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Michigan State reeling, banged up, but 'you've got to bounce back quick'

Matt Charboneau
The Detroit News

Not long after Michigan State lost at home on Saturday, coach Mark Dantonio met with the media and said he felt like the game was spinning out of control in the fourth quarter.

“You felt like it was just getting fouled up,” Dantonio said after the Spartans rallied in the second half, but failed to hold the lead and couldn’t muster a comeback in the final two drives in a 29-19 loss to Northwestern.

Connor Heyward (11) and fellow running back La'Darius Jefferson struggled to pile up yards on the ground against Northwestern.

During his weekly teleconference Sunday, the disappointment had not faded and Dantonio said the feeling of something being off came well before the fourth quarter.

“My feeling at halftime, as we went in the locker room and I was trailing the football team coming into the locker room, it was flat,” Dantonio said. “I don’t understand why we would be flat, but I thought the team, in general, was flat and we addressed that in the locker room. The players addressed that, the older players addressed it.

“I thought we came out in the third quarter and played extremely well.”

For that 15-minute stretch, the Spartans (3-2, 1-1 Big Ten) looked like they were turning things around, taking the lead after two straight Felton Davis touchdowns. But as quickly as things seemed OK, they went the wrong direction as Northwestern went back ahead in the final seconds of the third quarter, and the Spartans couldn’t muster any offense in the fourth.

More: Michigan State: Five things we learned vs. Northwestern

It led to plenty of frustration, hardly limited to Dantonio, who said he spent Saturday night and Sunday morning “depressed” before meeting with his staff. The players felt it, too, and they seemed to understand that with games the next two weeks against Penn State and Michigan, the season is on the brink.

“You’ve got to bounce back quick,” junior linebacker Joe Bachie said. “You’ve got to challenge certain people. Leaders on this team, if you really want to lead, you’re gonna get challenged this week and I’m going to let them know that. When Monday comes, people are gonna be challenged. If you don’t want to lead and don’t want to go win, get out of the locker room. We don’t have many people like that, I don’t think at all, but we’ve got to make sure everybody is on board and we’re going in one direction together.”

Added Davis, a senior: “We’ve got to find our passing, who we are. That’s the main thing. Once we do that and we bring back that Spartan Dawg mentality and that killer mindset, that we won’t let anybody off the hook. That’s what we’ve got to find again.”

Why, five games into the season, the Spartans are still searching is hard to say. The injuries have been a burden, but that is not why the coach is talking about his team being flat.

“I can’t answer … I don’t know why in the fourth quarter it sort of fizzled because we were right here,” Dantonio said. “We were ahead and we were right there and then a couple of bad things happen and we don’t respond. I’m not sure why that is. Momentum, I guess. We lost the momentum and never recaptured it.”

As much as Dantonio doesn’t want to use the injuries as an excuse, they’re still playing a significant role. Dantonio announced Sunday fifth-year senior guard David Beedle will be out about a month after suffering an arm injury on the first series against Northwestern.

That means Michigan State’s two starting guards are out ,as sophomore Kevin Jarvis has missed two games with an ankle injury.

The biggest injury question at this point remains senior running back LJ Scott. There are other players out, but Scott has been in uniform and gone through warm-ups in each of the last three games, only to not play because of an ankle injury suffered in week two at Arizona State.

Dantonio said the decision to play or not is Scott’s.

“It’s a game-time decision,” Dantonio said. “He’s making that decision based on how he feels, his cutting ability etc. He’s close. He needs to make that decision. It’s not fair for me to sit there and say, ‘You need to play.’ I think that is every individual player’s decision to make.

“I think he’s close, but I don’t think he feels he can cut as successfully as he usually does, so he makes that decision, and I’m OKwith whatever he needs to do. At some point, he’ll be ready to play.”

Whether Scott plays this week at Penn State, the Spartans won’t be 100 percent. It’s at times like these, Dantonio said, the leadership will be tested.

“I’m not sure why we got a little flat in the first half there, the second quarter,” Dantonio said. “Everyone has great intentions. I don’t sense (a lack of leadership) at all. However, it does need to be stressed that leaders need to lead and that’s why I met with our players and that’s why I meet with our coaches. That’s what I need to do.

“People in positions of leadership need to lead when things aren’t going well or we have a moment when we have a setback. That’s what we’ll do, that’s what I’ll do.”

Twitter: @mattcharboneau