EAST LANSING, Mich. – The bye week came early for Michigan State this year. One game and then a rest week.
Except there was no rest for the Spartans.
The season-opening 28-13 victory over Furman on Sept. 2 left plenty to be desired, especially with a game at Notre Dame looming on Saturday night. Michigan State might be ranked higher than the Fighting Irish (No. 12 in the AP Top 25 and No. 8 in the USA Today coaches poll vs. No. 18 in both for Notre Dame) but a similar performance by the Spartans on Saturday will make for a longer trip back from South Bend than the 160-mile distance.
The most glaring issue against Furman was 10 penalties committed by Michigan State that cost them more than just 120 yards of field position. So while Notre Dame got the chance to bounce back from its Week 1 50-44 loss to Texas in double overtime with a 39-10 victory against Nevada last Saturday, head coach Mark Dantonio was addressing his team’s failings.
“Coach D was not happy at all,” said safety Demetrious Cox. “Over the bye week we did a lot of disciplinary things.”
The 10 penalties were the most in a game by Michigan State since Nov. 14, 2014, at Maryland when the Spartans also committed 10 penalties. They had 11 penalties the previous week in a 49-37 home loss against Ohio State. Michigan State has averaged 5.6 penalties per game the past three seasons but against Furman only one of their penalties was of the minor 5-yard variety.
The Spartans had three personal foul and three pass interference calls against them as well as two offensive holding calls.
“We had a tough bye week. We had our toughest bye week that we’ve had since we’ve been here over the past two years and rightfully so,” said senior quarterback Tyler O’Connor. “I think, offensively speaking, we halted two of our drives. We were driving the ball and everything and we felt we would have gone down and scored if we didn’t have a 10- or 15-yard penalty. They weren’t necessarily mental errors. They weren’t jumping offsides, delay of games, illegal formations or things like that.
“They were more technique and just being dumb.”
Saturday is the first of four games Michigan State has against teams currently ranked in the top 10 of the AP poll; No. 9 Wisconsin on Sept. 24, No. 4 Michigan on Oct. 29 and No. 3 Ohio State on Nov. 19. Those three games, however, will be played at Spartan Stadium. Getting a road win at Notre Dame would be a bold block letter notation on Michigan State’s resume for the rest of the season.
“We’re going to work on ourselves. We’re going to work on what we do,” said Dantonio. “But we’re getting ready for our next moment. So that’s the challenge all the time. The biggest thing for us was to make sure that we came out of last week as if we had played a game. That to me was very important but yet stay healthy.”
Working on themselves meant working on eliminating those penalties.
“We’ve got to be more accountable for those,” said Cox. “(Dantonio) just said it’s possible to play without penalties. I think we had a game against Nebraska or somebody, Wisconsin (in 2011), we had no penalties. So he just wants to stress to us, we beat ourselves sometimes in certain situations and we can’t let that happen if we want to be back-to-back Big Ten champs and stuff like that. Great teams don’t do things like that.”
Kevin Goheen covers Michigan State for Landof10.com. Follow him on Twitter at @CincyGoGo