Michigan State's Joe Bachie, Brian Lewerke, Raequan Williams and David Dowell try and explain the loss to Arizona State. Matt Charboneau, The Detroit News
East Lansing — It was good.
Wait, no it wasn’t. Ok, it’s good.
Hold it, hold it. Nope, it’s no good.
That’s kind of how things played out on Michigan State’s final possession on what the Spartans were hoping would be their final play of regulation Saturday against Arizona State.
The Spartans had just managed to move into field-goal range after giving up the go-ahead touchdown with 50 seconds to play. Confusion reigned as players were running on the field and off as Michigan State scrambled to get the kick off before the play clock expired.
Matt Coghlin’s kick was true, sailing through the uprights and appearing to set up overtime. Instead, the Spartans were called for too many men on the field. The officials then discussed the ball and said that, in fact, there was no penalty and the kick was good.
Not so fast.
The play was then reviewed in the replay booth and there was, indeed, 12 men on the field. Michigan State was assessed a 5-yard penalty and on the ensuing 47-yard attempt, Coghlin missed badly to the left.
Game over. Arizona State 10. Michigan State 7.
“Time was running down and everybody was panicking,” said defensive tackle Raequan Williams, who is on the field goal unit. “We’ve got to get better at that. We go over that at the end of every week. We do something like that and make everybody scramble, run on and kick a field goal. That time we didn’t execute.”
But how did Michigan State find itself in that position to begin with? Why was there a mad scramble?
That is harder to determine. Here’s coach Mark Dantonio’s explanation from his postgame news conference.
“Initially, we were going to try and take a shot to the end zone, but the clock was going to run, and we didn't have any timeouts and the clock was going to run, so we spiked it,” Dantonio said. “Then the 40-second clock was running, so initially we were trying a shot down there, then I said, ‘Let's kick it,’ because if we catch the ball the game will probably be over. If we catch the ball and we’re not in the end zone the game's probably over, so line up and kick it. Our field goal kicker was a little late, you know, sort of watching, so he runs out and the clock is ticking down and still makes the field goal.
“I'm not sure, though, (on too many men). We had injuries on the offensive line, and I think one guy stayed in. I'm not sure, I haven't seen the film. I know that they reviewed it and they said it was no foul, then they reviewed it again, so I'm not sure, maybe you guys have seen it. Then we line up again, miss the field goal and they try to hurdle us and that should be a penalty, they call no penalty and it's not reviewable, but that's just to get to overtime.”
That’s a lot to unpack.
Matt Charboneau and John Niyo of The Detroit News after Michigan State's 10-7 loss to Arizona State. The Detroit News
First, the fact Michigan State had no timeouts was because Dantonio called two on defense during Arizona State’s winning drive, leaving the Spartans with none. So, when Darrell Stewart hauled in a 25-yard pass from Brian Lewerke to get the ball to the Sun Devils 24, the Spartans had to spike the ball.
Lewerke did so with 11 seconds to play making it second-and-10. He was expecting to take a shot to the end zone and said offensive coordinator Brad Salem had already sent in the call.
“I killed it and then Coach Salem had called another play and I think Coach D wanted to go for the field goal,” Lewerke said. “It was, we had a little bit of a crunch in time going out and our field goal unit came in late and had the penalty.”
And apparently Coghlin wasn’t ready, the coaches weren’t on the same page, and there was the fact that injuries to Michigan State’s offensive line caused shuffles on the field-goal unit. On the first kick with 12 men, Tyler Higby was in the formation. He was not on the second attempt.
“Yeah, people didn’t know who stayed in and stuff like that,” Williams said. “But that’s stuff we got to know.”
They didn’t know it on this night, and now Michigan State heads into Big Ten play looking for answers.
“As soon as we missed that field goal at the end my first thing was that it can always get worse,” Williams said. “I was here when we were 3-9, so I have to make sure we are still up. We are still a good team with good players and we have to make sure no one loses confidence.”