COLLEGE PARK, MD. – There aren’t many times you’ll see Mark Dantonio look exasperated. Dantonio was exasperated Saturday night.
Michigan State had just lost its fifth game in a row, 28-17 against Maryland at Capital One Field at Maryland Stadium. The facility’s name is nearly as long as the time since Michigan State last dealt with a losing streak this of this length. It’s been 25 years since a Michigan State team has lost five games in a row. Twenty-five years.
Dantonio tried to keep the stiff upper lip but after this many losses but even he couldn’t help but take a deep breath and bow his head a bit, rubbing his forehead as he fought to find the right words.
“I’ve been through these situations before,” Dantonio said. “Not in a while, be we have. These are things where life’s experience will pay dividends later on. I said it when I came into summer camp, that some of our younger guys haven’t experienced this. Now they’re experiencing it and they’ll understand how hard they have to work and what they have to do to play more successfully at a later time.”
There are a lot of young players getting playing time – significant playing time – for Michigan State these days. Before Saturday’s game kicked off there had been seven freshman take the field for the Spartans, more than any other season under Dantonio. Add linebacker Joe Bachie and safety Kenney Lyke to that list.
Bachie played because senior linebacker and tri-captain Riley Bullough had been ejected from the game less than 11 minutes into the first quarter for targeting. It was his third personal foul call of the game. Senior quarterback and tri-captain Tyler O’Connor didn’t get a chance to play because of an ankle injury, giving redshirt freshman Brian Lewerke his second consecutive start. Senior safety and tri-captain Demetrious Cox left the game in the second half because of an injury, helping pave the way for Lyke’s collegiate debut. Junior Montae Nicholson also left the game injured.
Is it any wonder why Dantonio was exasperated?
The Spartans are 2-5. They’re 0-4 in the Big Ten. They haven’t been winless in their first four conference games since 1982. This is a program that 10 months ago played in the national semifinals.
But this is a team that time and time again has failed to help itself when it had a chance to win games, and that’s not something that can be completely laid at the youngsters’ feet.
Michigan State committed seven penalties that cost it more than 84 yards. Senior wide receiver Monty Madaris was twice called for offensive pass interference for running pick routes. Each time the penalty wiped out conversions for first downs. Madaris also fumbled inside the Maryland 5-yard line when the score was 14-14 in the third quarter.
Dantonio himself made a curious call at the end of the first half, a call that wreaked of desperation. With one second left and having the ball at the Maryland 28, Dantonio sent out kicker Michael Geiger and the field goal unit. Instead of attempting the kick with the wind at his back, the snap came directly to Geiger, who ran right and was easily tackled after gaining four yards.
Dantonio has called the team’s struggles “inclusive.” That was an excellent example of inclusiveness.
He’s running out of answers to the questions that keep coming. I’m not talking about questions from the media. These are the questions he has for himself and his team. Those questions aren’t going away, especially not with Michigan coming to town next week.
Mark Dantonio has to get over his exasperation quickly.
“We’re trying to win football games, and everything we can do to win a football game is what we’re gonna do,” he said. “We’re playing for the future in terms of the next game.”
Kevin Goheen covers Michigan State for Landof10.com. Follow him on Twitter at @CincyGoGo