For the first time in a long time, Michigan State (2-3, 0-2) is in very bad shape as they fell to the BYU Cougars last Saturday, 31-14.
Not only did MSU drop their second home game (first time losing twice at home since 2012), but it also snapped an 11-game winning streak against non-conference foes at Spartan Stadium, losing for the first time since 2012 against Notre Dame.
Here are the three biggest takeaways from the BYU matchup last weekend:
1. Bullough and Reschke deeply missed
The Cougars offense had a phenomenal outing against a shorthanded Spartan defense. Star running back Jamaal Williams (163 yards, two scores) put on a human highlight reel, lifting BYU’s ground game to 260 total rushing yards and three touchdowns.
All the credit goes to a physical Cougar offensive line that surrendered no sacks and provided solid protection for quarterback Taysom Hill all game long. They also consistently got a good push at the line to open up running lanes for Williams.
The BYU offensive line had a huge advantage with an inexperienced MSU front seven and because of the crucial absences of Riley Bullough and Jon Reschke at linebacker.
Bullough tallied 12 tackles in the Spartans’ first two games, while Reschke had a standout performance against Notre Dame, racking up eight tackles along with one interception and one forced fumble.
The dynamic duo suffered injuries in week four against Wisconsin and have been out ever since. Bullough (undisclosed injury) is on a day-by-day prognosis and Reschke is most likely out for the remainder of the year with a sprained ankle.
Three of the Spartans best defensive playmakers are banged up with Bullough, Reschke and now Malik McDowell. The sooner they can return onto the field, the better it will be for the fatigued defense.
2. Dave Warner does not trust Tyler O’Connor
The Spartans were going up against one of the worst pass defenses (121st out of 130 in FBS) coming into the game last weekend, yet co-offensive coordinator Dave Warner leaned towards the rushing attack with 32 running plays and only 21 passing plays.
Quarterback Tyler O’Connor only threw for 58 yards, completing seven of 11 passes in the whole game and was inexplicably pulled in favor of backup Damion Terry in the fourth quarter.
Michigan State’s most noteworthy drive was their opening possession. O’Connor tossed eight of his 11 passes for 46 of his 58 yards, guiding the green and white down the length of the field on a seven minute, 15 play and 72 yard drive that ended in paydirt.
One has to believe that O’Connor would have capitalized if set up in prime position with more aggressive pass plays downfield. The Ohioan has the most experience out of all the quarterbacks, and despite playing mistake-free football, he was still yanked out of the huddle.
Michigan State has too good of a receiving corps to not be slinging the ball on a regular basis. Veterans R.J. Shelton and Josiah Price have soft hands, while emerging newcomer Donnie Corley is the second leading receiver on the team thanks to his big play capability.
This promising unit would give opposing defensive coordinators headaches if their potential was utilized more often. We’ll see if Warner adjusts his offensive gameplan with a more balanced approach by getting O’Connor and the talented receivers more involved in the future.
O’Connor wasn’t the only key piece whose playing time was notably and peculiarly constrained.
3. Holmes’s limited action proved costly
MSU may have found their primary ball carrier moving forward. Gerald Holmes emerged in the first half, collecting 53 rushing yards on 12 carries and the lone first half touchdown.
But just like O’Connor, Holmes was greatly undermined and under-utilized because he only got three more carries after halftime.
The junior was a workhorse in the first 30 minutes of play who ran with power and conviction yet was frequently rotated out for LJ Scott and Madre London to get some playing time.
It wouldn’t be a bad idea for Gerald to call his buddy Sherlock to weigh in on these mysteries.
Whether it’s production through the air or on the ground, coach Dantonio has to start sticking with the hot hand. Get the ball into the best playmaker’s hands and let him lead the charge.
The last time Michigan State lost four games in a row was former coach John L. Smith’s last season with MSU in 2006.
The Spartans hope to avoid that by trying to shatter their three game losing skid as they host Northwestern (2-3, 1-1) this Saturday. Kickoff is at 3:30 p.m. on the Big Ten Network.