Matt Charboneau of The Detroit News talks about Michigan State's loss to Arizona State on Saturday night. Matt Charboneau, The Detroit News
Tempe, Ariz. — Traveling three time zones away and playing in 100-degree heat can be hard enough, but it becomes even tougher for a team when its offense can't seem to get out of its own way.
That was the case for No. 15 Michigan State on Saturday night at Sun Devil Stadium.
The desert heat was brutal and the game finished close to 2 a.m. Eastern time, but neither of those potential problems were as significant as Michigan State continuing to beat itself with turnovers and penalties, both of which played a huge role in Arizona State’s 16-13 victory in front of a crowd that included a significant number of MSU fans.
“When you lose by three points you can point your finger at little things,” Michigan State coach Mark Dantonio said. “It’s a completely different situation if we come in here having won 16-13. Everybody is happy and we’re moving on. But that’s not the case.
"You’ve got to take both ends of the stick. We’ve won a lot of close games here and this one we lost.”
They lost on a 28-yard field goal from Brandon Ruiz as time expired. But, as Dantonio pointed out, it was about much more than one play.
Twice Michigan State reached the red zone and twice Matt Coghlin had to kick field goals. On another red zone trip in the first half, Brian Lewerke’s pass went off the hands of tight end Matt Dotson and was intercepted.
There were other close calls that could have turned the game. In the second half, holding a 6-3 lead, Raequan Williams was unable to come up with a loose ball deep in Arizona State territory. And on the winning drive, cornerback Justin Layne was called for pass interference on third-and-10 to keep the drive going.
Add in two straight sacks to halt a fourth-quarter drive for the Spartans and it’s no wonder Michigan State (1-1) became the 10th straight Big Ten team to lose at Arizona State.
“I wouldn’t say there are regrets but there are things we need to do better,” said sophomore receiver Cody White, who had nine catches for 113 yards and a touchdown. “We need to convert more on third down and we need to close out games. We get in the red zone we need to score points. We can’t rely on our field goal kicker.”
With the offense stuck in neutral for much of the game, the pressure was on the defense. For most of the game, it responded. However, in the fourth quarter, things began to fall apart.
After Arizona State cut Michigan State’s lead to 13-6, the teams traded punts before the Sun Devils took over at their 35. Just two plays later, the game was tied thanks to a 27-yard TD pass from Manny Wilkins to N’Keal Harry.
“That touchdown was just me and Manny being on the same page,” Harry said. “He trusted me to come down with the ball and he put the ball in the perfect spot, the spot where the defender really didn’t have much chance of getting to it. That’s all the extra work we’ve done after practice throughout the past couple years and it showed.”
The two straight sacks derailed Michigan State’s subsequent drive and the Spartans never got the ball back.
“It’s important to win games like that,” Arizona State coach Herm Edwards said. “It comes down to the wire where there’s pressure on you where people have to make plays. You can’t have a minus play when you get down in that situation and we did not. Our guys kept their poise and we were able to finish the game off.”
Michigan State got on the board first, taking over late in the first quarter from its own 1 yard line before marching methodically down the field behind the running of LJ Scott. The drive stalled inside the Arizona State 20 and Matt Coghlin booted a 37-yard field goal to give the Spartans a 3-0 lead with 13:19 left in the second quarter.
The Spartans took the opening kick of the second half and slowly moved down the field again, only to have another drive stall in the red zone. Coghlin’s 28-yard field goal gave Michigan State a 6-0 lead with 9:37 left in the third quarter. Arizona State answered with its own field goal — a 49-yarder from Ruiz — that cut the Michigan State lead to 6-3 with 7:48 left in the third quarter.
Michigan State responded with an impressive drive but stalled, once again, in the red zone. This time, a penalty pushed the Spartans back, but the Spartans answered with a 31-yard touchdown pass from Lewerke to White to give Michigan State a 13-3 lead with 1:27 left in the third quarter.
Michigan State coach Mark Dantonio talks about his team's loss to Arizona State following Saturday's game in Tempe, Ariz. Matt Charboneau, The Detroit News
After another Ruiz field goal trimmed it to 13-6, Arizona State took over and finished the comeback.
Wilkins finished with 380 yards passing and one interception while Harry had six grabs for 89 yards. Kyle Williams had seven receptions for 104 yards.
Lewerke threw for 314 yards while White matched a career high with nine catches for 113 yards. Michigan State was limited to 63 yards rushing.
“It’s a game of inches,” Dantonio said as Michigan State heads into a bye week. “All of our goals are in front of us, as I told our team. We’re gonna regroup.”