CHAMPAIGN, Ill. – Michigan State is on a record-setting pace this football season, but it’s not a record the Spartans want. It would be one that explains many of their troubles.
The Spartans added another 89 yards in penalties in their 31-27 loss at Illinois on Saturday, bringing their season total to 601. They lead the Big Ten in most penalty yards (66.8 per game). No Michigan State team in Mark Dantonio’s tenure has topped 800 penalty yards in a season but that’s where this one is headed.
Michigan State was penalized 10 times against Illinois, and nine of those penalties greatly hampered Michigan State scoring opportunities or aided Illinois’ offensive advances. The Spartans committed five penalties on their first four possessions of the game. All four drives reached Illinois territory and all five penalties came on the Illini side of the 50-yard line.
Michigan State punted three times and got just three points out of those chances.
“They’re critical,” Dantonio said. “A couple of times we’re down there and I think we had two holding calls and then we had third-and-30-plus. They’re critical. You don’t even get a field goal on two of them when you’re down there. Penalties take us out of it.”
Michigan State committed 10 penalties in its 31-27 loss at Illinois on Saturday. Seven of those were against the offense, including five on the first four possessions. Here’s a look at each penalty and how it affected each drive
|1st||I 30||1/10||Illegal shift||5||multiple||FG|
|2Q||I 26||Punt return||Illegal block||10||Watts-Jackson||Punt*|
|2Q||I 36||3/10||False start||5||Lukusa||Punt*|
|3Q||M 31||3/4||False start||5||Beedle||Punt|
|4Q||I 14||3/10||False start||5||Davis III||FG|
|4Q||M 49||2/6||Pass interference||14||Smith||TD*|
|4Q||M 35||1/10||Pass interference||15||Smith||TD*|
* — denotes penalties occurred on same possession.
Senior Michael Geiger salvaged points on four drives with field goals of 46, 34, 28 and 29 yards. That equaled Geiger’s career-high for most field goals made in a game but if Michigan State finishes a couple of drives better than it did, the game’s result is different.
The Spartans had 10 of 13 possessions reach Illinois territory. That includes the final possession of the first half when quarterback Tyler O’Connor took a knee on one play to run the clock out. They reached the red zone seven times, converting those into points five times but only twice did they score touchdowns.
“You kick four field goals, that sounds good, but that means there’s missed opportunities in the red zone,” Dantonio said.
Illinois senior defensive ends Dawuane Smoot and Carroll Phillips created a lot of trouble for Michigan State’s offensive tackles. David Beedle started at left tackle in place of an injured Kodi Kieler and committed a false start. Miguel Machado, who started at right tackle, was called for two holding penalties and beaten cleanly by Smoot for a sack. Freshman Thiyo Lukusa committed a pair of penalties in his time at right tackle.
“You try to do quicker drop-backs, three-step drop back passes, get the ball out quicker, and we tried to chip on the ends at times with tight ends and running backs,” senior tight end Josiah Price said. “At the end of line, those tackles have got to be able to block those dudes. We have to be able to step up and make those plays. Our O-line has to be able to make those plays. We’ll get better.”
This was the third time this season Michigan State has committed at least 10 penalties and the fifth time it has been flagged at least seven times. Michigan State, Illinois and Ohio State have all been called for 62 penalties this season, the second-most in the Big Ten.
The only other season Michigan State has committed at least 10 penalties in three games under Dantonio was 2010. It didn’t happen at all last season. When a team is playing with as small of a margin of error as Michigan State is, it can’t afford to hurt itself.
Kevin Goheen covers Michigan State for Landof10.com. Follow him on Twitter at @CincyGoGo