Michigan State takeaways: Spartans defense destroyed by free passes

Matt Charboneau
The Detroit News

Five takeaways from The Detroit News' Matt Charboneau after Michigan State's 44-10 loss to Michigan on Saturday.

Overmatched secondary

Losing junior cornerback Josiah Scott on the second play from scrimmage didn’t help, but Michigan State’s pass defense continued to take a beating in the loss to Michigan as the Wolverines and quarterback Shea Patterson burned the Spartans for 384 yards through the air. It was the first time Patterson had thrown for more than 300 yards in his Michigan career and it was the most passing yards allowed this season by the Spartans, who allowed former Michigan quarterback Brandon Peters to throw for 369 yards in last week’s collapse against Illinois. Patterson also had 14 of his 24 completions go for 15 yards or more.

The days of the “No-fly zone” feel like ancient history for a Michigan State defense that entered the Michigan game ranked ninth in the Big Ten in passing defense. Scott hasn’t played up to expectation this season, but with him out, the Spartans were even more overmatched against the Wolverines as sophomore Shakur Brown, fifth-year senior Josh Butler and sophomore Kalon Gervin rotated in. The safeties are struggling, too, with fifth-year senior David Dowell and sophomore Xavier Henderson the field the majority of the time for a defense that seems unable to slow any team’s passing attack.

Michigan tight end Nick Eubanks makes a leaping touchdown catch in the second quarter.

Silly Spartans

The lack of discipline from Michigan State on Saturday was alarming, reminding many of the teams that frustrated Spartans fans for years with silly penalties at critical times of the game. Under Mark Dantonio, that problem had essentially disappeared, but against the Wolverines it was back as the Spartans were hit with 93 yards in penalties, including 30 on one play. It was that play that turned the momentum, coming as Michigan State was driving into Michigan territory in the second quarter with the game tied. Junior wide receiver Cody White had just picked up 20 yards to the Michigan 33, but he was called for taunting on the same play junior guard Luke Campbell drew an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty. It pushed the Spartans back and on the next drive, Michigan went 98 yards for a touchdown and started to take control.

Things continued to get ugly in the second half, capped by a late hit from junior defensive end Jacub Panasiuk on Patterson, a penalty that got Panasiuk ejected from the game. It was an ugly performance overall, but one made even worse by the fact the Spartans hurt themselves by not controlling their emotions.

Youth movement

Injuries have certainly piled up, especially on the offensive side of the ball, but it’s clear Michigan State is starting to look to the future in a number of spots as 12 true freshmen played in the game, with three appearing on the field for the first time, including defensive end Michael Fletcher, linebacker Charles Willekes and tight end Adam Berghorst. With just two games left, that trio can maintain their redshirts the rest of the way, but for the other nine, it looks like it’s all or nothing this season. That’s a fact for wide receiver Julian Barnett (10 games), long snapper Jude Pedrozo (10) running back Anthony Williams (nine) and offensive lineman J.D. Duplain (seven).

The rest of the freshmen haven’t gone over four games yet, but will likely do so beginning next week. That includes center Nick Samac (four games), safety Tate Hallock (four), offensive lineman Devontae Dobbs (three), wide receiver Tre Mosley (three) and running back Brandon Wright (three). Samac and Duplain have started two straight games while Dobbs saw extensive second-half action, meaning they’re the core of the offensive line moving forward. Add in the increased roles for Barnett and Mosley and the offense is clearly looking toward the future.

Eating humble pie 

Getting blown out is one thing. After all, Michigan State has already been down that road more than once this season in demoralizing defeats at the hands of Ohio State, Wisconsin and Penn State. In none of those games were the Spartans competitive or in any position to win the game. Doing that against the Wolverines comes with the sting of being humbled by a rival in a series the Spartans have controlled under Dantonio. The 34-point loss on Saturday is the third-worst since Michigan State joined the Big Ten and the worse since Michigan beat Michigan State, 49-3, in 2002, a game that led to coach Bobby Williams’ firing.

That’s not gonna happen with Dantonio, but the embarrassing loss is an indication that the stranglehold the Spartans once had over the Wolverines appears to be long gone.

Rapid descent 

Michigan State has had frustrating seasons. The nine-loss run in 2016 jumps out under Dantonio, but few have felt as frustrating as this one. The Spartans entered the season returning the core of the team and expected to be contending in the East with a chance to win the Big Ten. Instead, the team has collapsed, going without a victory since the end of September. It’s led to some bizarre post-game press conferences where the Spartans are left explaining how getting to six wins and a lower-tier bowl game is now the goal.

Sure, it’s better than losing any of the final two games against Rutgers and Maryland, but scrapping to land a spot in what might end up being the Quick Lane Bowl at Ford Field is just another window into how far Michigan State has fallen.


Twitter: @mattcharboneau