MSU loses ugly game against Notre Dame
Offense troubles come back to haunt Spartans
South Bend, Ind. – Andrew Maxwell stepped on the field with a chance.
Facing defeat at the hands of No. 22 Notre Dame, the senior quarterback opened the final drive of the game on MSU’s 33-yard line and an uphill battle to the end zone. It’s been close to two weeks since Maxwell saw a snap, as the reins – and the confidence — of MSU’s offense have been handed to sophomore Connor Cook.
He knew a field goal wouldn’t do it. They’d have to score.
Three dropped passes, two penalties and one desperation scramble later, the Spartans were handed their first loss of the season following a brief microcosm of the day that was.
Behind the confident passing attack of quarterback Tommy Rees, the Fighting Irish (3-1) defeated the Spartans (3-1), 17-13, in a sloppy affair before a near-soldout crowd at Notre Dame Stadium in South Bend, Ind.
Asked why he put Maxwell in the game rather than stick with the starter Cook, Dantonio said he saw an opportunity for Maxwell, who would give the defense a different look on the final drive.
“We put him in there just to try to change the pace,” Dantonio said. “Felt like he needed an opportunity, should give him an opportunity. Tough situation to put him in at. I felt like he was a little behind on some throws, needed to mix it up and see what he could do.”
After the Fighting Irish opened going three-and-out on the first drive of the game, freshman wide receiver Matt Macksood blocked a punt by Notre Dame’s Kyle Brindza to give the Spartans possession on Notre Dame’s 31-yard line. However, senior kicker Kevin Muma missed a 30-yard field goal attempt on the ensuing drive, which kept the game scoreless with 11:12 remaining in the first quarter.
Muma’s missed field goal – his second in two weeks – opened the door for freshman Michael Geiger, who became MSU’s kicker for the remainder of the game.
“I come in with the mentality that I’m gonna take every opportunity I can get so I prepare like I’m gonna play,” Geiger said. “After Muma missed that kick, we had a discussion with Coach D and I knew from that point forward, I needed to seize that opportunity.”
Rees came out of the gate strong with a series of fade passes in the first half, forcing MSU’s secondary to make plays – and consequently, a few mistakes. Rees led a seven-play, 57-yard drive that set up Notre Dame kicker Kyle Brindza up for a 41-yard field goal to put the team ahead of MSU, 3-0.
It was a battle for the Spartans in the first half, as they were penalized four times for 55 yards in the first half including two pass interference calls against sophomore cornerback Trae Waynes.
Following a missed field goal by Brindza to open the second quarter, Cook and junior running back Nick Hill nickel and dimed the ball down the field for a methodical drive against the Fighting Irish. The Spartans capped a 14-play drive with a 12-yard touchdown pass by Cook to sophomore wide receiver Macgarrett Kings Jr. to take the lead.
The touchdown gives Cook and Kings two consecutive weeks with a touchdown, a factor Kings attributed to the rhythm the duo are starting to develop on offense.
“There’s always been rhythm with me and Cook,” Kings said. “He puts the ball up and all I do is make a play on the ball.”
Yet, MSU’s lead was short-lived, as Rees hit wide receiver T.J. Jones for a 2-yard strike to head into halftime ahead of the Spartans, 10-7.
“We needed to take our shots with the way Michigan State was playing,” Rees said. “We found a way to get the ball in the end zone at the end. You need to be more efficient. But that’s what you expect when you play Michigan State.”
Following one of the most complete offensive drives of the season to open the second half, spanning 75 yards on 15 plays in a span of close to nine minutes, MSU’s offense stalled in the red zone and was forced to settle for a field goal by Geiger.
With the clock winding down in the third quarter, an MSU trick play setting up freshman wide receiver R.J. Shelton for a pass to senior wide receiver Bennie Fowler was intercepted by Notre Dame safety Matthias Farley.
The play was met with great scrutiny by the media, but Dantonio took responsibility for the interception, citing the need for the Spartans to make an explosive play at the time of the call.
“I made the suggestion on that one because I felt we needed a big play,” Dantonio said. “He’s got a great arm on him. The guy was covered. Probably should have just pulled it down and ran.”
Shelton’s interception is the first of any MSU passer through the first four games and it altered the course of momentum for the Spartans heading into the fourth quarter.
After moving up to MSU’s 17-yard line to end the quarter, it took just three plays in the fourth quarter for Notre Dame to get into the end zone, finishing the drive with a 7-yard touchdown run by running back Cam McDaniel.
Another promising MSU drive stalled at the beginning of the fourth quarter and the Spartans were forced to settle for a 42-yard field goal by Geiger.
Maxwell replaced Cook, who was shaken up on a previous play, after an inefficient three-and-out drive with 2:11 remaining in the game.
Despite expressing disappointment in being pulled on the final drive of the game, Cook said there were areas the offense improved against a challenging Notre Dame team.
“(The loss) was frustrating; it’s not fun,” Cook said. “Like I said before, we ran the ball great. We really wore down their defense and their front seven. Me and the wideouts are getting better. Last week was really good but we went up against a tougher opponent today.”
The Spartan passing attack combined to go 16-of-36 passing from the field with all 139 yards and the team’s lone passing touchdown belonging to Cook.
Heading into a bye week before opening up Big Ten play against Iowa on Oct. 5, Dantonio said the game was a part of the maturity process for the Spartans, which he hopes will aid them during Big Ten season.
“I’ll never apologize to play to win; that’s what we try and do at all times,” Dantonio said. “I’m extremely proud of our football team. But at the end of the day, they do keep score. So we got to deal with it.
“We just got to deal with it.”