East Lansing — Bye weeks come at different times for every team in college football.
For Michigan State, in recent years, it has come early in the season. That’s the case once again as 2018 takes its break this week after the Spartans have played just two games. And a common question for those in the program usually has something to do with whether now is the right time for a week off.
For a team that is rolling on the field and fairly healthy, the thought might be that a week off this soon would be a bad thing. For one that has stumbled out of the gate and is already dealing with its share of bumps and bruises, a quick reset might be beneficial.
That’s the approach No. 25 Michigan State is taking after rallying to beat Utah State in the opener then failing to get its offense rolling last weekend during a loss to Arizona State.
“You always sort of take it as it comes,” Michigan State coach Mark Dantonio said.
Trying to gauge what effect the week off this early will have on the Spartans is hard to do.
Two seasons ago, they had week two off, came back the next week to win at Notre Dame only to lose seven straight from there. Last season, like this, it was week three the Spartans were off. After winning the first two, Michigan State came back with a poor performance at home against Notre Dame only to close the season by winning eight of 10.
The loss at Arizona State, though, has many scratching their heads. Michigan State (1-1) returned 19 starters from last season’s team, but the offense struggled mightily against Arizona State, failing to run the ball effectively while not getting the job done in the red zone.
It has many wondering what will take place over the next week-plus to change the team’s fortunes heading into the Big Ten opener at Indiana on Sept. 22.
“When you have these type of situations — and we've been in them before—- they can go (two) directions,” Dantonio said. “Either people get pulled apart or they get brought together, and it's my feeling that things like this forge your working together, forges unity, solidarity, perseverance and probably the most important thing, it forces action, which we need to take action.”
Mark Dantonio talks about rebounding from last week's loss to Arizona State. Dale G. Young, The Detroit News
Most of that action will center on the offense, which scored just 13 points last week and only produced one touchdown in four trips to the red zone. There was also an interception thrown in the end zone by quarterback Brian Lewerke, back-to-back sacks that halted a critical fourth-quarter drive and just 63 yards rushing.
Some of the issues, no doubt, have to do with injuries. Left tackle Cole Chewins only managed one play while left guard David Beedle and running back LJ Scott left the Arizona State game with injuries. However, those ailments don’t get the Spartans off the hook.
And while the defense kept the Sun Devils out of the end zone until the fourth quarter, it didn’t get consistent pressure on the quarterback and allowed 380 passing yards.
“It's the little things that you look at that actually culminate to being very big things in a tight game and this game got tight,” Dantonio said. “Obviously we don't want it to be like that. You know, you want to get out in front 21, 24 — you have 28 points of opportunities in the red zone and come away with 13. So that is frustrating, but there are reasons behind that: Some of them are physical; some of them are mental; some of them are coaching errors.
“The main thing I want to make sure is people understand — our people, the people in the tent — understand that this is all our issues; it's not one particular group.”
The early season loss — even one many didn’t predict — doesn’t guarantee anything for the Spartans. Under Dantonio, they’ve shown the ability to effectively put losses behind them and still have productive seasons.
It happened in 2013 when MSU lost at Notre Dame in week four then ran the table through the Rose Bowl while in the playoff season of 2015 an early November loss at Nebraska was overcome to win another Big Ten championship. Even last season, when Notre Dame dismantled Michigan State by 20 points at home, the Spartans responded.
“You've just got to line up the next opportunity that you get and it's no different than life,” Dantonio said. “Everybody just points to sports and they want answers. But you know, it's no different than anything you go through in life. You stub your toe, you've got to get back in the ring and you've got to get back in there and do what you're supposed to do and change the results. If you feel sorry for yourself, you're going to be chasing bad times.”