Column: Despite loss, Spartans make progress against Ohio State
It could have been when sophomore center Travis Jackson fell to the ground and had to be carted off the field.
It could have been the 42-yard field goal Dan Conroy missed before halftime, his fifth missed kick in as many games.
It could have been the fumble recovery that should have been allowed to be returned for a touchdown, if not for a missed call by the referee.
Or it could have been one of the multiple times MSU seemed to have sophomore quarterback Braxton Miller wrapped up in the backfield before he managed to sneak away and make a play.
Time after time, moment after moment, the game was there for the Spartans to take, but one too many times the No. 20 MSU football team (3-2) couldn’t quite make that play, falling to No. 14 Ohio State (5-0) 17-16 on Saturday.
“There were a lot of times that we could have made plays. It was a couple of little inches here and a couple of little inches there that could have made a difference in the game,” junior running back Le’Veon Bell said.
“Those plays just didn’t go our way and we’ve got to learn from it and move on.”
Inches were tough to come by for Bell — who entered the game as the nation’s third leading rusher, but was held to 47 rushing yards on 17 carries on Saturday.
The Spartans top offensive playmakers, Bell and junior tight end Dion Sims — who was limited to two catches for 36 yards — were held quiet, and it was ultimately too much for MSU to overcome.
MSU has lost two of its past three games for the first time since 2009, yet losing left less of a sting among the Spartans players and coaches than last week’s win, and the reason is abundantly clear.
For the first time in two weeks the Spartans effort was at the level it needed to be for a full 60 minutes, and head coach Mark Dantonio — angry a week ago following a win — knows that despite a loss, there is now something positive to build on.
“I thought our guys played extremely hard and I’m proud of them,” Dantonio said. “I can handle the mistakes if our guys play hard, compete, and play with energy.
“All of our goals are still in front of us. We still have to grow as a football team, but I thought we played better. Even with a loss I thought we played very competitively and we played a good football team with some playmakers.”
The Spartans didn’t have the advantage in total offense, junior quarterback Andrew Maxwell completed just 52 percent of his passes, and for the first time all season an offense drove the length of the field for touchdowns against MSU’s vaunted defense.
It doesn’t sound promising, but the bright side comes from the fact that despite everything that went wrong, MSU had the ball with a chance to win against the Big Ten’s top-ranked team in the game’s final minutes.
It’s not a win, and it’s certainly nothing to be excited about, but after a couple of weeks of lethargic football, there’s one word that it can be undoubtedly classified as: progress.