Dantonio on 'Bama blowout: 'We got a little outta sorts'

Matt Charboneau
The Detroit News

East Lansing — It’s been a little more than two weeks since Michigan State got shut out by Alabama in the Cotton Bowl, and it still stings for Mark Dantonio.

The Spartans coach met with the media Friday for the first time since the 38-0 loss in the semifinals to, as he put it, add closure to the season while also welcoming eight early enrollees.

There was plenty of praise for those players, including wide receivers Donnie Corley and Cam Chambers, but it was clear Dantonio still is disappointed by the way the Cotton Bowl played out after Michigan State’s successful regular season.

He said he’s broken down the game 7½ times — emphasizing the half — and even has his wife telling him to get over it.

As he ran through some of the reasons Michigan State lost, the explanation was getting a little long as he talked about penalties, mistakes and missed assignments.

“I could go on,” Dantonio said, a small smile breaking across his face. “As my wife tells me. ‘Let it go! Just let it go!’”

It’s not hard to understand Dantonio’s frustration. The Spartans fully expected to be competitive in the game, and believed they could win.

And for nearly a half, it was close. But an interception thrown by Connor Cook in the final minute of the first half followed by Alabama scoring on the opening drive of the second half turned the tide.

By the time Michigan State gave up a punt return for touchdown, things had gotten out of control.

“I thought we played competitively in the first half, third quarter sort of hit us and, you know, things started happening,” Dantonio said. “So, we’ve got to be able to regain our composure and make plays toward the end of the second half. Bottom line, I don’t think we ever really got on track really other than that one drive, the end of the first half, offensively.”

Michigan State did a solid job containing Heisman Trophy winner Derrick Henry before big plays in the passing game took their toll.

But the biggest issues were for an offense that was 4-for-16 on third down. The Spartans weren’t able to establish any sort of running game against the outstanding Crimson Tide front, managing 29 rushing yards.

Dantonio conceded the Spartans should have gotten the ball on the perimeter more often after having trouble opening holes in the middle, while he also said Cook could have been more effective at keeping plays alive.

None of that happened, and Michigan State finished with 239 yards offense.

“I said going into that football game, we had to be who we are,” Dantonio said. “You can’t change and be somebody we’re not in 26 days.

“So, you have to emphasize who we are, do what we do and do it best and bring what we have to the table. With that being said, we needed to be at our best on that given night, and I don’t think we played our best.”

While Michigan State had won four straight bowls entering the Cotton Bowl, the fact it was part of the playoff atmosphere changed things, and Dantonio isn’t sure his team handled it as well as it could have.

“We’ve not been in that environment,” Dantonio said. “We spent two hours on the bus going back and forth, two different times, for media day. … the luncheon, day before the game was a two-hour ordeal, back and forth. We had an eight o’clock picture, and then we had (more) pictures at some point in time. So, again, back and forth, and I think we got a little outta sorts.

“We were going to have to be at our best, and for whatever reason, we were not.”

The key for Michigan State will be moving forward.

And there are plenty of questions heading into 2016, including replacing left tackle Jack Conklin, center Jack Allen and defensive end Shilique Calhoun. The biggest hole, however, might be at quarterback.

Tyler O’Connor is back as a fifth-year senior, while junior Damion Terry should also get plenty of work. Redshirt freshman Brian Lewerke will be in the mix, as will true freshman Messiah deWeaver, who was on hand Friday.

“I think who becomes the guy here will be based on who plays well in games, and certainly you have performances leading up to the game,” Dantonio said. “The work has been impressive. ... But they’ve got to be able to deliver, and that’s the bottom line.”