SANTA CLARA, Calif. — Mark Dantonio and his Michigan State team had a month to prepare for the Oregon defense.
In that month and in the Spartans’ 7-6 loss to Oregon on New Year’s Eve, Dantonio said he was heavily involved with how the offense operated and what play calls were made and how MSU (7-6) only scored six points against the Ducks (9-4).
“I was deeply involved with the offense for the last month, and so I’ll put some of that on me too,” Dantonio said.
On Monday afternoon, the Spartans outgained the Ducks 331 yards to 203, had 19 to 11 first downs and three red-zone trips to zero.
So to Dantonio and quarterback Brian Lewerke — who started for the first time since a loss to Ohio State on Nov. 10 — the offense produced under a more up-tempo offense, about which Lewerke said he “loves it.”
“We were moving the ball pretty well,” said Lewerke, who went 22-of-40 for 172 yards and an interception, while running for a season-high 16 carries for 63 yards. “Just came down to execution at the end.”
That lack of execution included Lewerke’s interception, when he fumbled a snap to start the second quarter on third-and-5 on Oregon’s 20-yard line, and when he fumbled the snap on a potential game-winning 50-yard field goal by Matt Coghlin, and ended up throwing the ball away.
Along with opportunities to score, even with wide receivers not getting too much separation from Oregon’s secondary.
“We tried some stutters, we tried to go by them, tried some deeper routes,” Dantonio said. “Also thought (Lewerke) got pressured in his face, and when people are coming up field, it’s difficult. You haven’t played in a month. It’s very difficult to simulate an opposing team’s pressures for real. So, some of those things happen.
“As I said, I thought Brian did a nice job getting out of problems. But at the same time, he got caught in some too, and (he) got situations where he had to dump the ball down or force the ball and not be able to throw the football. It’s tough to say without watching the film.”
But without watching film, Dantonio knows against Oregon, MSU was using pistol formations, going no-huddle and implementing new plays often.
Of which Dantonio said “as it is with most people, if the play doesn’t work, they don’t think it’s a new play.”
“From a consistency standpoint, four or five yards (per play), Brian did a nice job scrambling with the football and made some big plays,” Dantonio said. “But we never got that bust out play in our passing game. Even the very last play of the game, as I said, ‘Hangs on a thread.’ If Cody (White) comes up with that catch, it’s a first down and with 36 seconds left we’re in field-goal position again.
“So, that’s the way these games go I think. But, when you’re looking for more production, you’re not going to win many games scoring six points.”
Scoring six points is something MSU has done three out of its last four games to finish the season, minus a 14-10 win over Rutgers on Nov. 24.
In those four games, MSU’s defense has allowed 10.5 points per game in that span.
“It’s definitely frustrating for our offense, knowing we have the ability to make more plays and put more points on the board,” said White, who had six catches for a team-high 64 yards. “It’s just not finding that rhythm this year. Hopefully, we can bring it back in the next season.”
And for now, Dantonio said he’s not going to make any immediate changes following MSU’s loss to Oregon.
“I’ve always stayed the course,” Dantonio said. “I’ve worked with people, people work with us, and I value that in our players and in our coaches. That’s how I’ve always done things. But, that’s a tough answer to a question right now, just reeling off of (a season-ending loss).”