The Detroit News' Matt Charboneau breaks down Spartans' first Big Ten loss of the season.
East Lansing – For a brief moment Saturday night in Evanston, Ill., Michigan State coach Mark Dantonio thought about going for two and avoiding overtime.
The Spartans had just scored a touchdown on a 13-yard pass from Brian Lewerke to Felton Davis and trailed Northwestern by a point with 25 seconds to play.
“I did think about it,” Dantonio said. “I didn’t voice my opinion, but you have to ask yourself prior to that game: What have we been doing very, very well? That’s been playing defense.”
So, the choice seemed clear – kick the extra point and try to win the game in overtime.
Of course, things didn’t work out for Michigan State as it failed to come up with a stop and lost to Northwestern, 39-31, in three overtimes.
But it’s hard to fault the decision. Entering the game, the Spartans were the No. 4 overall defense in the nation, including eighth against the run and ninth against the pass. However, they weren’t exactly shutting down the Wildcats passing game.
Throughout the game, Northwestern was hurting Michigan State on shallow crossing routes and timing plays. The Spartans had few answers as the Wildcats threw for 368 yards and converted 7 of 15 third downs.
“(It was) kind of on our defense to go out in overtime and stop them and let our offense score, kick a field goal or score,” Dantonio said. “So, that’s what we did.”
Northwestern responded by scoring on its second play in the first overtime when senior linebacker Chris Frey lost tight end Cameron Green for a 14-yard touchdown catch, and added another quick touchdown in the second overtime when Green caught an 18-yard pass to set up Justin Jackson’s 3-yard run.
The Michigan State offense was answering, giving Dantonio the chance to think once more about going for two before being forced to the third overtime.
“You know how it flipped back and forth, that was a thought process that entered my mind,” Dantonio said, “but it left quickly. I felt like we had to put it on the defense.”
The Spartans did just that and it was the crossing route that struck again as Flynn Nagel got ahead of Josiah Scott and scored what proved to be the winning touchdown on a 22-yard completion.
“Defensively I felt they kept us on our heels pretty much the whole day,” Dantonio said. “We didn’t get enough pressure on the quarterback. We had a couple big plays go out where they are undefended with a coverage issue and we just need to cover more effectively. And this is one of the first games we’ve had where we didn’t tackle probably as well as we had.”
With No. 7 Penn State coming to town Saturday for a noon kickoff, things won’t get much easier for No. 24 Michigan State against one of the more potent offenses in the nation.
The question is whether the Spartans can bounce back and prove their defense is worthy of the faith Dantonio put in them late against Northwestern.
“It’s tough but it’s no different than any loss we’ve had,” Frey said. “We just have to put it behind us, watch the film and learn from our mistakes and look forward to Penn State.”
OSU, MSU KICKOFF SET
The Big Ten announced Monday that Michigan State and Ohio State will kick off at noon, Nov. 11, and the game in Columbus, Ohio, will be televised on Fox.
PENN STATE AT MICHIGAN STATE
Kickoff: Noon Saturday, Spartan Stadium, East Lansing
Records: Penn State 7-1, 4-1 Big Ten; Michigan State 6-2, 4-1
Line: Penn State by 7.5