COLUMN: Changes need to be made by MSU entering conference play
If Saturday night’s game against Notre Dame was indeed the Spartans’ first true test of the season, well, they failed.
Sure, the Spartans' history with Notre Dame reveals that you shouldn't use the result of this game as a platform to forecast the rest of the season, but it does disclose that MSU needs immediate changes to be made.
Their offense turned the ball over three times — two fumbles and one pick-six.
Their defense, which entered Saturday ranked first in several defensive categories in the Big Ten, had their streak of two straight games of not allowing its opponents to score an offensive touchdown broken early on in the first quarter.
On the opening drive of the game, Brandon Wimbush led a fast-paced Irish offense into the red zone after scorching the Spartans’ secondary.
Wimbush then reached the end zone on a 16-yard rush on a designed quarterback run that capped off what was a 7-play, 78-yard scoring drive that lasted just one minute and 55 seconds.
The defense did show flashes of promise, but the turnovers proved costly, and MSU fell 38-18, dropping its record to 2-1 on the season.
MSU had the opportunity to impress a national audience and show that this team for real. Instead, the Spartans showed more negatives than positives.
Turnovers have been the storyline so far this season, and they intensified on Saturday.
Three fumbles against Bowling Green were an issue, but the Falcons weren’t a talented enough team to turn the fumbles into points.
The Spartans knew before Saturday that they couldn’t afford to turn the ball over against more talented opponents like Notre Dame.
But on Saturday, the problems persisted and raised more concerns heading into Saturday’s first conference game of the season against Iowa.
“(Turnovers are) the story of the season,” senior center Brian Allen said after Saturday's loss. “We could get away with it with Bowling Green, but when you play a good team like Notre Dame, they will make you pay for it. It’s a whole different game when you get rid of those. We’ll learn from this and move forward.”
The Spartans showed a lack of discipline as well in the loss, committing nine penalties for a total of 97 yards.
“Obviously we don't want to get those types of penalties; that's way too many. … Obviously, we need to get that cleaned up,” co-defensive coordinator Harlon Barnett said. “We stress penalties all the time. We talked about it a lot in the last two weeks, but we'll get those cleaned up.”
And add Lewerke’s decision-making to the long list of improvements for MSU.
The sophomore signal-caller threw an interception that was returned 59 yards for a touchdown in the first quarter and lost a fumble in the second.
“I think it's an ongoing process,” co-defensive coordinator Dave Warner said. “It's not something that we're going to address now; that's something we've talked about all the time. That's part of a quarterback's job. The biggest part of his job is decision-making, and he just needs to focus in … that's a continuing process, and we need to make progress in that area.”
The Spartans’ pass rush recorded just one sack on Wimbush and allowed the Irish to reach 182 yards rushing.
On the other side of the ball, head coach Mark Dantonio repeatedly said after the game that the Spartans' rushing attack, which recorded 151 yards in the loss, needs improvement as well.
Don’t let the stats fool you and give you false hope, as MSU led the Irish in total yards, passing yards and time of possession, this team needs numerous changes to be made.
But for those seeking optimism, head coach Mark Dantonio is still confident in his squad.
“We’re not broken,” Dantonio said. “We’ve played two good football games. There were times in this football game where it looks like we make a play, and then something happens. You’ve got to execute, and you’ve got to execute consistently. We’re not broken. I think we’re a football team that can win a lot of football games. We’ve got guys who can make plays.”