Three takeaways from MSU's loss to ND
South Bend, Ind. – After failing to score on the final offensive drive of the game, the MSU football team now heads back to East Lansing with its first loss of the season, 17-13, at the hands of No. 22 Notre Dame.
The Spartans (3-1) had plenty of chances to secure a victory and, by many accounts, the team outplayed the Fighting Irish (3-1) before a near-sellout crowd at Notre Dame Stadium. However, dropped passes by wide receivers, multiple pass interference penalties on the defense and an untimely interception on a flea flicker by freshman wide receiver R.J. Shelton altered the course of the game.
Here are three things to reflect on as the Spartans head into a bye week before opening up Big Ten play with Iowa on Oct. 5.
1. Andrew Maxwell continues to be the apple of head coach Mark Dantonio’s eye. With the game in the balance with the Spartans trailing by four points in the fourth quarter, Dantonio pulled the anointed starter, sophomore quarterback Connor Cook, in favor of the embattled senior Maxwell. What ensued was a flavored mix of MSU’s worst comedy of errors. Three dropped passes from the wide receivers. Two penalties, including a delay of game by Maxwell who hasn’t had an in-game snap in close to two weeks. And one final scramble short of the sticks. Maxwell was unable to lead the Spartans into the end zone and moreover, nobody is certain why he was in the game in the first place. Maxwell’s a nice guy and he deserves a chance to compete. But that was not even close to the time to make that decision. If Cook is the starting quarterback, you let him carry you to the end zone against Notre Dame. Anything less is a distraction. If I’m Connor Cook, I’m incredibly upset – irate, even — with the coaching staff for pulling me out of the game with the result still yet to be determined. And what is the best case scenario? Maxwell leads you to victory and now there’s two weeks of MSU quarterback circus leading up to Iowa. Is that the preferable route? Win or lose, you have to stick by your starting quarterback until he’s proven he’s unworthy of that vote of confidence.
2. R.J. Shelton should not have thrown the flea flicker. As much as the Spartans have an affinity for trick plays, Shelton needed to read the play much better than he did. At best, the play was in double coverage and still had a fantastic chance to be intercepted by the Fighting Irish. When that happens, tuck it in and run or try to throw the ball away. The Spartans were never the same after Shelton’s interception and it was a big reason why they’re going back to East Lansing with a loss. After the game, Dantonio said he made the call for the trick play, citing the need for the Spartans to get a big play in a crucial time. He’s right; the team was in need of a big play. However, I’m not sure if calling on a freshman to execute a difficult trick play is the way to go at that point of the game.
3. The Spartans might not win many games unless the defense scores points. Now, this isn’t exactly a new discovery I’m making, given the success the collective unit had against Western Michigan and South Florida to open the season. Sophomore defensive end Shilique Calhoun continues to state his case for the NCAA’s Defensive Player of the Year and there’s a ton of talent at nearly every one of the defensive positions. There were too many penalties against the unit in the game against Notre Dame – some merited; others definitely not so – but it is a bright spot for the Spartans. Plus, the offense still is dropping way too many balls and continues to plow ahead with consistent inconsistency. Can anyone here play this game? Well, the defense can. And if the Spartans still are shooting for a chance at the Rose Bowl, they’re going to need to play out of their minds to keep the team competitive.