East Lansing — By Sunday night, Mark Dantonio had dissected the film, breaking down every aspect of Michigan State’s 34-10 loss on Saturday at Ohio State.
There were plenty of things to point to when concluding where things went wrong for the Spartans. There were defensive miscues that included blowing a coverage, not fitting a gap and going for a strip instead of the tackle. And on offense, the two turnovers in the first four players were just the beginning of a list that included dropped passes and missed receivers.
But there was one thing that wasn’t going to change, even if Michigan State hadn’t committed any of the miscues.
“They got good players,” Dantonio said Sunday night during his weekly teleconference.
That’s about as simple as it can be put. As hard as Michigan State (4-2, 2-1 Big Ten) played, as much as the Spartans believed they had a chance to walk into Ohio Stadium and pull of the upset — something this program has done in the past — they simply didn’t measure up when it came to pure, physical talent.
“When you look at the whole thing, you got to play physically to win that game,” Dantonio said. “You got to win the physical battles. We didn't win enough physical battles. We did some good things but there's some other things we need to do better.”
Dantonio then went on to describe how good quarterback Justin Fields is, keeping plays alive with his feet and finding receivers down the field. He explained how one missed fit on a gap defensively and running back J.K. Dobbins was going the distance. And when that running back is racing 67 yards down the field, trying to punch the ball out instead of securing the tackle was probably not the best move.
It all resulted in big plays that swung the game. The long run by Dobbins and a 60-yard touchdown pass from Fields were at the top of that list. Michigan State made mistakes, but Ohio State had the guys to take advantage.
“The big plays can sort of wear on you mentally, can sort of throw you into a funk a little bit,” Dantonio said. “But you get out of a gap and they have players, or something happens down the field from a pass perspective, they've got players that can go the distance. So you’ve got to be able to tackle and secure people in the back end as far as tackling and things of that nature. Definitely, I think as much as anything, it became a little bit of a source of frustration as the game wore on.”
There was frustration, to be sure. That will happen when a missed assignment might result in a 20-yard gain against most opponents but ends up in the end zone against Ohio State. That’s the reality of playing a team that talented and it revealed to the Spartans how they did, indeed, need to be perfect.
It’s not exactly a realistic goal, but it’s one Dantonio pushed all week, and one he lamented Sunday night, pointing out two early turnovers to put the Spartans behind and a late interception that dashed any hope of a comeback.
“We got a turnover and then threw an immediate interception to them on a tip,” Dantonio said. “Things like that were happening and we need to play a perfect game to win that football game. And we didn't win the turnover margin which complicates things.
“But it was six minutes to go in the second quarter and it’s 17-10. So we're in the football game, but you got to play perfectly. We can't drop balls. We can't fumble when we have a catch. We can't have an inadvertent pitch that's fumbled. We can't give up.”
Matt Charboneau and John Niyo of The Detroit News break down what went wrong for Michigan State in its loss at Ohio State. The Detroit News
Michigan State did not do that. Even with the early miscues, the defense responded, and as the game slowly slipped away, the Spartans kept giving themselves a chance to have a chance.
In the end, they simply didn’t measure up. It’s what they intended to find out, and now that hopes of winning the East took a major hit, the key will be responding, especially considering the class of the West — Wisconsin — is up next.
“We'll be defined by what we do next,” Dantonio said. “So, we’ve got to get ready to play Wisconsin. Nobody's gonna feel sorry for us. We’ve got to continue to push on.”
Gervin gets nod
Redshirt freshman cornerback Kalon Gervin got his first career start on Saturday in place of fifth-year senior Josh Butler. Dantonio said the move was based on the fact Butler had been limited all week in practice.
“We did not start Josh because he was hampered a little bit with a slight injury,” Dantonio said, “and he did not practice this week. So, I didn't want to put him out there on the corner position and have something happen, so we played him a little bit on special teams just to see how he would move, but I think he’ll be ready this week.”
It was a typically rough outing for a young player making his first start against one of the best teams in the country. Gervin was beat over the top early but was bailed out by a dropped pass then had trouble bringing down Ohio State’s Binjimen Victor on a 60-yard touchdown pass.
“He did a nice job but got to tackle better,” Dantonio said. “Missed a tackle on the big long one, and it's something that we work on daily. … So that 20-yard gain became a 60-yard gain, and that just can't happen.
“But you know, it's his first time playing extensively like this. He's a good player. He's got great speed. I think he's one of our better tacklers, but it's his first time out there in, I guess, high intensity type environment and with a lot on the line, so you got to give them a little bit of a learning curve.”