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
Five takeaways from Matt Charboneau of The Detroit News following Michigan State's 34-10 loss to Ohio State on Saturday.
While the quarterback tends to take the blame when an offense is struggling, it’s hard to look at the way Brian Lewerke has been playing and pin all of Michigan State’s offensive woes on him. Yes, he missed a wide-open Cody White in the second quarter for what would have been a Michigan State touchdown, and he did throw his second interception of the season. That play, however, came with the game decided an on a tipped ball. Lewerke has been effective at avoiding the rush, extending plays with his feet and moving the offense between the 20’s.
He’d be the first to say he needs to be better, but he could use some help, too. While Darrell Stewart is having an outstanding senior season, he’s also been the ringleader in the drops department. He had a couple more on Saturday and they came at critical times. He was the first to admit he needs to be more consistent, and if he is and the rest of the receiving corps follows, the numbers for Lewerke will start getting significantly better.
Michigan State's Brian Lewerke, Darrell Stewart, Joe Bachie and Raequan Williams talk about the loss to Ohio State. Matt Charboneau, The Detroit News
O-line's depth is tested
Michigan State’s offensive line went with the same five players for the entire game for the first time this season. It wasn’t exactly out of choice, though, but instead out of necessity. Tackle Cole Chewins still hasn’t played this season, and likely won’t, while tackle AJ Arcuri also has been sidelined. Since the season began, tackle/guard Kevin Jarvis has been knocked out and last week Blake Bueter went down with an injury.
The result is inexperience on the depth chart, with freshmen Devontae Dobbs, J.D. Duplain and Nick Samac a snap away from significant playing time. To this point, the coaching staff has made it clear they’re heading down a redshirt path for each, but another injury or two and things could shift dramatically for a group that hasn’t been healthy for the past two seasons.
Defense gets a reality check
As good as Michigan State’s defense has been the past few years, the loss to Ohio State made it clear how slim the margin for error is against the most talented teams in the Big Ten. One missed fit in a gap by linebacker Joe Bachie led to a 67-yard touchdown run by J.K. Dobbins, a play that on most weeks would have simply gone for a big chunk of yards instead of a score. And when there was a coverage breakdown in the secondary, Justin Fields made the Spartans pay.
Michigan State is still a good defense and, in some ways, next week’s matchup with Wisconsin in a better one for the Spartans. But it’s clear, the Spartans defense isn’t at the championship level many expected it would be before the season. It’s at a high level, just not one that will bring Michigan State a trip to Indianapolis.
A youth movement?
While the move to get younger still isn’t taking place on the offensive line, there are some moves that show the Spartans are thinking about the future. In the defensive backfield, sophomore Xavier Henderson is already starting at one safety spot, redshirt freshman Kalon Gervin got his first career start at cornerback, taking over for fifth-year senior Josh Butler, and redshirt freshman safety Michael Dowell is seeing more and more time in the "delta" package that includes five defensive backs. Redshirt freshman Jacob Slade is also in the rotation at defensive tackle. Over on offense, redshirt freshman Elijah Collins has become the No. 1 tailback, redshirt freshman tight end Trenton Gillison had a career-best three catches on Saturday, and freshman wide receiver Julian Barnett continues to see his role increase.
It might not mean the Spartans are entirely making a shift to young players, but regardless of how this season plays out, it’s clear the cupboard is not bare for a team that expects to be contending for a conference championship on a yearly basis.
A kicking conundrum
Some tough questions need to be asked when it comes to kicker Matt Coghlin. The junior has been reliable throughout his career, earning first-team All-Big Ten honors last season by going 18-for-22 on field-goal attempts with a long of 49 yards. That came after a solid freshman season when he made 15 of 19 field goals for a Michigan State team that won 10 games. But things have gone off the rails for Coghlin since he made the first seven field goals of the season.
Coghlin missed all three of his attempts in the Week 3 loss to Arizona State, his only make getting wiped out because the Spartans had too many men on the field. He went 3-for-5 in wins over Northwestern and Indiana before nailing his first on Saturday at Ohio State, a 39-yarder in the second quarter. But a 27-yard miss in the second half took the wind out of the Spartans. Mark Dantonio says he doesn’t plan on making a change, but that might need to be re-evaluated if things don’t change.