McRae: After subpar perfomance, hope dwindles for Spartans to win significant games

Alex McRae, Football Beat Reporter

EAST LANSING, Mich. – Entering Saturday’s matchup against the Indiana Hoosiers, there was still an aura of hope surrounding this Michigan State football team. That quickly dissipated following an embarrassing performance on the defensive side of the ball, Mark Dantonio’s squad has seemingly squandered the opportunity of having a veteran-led team.

Their frustrating win against an inferior Indiana team is yet another knock to the slogan of this program, “chase the moment.” The Spartans should be counting their blessings, as they are extremely lucky to walk out of Spartan Stadium with a victory.

The product of football Michigan State played is simply unacceptable. Only two weeks ago, this Indiana team didn’t even look like they should be on the same field in Columbus, yet today, they tore apart Michigan State’s vaunted defense.

Mark Dantonio/Photo: SIobhan Findlay

The Hoosiers’ quarterback, Michael Penix Jr. made Josiah Scott, and the rest of the Michigan State secondary look like Swiss cheese with his surgical performance, completing 33-of-42 passes for 286 yards and three touchdowns.

Believe it or not, the Michigan State offense was actually the bright spot, putting up 34 points while playing with a sense of urgency that has been scarce, to say the least, over the last four seasons. Brian Lewerke was exceptional in terms yardage and touchdowns with 300 yards and 3 scores respectively.

“He played outstanding,” said head coach Mark Dantonio of his quarterback. “He made all the plays he needed to make in a football game.”

Not to mention the fact he was the leading rusher for the Spartans offense with 12 carries resulting in 78 yards. However, those numbers don’t tell the whole story, what I believe could present a long-term issue is his completion percentage, consistently hovering below 60% against the Hoosiers and finally finishing at exactly a 50% clip.

This is a very dangerous precedent to set before hitting the buzz saw that is the upcoming schedule. Poor decision making, and inaccuracy prevented the offense from gaining any kind of consistent rhythm that would have allowed the Spartans to grow their lead early.

Brian Lewerke/Photo: MSU Athletic Communications

“I’m so excited for our football team, to handle adversity, come back in the fourth quarter and have to play a little bit from behind there,” Dantonio said.

In order for this Michigan State offense to move the ball with the consistency needed to put away opponents, it must be able to have a solid mixture of the running and passing game. Midway through the fourth quarter the Spartans had run the ball only 22 times for a minimal total of 77 yards.

Then in the final few drives of the game, the Spartans ran the ball 12 times for 65 yards, which was capped off by a 30-yard scramble by Lewerke.   

The inability to put pressure on the redshirt freshman Penix Jr. also should be very concerning for the Michigan State faithful. Neither the defensive line or secondary could phase the young quarterback in his first game back since week two. This is a prime example of just how the inability of the coaching staff to make adjustments at the half can lead to a team’s downfall.

“Credit Indiana, I thought they did an outstanding job, especially on the offensive side of the ball,” Dantonio said. “Penix was on fire there.”

Joe Bachie/Photo: MSU Athletic Communications

The defense for Michigan State was uncharacteristically undisciplined and beaten psychically by Indiana’s young offense.

Three major penalties in crunch time, two against star corner Josiah Scott and one against defensive leader and fifth-year senior, defensive tackle Raequan Williams, gifted the Hoosiers 45 yards on what ended up being their final drive of the game with less than three minutes left in the fourth quarter.

With the road test against the juggernaut that is Ohio State looming, then the very next week traveling to Madison, Wisconsin to face the Badgers, I have yet to see anything that points to the Spartans being able to compete, on the road against those quality opponents. If this is what Michigan State is this season, I hate to say it, but it’ll be another year of going 7-5.

Contact Alex McRae at [email protected]. Follow him on Twitter at @amac595.