MADISON, Wisconsin. — Michigan State (4-3, 2-2 Big Ten) was not supposed to be in this position; a coaching shuffle, veteran roster, all-star defense combined with experience and health at quarterback – the Spartans had expectations to improve on last year’s record.
After falling to now No. 3-ranked Ohio State in Columbus in week six of this season, MSU traveled to Madison, Wisconsin Saturday to face a team they hadn’t played on the road since 2012.
And just like the old saying goes, when it rains, it pours.
Did the Badgers ever.
Wisconsin put its foot on the gas as the Spartans fell to the No. 8-ranked Badgers 38-0 (6-0, 3-0 Big Ten) in a one-sided loss at Camp Randall Stadium.
Faced with the opportunity to change the outlook of an entire season, the Spartans fumbled the snap of good fortune as punt after punt sailed into the hands of the Badgers return men.
“Very disappointing day,” said Mark Dantonio after the loss. “(I) take responsibility as the head football coach … gotta win our individual battles whether its coaching, whether its playing, whether its tackling, whether its catching the football, whether its throwing the football, whether its blocking, whatever it is.”
Wisconsin had 198 yards of offense in the first half and in a game where MSU would force Badger quarterback Jack Coan to beat them, the junior threw for 126 yards and a touchdown in the first half alone on 14-for-16 passing.
“Football is a game of technique, repetition,” said Dantonio. “You gotta be able to win your set.”
Chunk plays hurt Michigan State early and often
Coan was allowed to get into a rhythm early on.
An 11-yard throw to Danny Davis for his first completion, a 27-yard play-action pass to Jake Ferguson on fourth down, only capitalized by a 19-yard touchdown pass to Quintez Cephus to open the second quarter that put the Badgers up 14-0 with 14:54 left in the first half.
Nine plays of 10 or more yards made by six different receivers or rushers in the first half.
The defense of Michigan State, as good as it is, cannot let those kinds of plays happen. Even more so on the road.
Granted, the Spartan offense punted away on each of the five drives they had in the first half – a trend that would continue for the second half as well as the Spartans switched fields nine times in the game for an average of 43.1 yards.
But this is inexcusable for a defense that was going to force Coan to beat them. The junior had nine completions of 10 or more yards in the game.
It was obvious that this Wisconsin team is good and is ready for the limelight, especially after beating up on Michigan at home earlier in the year.
If the Spartans want to salvage the season, it will take
Lack of an edge hurts MSU as they rebound poorly from Ohio State
The Spartans were coming off one of the more resounding losses during Dantonio’s tenure after falling by 24 points to the Buckeyes.
“I think it’s just … to bounce back we gotta get our confidence back,” said Raequan Williams after the game. “I think that’s the biggest thing. Nobody..nobodies wearing that swagger we used to have, like everybody’s like ain’t nobody gonna run the ball on us. We don’t have that same swagger about it.”
MSU, predominantly good when coming off losses, absolutely looked uninspired on the road as Wisconsin ran up the score with a Zack Baun 34-yard pick-six with 12:52 left in the game put the Badgers up 31-0.
“I thought we came up here emotionally ready,” said Dantonio. “We talked about it, we talked about you know you can’t play this game without emotion. It’s very difficult, when something like this happens you know it’s becomes even more difficult.”
It wasn’t just that play. A lack of pressure on Coan, aggressive play calling – with the exception of the fourth down fake punt that Tyriq Thompson converted on with a 20-yard run – led to this loss.
“You gotta execute,” said Dantonio.
When you are 4-2 heading into a big a game as this, you have to open everything. Whether it be play calling, defensive schemes or your mind. The tricks all have to come out of the bag when you are faced with turning the season around – and fail to do so.
As the clock wound down and the clock hit zeroes, the Spartans season suddenly took a surprising turn from a win tonight giving MSU the opportunity to hold their own destiny on the path to a New Year’s Six bowl game, to the loss pushing MSU closer to the brink of mediocrity.
What’s next for MSU
The Spartans will have next weekend off as they await a home matchup with No. 10-ranked Penn State on Oct. 26.
“On an individual level, I think everybody has to go and regroup,” said Tyriq Thompson. “Reset their mindset and as a group we just gotta … come watch the film and next week, bye week, we still coming in, we still gonna work. It’s not a week off, so just continue to get better at the little things.”
That game, as important as it already was, has now taken on a whole new narrative as the temperature rises in East Lansing. The Spartans entire season will rest on how they respond to this game, and how these players respond to this game will define what they are capable of going forward.
“After two straight losses, you kind of want to regroup,” said Thompson.
MSU now is faced with Penn State at home and a formidable Michigan team at The Big House.
Dantonio’s job is safe in my opinion, but this is the first time that you have to wonder what’s missing from the equation.
You can follow Joe Dandron on twitter @JosephDandronMI and email him at [email protected]