aren’t going away whether or not Malik McDowell is in the game. The junior standout sat out the first half because of a targeting penalty last week at Indiana. He returned for the second half but the Spartans didn’t register a sack for the second straight game. They haven’t sacked the quarterback for nine consecutive quarters, going back to the third quarter of the Wisconsin game.
- Gerald Holmes started at running back and rotated the first few possessions with L.J. Scott but that switch up did little to help a rushing attack that continues to lack any rhythm. Holmes finished with 57 on 15 carries. Scott had just 3 carries for 9 yards.
BYU took a 10-7 lead with a 4-yard touchdown pass from quarterback Taysom Hill to Colby Pearson with 7:29 left in the third quarter. Michigan State’s defense had rebuffed a couple of other BYU scoring opportunities but once the Cougars grabbed the lead Michigan State had no answer.
Can a Mark Dantonio team lose three games in a row? Well, yes it can. And it can do so in stunning fashion. This is the second straight loss at home and they’ve been outscored 61-20 in the process.
Who starts at quarterback next week against Northwestern? O’Connor looked good on the first drive but then the offense was uninspired until it was 24-7 and Terry led them down the field for a 75-yard touchdown drive. By that time, however, BYU was in full control of the game.
66 – That’s the total yards Michigan State gained on six possessions in between touchdown drives.
What it means
The Spartans search for answers continue. They get back to Big Ten play next Saturday against Northwestern. It’s Homecoming. Can this team return to the form that beat Notre Dame on the road?