EAST LANSING, Mich. — Michigan State hosted BYU Saturday at Spartan Stadium with intentions of ending a two game losing skid. That did not happen, however, as the Spartans fell for the third straight game. This time around, it was by a score of 31-14.
Before the start of the game, BYU placed bouquets of roses on the three and six-yard lines in honor of former Spartans Mike Sadler and Mylan Hicks, who recently passed away. Surely, the Spartans appreciated this act of compassion by BYU. However, as classy as the Cougars were off the field, they proved to be nothing less than animals on the field.
“I believe this program is built on a pretty solid foundation,” said MSU coach Mark Dantonio, who has lost three straight games for the first time since 2009. “It has taken nine years to do that. It has taken that long to get to where we’ve been. And the ride up the mountain is very difficult at times, and that ride down sometimes is very quick. So the reality is that we’re a 2-3 football team.”
BYU running back Jamaal Williams led the charge for the Cougar offense with 163 yards and two touchdowns on 30 carries.
“He’s a great running back, he runs through tackles,” Dantonio said. “I think as much as anything, he was downhill in a hurry. But he ran with power, so we have to tackle better.”
The Spartans scored on their opening drive, which lasted seven minutes and three seconds. This proved to be MSU’s longest drive of the season, which was largely due to strong play from running back Gerald Holmes. Holmes made his first start of the year, and salvaged decent numbers with 57 yards on the ground and 22 in the air.
This Spartan success, however, was short-lived. As the game progressed, the MSU offense got worse. The play-calling from co-offensive coordinator Dave Warner was very conservative. Quarterback Tyler O’Connor did not have a perfect day, but he rarely received opportunities to throw the ball downfield, as shown by his seven completions out of 11 attempts for a depressing 58 yards.
“It was either a bad decision by the quarterback, or a missed block in protection by the offensive line, or a missed block in the run game, or a dropped pass, or a missed read, or a bad call by me,” said Warner, as he described the lack of offensive success in the past three weeks. “It was the whole team [who was] effortless, not getting it done.”
BYU finished the half with momentum from a field goal, and it was all downhill from there for MSU. After a holding foul on Demetrius Cox that would have brought up third and long, Cougar quarterback Taysom Hill connected with Colby Pearson in the end zone to take a 10-7 lead.
From there, the MSU offense stalled. They played with no heart and gave up any effort at coming back—especially on third downs. MSU finished the day with only six successful conversions on third down, which has been a hurdle for them all season. The Spartan defense struggled on third downs as well, giving up 10-of-16 to BYU.
After going up 17-7 on a 12-yard run by Hill, MSU was deflated. They had no resilience against BYU from a player standpoint, nor from a coaching standpoint. While the players did a poor job handling giving up 24 unanswered points, the coaching staff stayed vanilla and made little attempt to give the Spartans a chance to come back.
O’Connor was pulled in the fourth quarter while the Spartans were down 10 with 4:59 remaining. He was replaced by Damien Terry who was 6-for-10 with 63 yards.
“The bottom line is production,” Dantonio said as he explained his decision to change quarterbacks. “At some point in time you have to be productive. If you’re not productive and you’ve got seven points on the board, then you’ve got to make the change for the sake of change. I don’t think he (O’Connor) was playing that badly.”
The decision to bench O’Connor was surprising, especially considering MSU was still very much in the game at this time. Even Terry was surprised by the move.
“Honestly, I was in shock,” Terry said. “Third quarter, Coach Salem just looked at me and he was just like, get ready.”
While the Spartan defense had its struggles, it is difficult for them to come up with stops when they are on the field for the entire game. This is exactly what happened against BYU, as the Cougars won time of possession 34:34 to 25:26.
The Spartans have fallen to an ugly 2-3 record. Hopes of a Big Ten Championship have all but perished in East Lansing as the Spartans struggle to find answers.
The Spartans’ next game is Saturday Oct. 15 against Northwestern, where MSU will attempt to avoid losing four straight. Kickoff is at 3:30 p.m. in East Lansing.