Matt Charboneau and John Niyo of The Detroit News talk about Michigan State's fifth straight loss, this one to rival Michigan. Matt Charboneau, The Detroit News
Ann Arbor — There was no spin outside the Michigan State locker room on Saturday.
The Spartans had just been humbled in a way that has rarely taken place under coach Mark Dantonio, getting dominated by their biggest rival in a 44-10 loss to No. 14 Michigan at Michigan Stadium.
It was the fifth straight defeat for Michigan State, including the second in a row to the Wolverines. But this one was different than any of the previous four under Dantonio. This time, Michigan State was dominated as the Wolverines overwhelmed the Spartans late in the second quarter and continued pouring it on in the second half.
By the time it ended, the 34-point loss was the worst in the series since Michigan beat Michigan State, 49-3, in 2002. It was the third-worst loss in the series since Michigan State joined the Big Ten.
“Obviously, a very ugly fourth quarter,” Dantonio said.
He wasn’t wrong, but really, things have been ugly for a lot longer than simply the final quarter on Saturday. The Spartans (4-6, 2-5 Big Ten) haven’t won a game since the end of September with similar one-sided losses to Ohio State, Wisconsin and Penn State included. Last week’s fourth-quarter collapse against Illinois was perceived to be the low point, but getting trucked by your rival probably takes the cake.
Michigan State's Brian Lewerke, Antjuan Simmons and David Dowell discuss the 44-10 loss at Michigan on Saturday. Matt Charboneau, The Detroit News
That’s exactly what happened to Michigan State as it took a 7-0 lead then allowed 24 straight points before a field goal only briefly slowed the onslaught. Michigan then added 20 more points over the final quarter-and-a-half.
“Definitely stunned,” junior linebacker Antjuan Simmons said. “We had a really good week of practice and came out and we just didn't play good football. We just shot ourselves in the foot.”
For a team that needed to play its best game to have a shot at winning, the Spartans had their share of mistakes, getting flagged seven times for 93 yards. Two of the most critical calls came on the same play and helped turn the momentum.
With the game tied at 7 early in the second quarter, Michigan State had entered Michigan territory when Cody White grabbed a Brian Lewerke pass and scampered 20 yards for a first down at the Wolverines’ 37. But White was called for taunting after the play and guard Luke Campbell was also nailed for unsportsmanlike conduct.
The result was 30 yards in penalties that pushed Michigan State back to its own 33. The Spartans managed another first down but the drive stalled when White dropped a pass on third down deep in Michigan territory. After a punt was downed at the Michigan 2, the Wolverines then marched 98 yards for a touchdown and seized control of the game.
“Disappointed in those because we talked about keeping our composure,” Dantonio said.
Late in the game, the discipline wasn’t any better. Junior defensive end Jacub Panasiuk hit Michigan quarterback Shea Patterson well after the play and was ejected after the hit was deemed excessive. His brother, tackle Mike Panasiuk, later got hit with an unsportsmanlike penalty call.
There were some on Michigan’s side, too, but for Michigan State, it felt like a season’s worth of frustration pouring out.
“It’s tough, I ain’t going to lie to you,” fifth-year senior safety David Dowell said. “It’s tough, especially being a leader on the team, being an older guy on the team. The minute that a leader on the team or an older guy on the team throws in the towel, that's when everybody's going to do it. So you’ve got to keep that positive mindset, regardless of the situation, regardless of the circumstances until the clock strikes zero.”
Did that mean some guys have thrown in the towel?
“No,” Dowell said quickly. “No.”
Maybe not, but it doesn’t make things any easier.
As Simmons continued to say after the game, things could always be worse. After all, get two wins in the final two weeks over Rutgers and Maryland and Michigan State will reach a bowl game.
Still, the reality is tough to swallow for a team that expected to compete for the Big Ten championship.
“I mean, I can sit here and BS you guys if I want to, put smile on your guys’ faces and do all that,” Simmons said. “But, I mean, it's hard. It's hard to hide or come in here and, you know, try to make sure everybody's smiling and stuff. That’s hard.”
Michigan State coach Mark Dantonio talks about losing at Michigan, the fifth straight loss for the Spartans. Matt Charboneau, The Detroit News
Where does Michigan State turn from here? That’s the biggest question.
Long-term answers weren’t coming on Saturday. There was no grand declaration of the future from Dantonio, leaving only the last two weeks to discuss. The reality is, even with this season’s struggles, Michigan State should win its final two games and take whatever bowl berth it gets.
The players insist they’ll keep fighting.
“I wouldn't have come here if I didn't believe in Coach D or the coaching staff or my teammates,” Simmons said. “I still believe in this program. I still love every single person within this program.”
The same message came from fifth-year senior Raequan Williams.
“I love coming in every day because I’ve got my best friends there,” Williams said. “There’s a lot of guys that feel the same. … There's definitely gonna be motivation, definitely. We ain't folding, ever.”