MSU LB Joe Bachie on preparing for Penn State The Detroit News
East Lansing — It was clear in the minutes after Michigan State’s loss to Northwestern on Saturday that something wasn’t right with the Spartans.
Coach Mark Dantonio hinted at it when he said there was a feeling of things spinning out of control late in the game and, a day later, he talked about his team seeming flat at various times throughout its matchup with Northwestern.
But the most pointed comments in the wake of Michigan State’s third straight loss to the Wildcats came from junior linebacker Joe Bachie.
“You’ve got to challenge certain people,” said Bachie, one of three MSU captains. “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.”
That’s not the sort of thing you hear from players when things are going well. And for Michigan State (3-2, 1-1 Big Ten), things are not going well. The offense is a mess, the defense is giving up huge chunks of yards through the air and the overall health of the team is nowhere near 100 percent.
It’s left a team that expected to compete for a Big Ten championship on the brink of seeing the season fall apart.
The frustrating comes as the schedule gets tough, beginning with Saturday’s trip to No. 8 Penn State followed by a visit from No. 12 Michigan.
So, as Bachie said there would be, an honest discussion amongst players was had. The basic idea — confront and demand.
“It’s like Joe said after the game, leaders on this team got to step up,” junior tackle Cole Chewins said. “Whether that’s being vocal, whether that’s doing the right thing and spending extra time in the film room, you’ve got to make sure that happens to get us on the right track. That’s what we plan to do, confront and demand.”
It’s that right thing Bachie believes can help the Spartans avoid any more emotional letdowns. And to him, it has nothing to do with being a leader.
“I don’t think leading by example is a thing,” he explained after practice on Tuesday. “You watch extra film? You show up on time to things? That’s the right thing to do, it’s just what you’re supposed to do. That’s not leading.”
Will a simple refocusing and potential attitude adjustments fix all of Michigan State’s ills? Probably not, but the bulk of this roster has seen what can happen when the locker room starts to splinter. The last time that happened was in 2016 and the Spartans tumbled to a 3-9 mark.
So, avoiding chemistry breakdowns is the priority.
Dantonio insists this team remains close and there are no issues. He did, however, admit that losing can start to wear on a team, which led him to meet with the team’s leadership group on Sunday.
“Certainly there's a lot of frustration,” Dantonio said. “We don't expect to lose, and we haven't lost a great deal here. We've won two-thirds of the time here probably, or over two-thirds of the time.
“It's frustrating coming off a game you feel like you should have won and it slips away from you, and there's a lot of different reasons why that happens. Some offense, some defense, some special teams, some coaching, some players, some execution. Those are the type of things that happen on the football field. But we're going to move forward.”
For junior quarterback Brian Lewerke, moving forward means rebounding from a slow start that has included six interceptions in just five games.
“I think, for me, after watching the film, obviously you’re down a little bit,” Lewerke said. “But I kind of came in with like a renewed mindset. I think my motivation right now is at an all-time high, since even last year. Things are really good when you’re winning and that’s how it was last year. When you start losing you kind of start looking at everything and start analyzing everything.
“So, I can take all that and use it as motivation.”
MSU QB Brian Lewerke talks about facing Penn State The Detroit News
Whether that motivation produces results on the field remains to be seen.
But while fans and analysts fret over the offense, chastise Dantonio for failing to adapt and call for assistants to be fired, the Spartans themselves don’t sound like a group that is freaking out.
“There is no reason we’ve got to hit the panic button about anything,” senior wide receiver Felton Davis said. “It’s just a slow start right now for us and it will pick up as we continue to go on. It’s only Week 6, so it will pick up. We’ve got seven more weeks left.”
The cynic, however, would point out that in college football there is little room for error, and two losses in five weeks is nearly impossible to come back from. That doesn’t mean Michigan State can’t win the Big Ten East and reach the conference title game.
To do that, however, the Spartans will need a significant change in course. They believe they’re capable.
“There’s frustration, but we’ve put the past behind us and I’d say were looking forward to the challenges that lie ahead knowing that we have a great opponent coming up this week,” senior safety Khari Willis said. “So, it’s more so trying to focus our energy forward.”
Michigan State at Penn State
Kickoff: 3:30 Saturday, Beaver Stadium, State College, Pa.
Records: Michigan State 3-2, 1-1 Big Ten; Penn State 4-1, 1-1
Line: Penn State by 13½