Monday, December 5, 2022

Self-inflicted wounds, simple mistakes characterize MSU’s loss to Maryland

October 2, 2022

One would think that, following an embarrassing blowout loss at home, a team would be prepared to play a clean and disciplined game. 

In Michigan State’s 27-13 loss to Maryland Saturday afternoon, the Spartans were neither. 

In all three phases, MSU could not seem to find a shred of consistency. When the team finally found a bit of momentum, more often than not it seemed to be followed up by an error of some sort that shattered the team's progress. 

The struggles of the special teams were perhaps the most obvious proof of MSU’s sloppy and inconsistent play. Take, for example, Michigan State’s second touchdown of the night. 

Maryland had just executed a heck of a drive, slicing through the defense and scoring in just two minutes to take a 14-7 lead. With the defense off to a rough start, an effective drive from MSU’s offense was essential in keeping the game competitive.

The unit did just that. After moving 77 yards down the field, redshirt junior quarterback Payton Thorne tossed a beautiful ball to redshirt junior wide receiver Jayden Reed on a fade route, capping off the drive with an eight yard touchdown. 

Then, the special teams unit botched the extra point, keeping Maryland ahead, 14-13. 

In addition to the mishandled extra point, Michigan State also missed a pair of field goals, both in the second quarter. In total, special teams essentially left a touchdown — seven points — on the field. MSU trailed 21-13 at the half.

"We need every scoring opportunity, to capitalize on it,” Head Coach Mel Tucker said. “It affects our whole team.”

The kicking unit wasn’t the only group that came up short in terms of scoring. On four trips to the red zone, MSU’s offense only converted twice. 

“We moved the ball well, we just got to get in the end zone,” Thorne said.

Fittingly, one of those red zone trips ended in a missed field goal. 

Down 14-7, Thorne and the Michigan State offense was moving well down the field. On second-and-six at Maryland’s eight yard line, redshirt senior Elijah Collins rumbled forward for a short three-yard gain, setting up a third-and-manageable. However, a holding call on redshirt junior offensive lineman Spencer Brown wiped the play off the board and forced the Spartans back ten yards.

The penalty plunged a knife directly into Michigan State’s momentum.

A short gain and an incompletion in the next two plays forced the field goal attempt that junior kicker Ben Patton missed wide right. 

“Penalties are drive killers,” Tucker said.

Michigan State’s other failed red zone trip came in the fourth quarter, stalling out thanks to a couple of rough throws from Thorne. 

Again, when it seemed like Michigan State had the opportunity to recapture some momentum, it instead shot itself in the foot. 

Even following massive situational plays, the Spartans couldn’t take control of the game.

MSU’s goal-line stop in the fourth quarter was a perfect example. After a 68-yard gain from Maryland, Michigan State’s defensive line dug in at the two-yard line and only allowed one rushing yard. Down two scores with more than ten minutes left, Michigan State was still in the game, and with such a stellar stop from the defense, momentum was very much on MSU's side. 

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Naturally, the offense went three-and-out and immediately punted the ball. Maryland’s ensuing drive ended in a field goal. 

Unfortunately for MSU, these self-inflicted wounds are not isolated incidents. In the blowout loss to Minnesota, Michigan State had more than a handful of deflating plays (Thorne's fumble inside the ten-yard line at the start of the second half is perhaps the best example). In the loss to Washington, Michigan State halted its own momentum on a handful of plays (fifth-year senior Jarek Broussard's safety following the goal line stand at the one comes to mind).

With three straight weeks of sloppy play and plenty of mistakes, it's starting to become a worrying trend for Michigan State. Saturday afternoon's loss to Maryland was just another example of it. MSU can't afford any mistakes like that with mighty Ohio State in town next weekend.

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