Michigan State takeaways: Finishing with a kick, future playmakers

Matt Charboneau
The Detroit News

Five takeaways from Matt Charboneau of The Detroit News after Michigan State's 19-16 win over Maryland on Saturday.

Coghlin bounces back 

It’s hardly been a year to remember for junior kicker Matt Coghlin, whose three misses early in the season against Arizona State combined with a late defensive lapse set the course for a frustrating season. But even as Coghlin made just 4 of 11 field-goal attempts over a five-game stretch in the middle of the season, coach Mark Dantonio never entertained the idea of making a change. It appeared to pay off as Coghlin closed the season by going 9-for-11 over the final four games, including 4-for-5 in the season finale against Maryland.

His 33-yard kick with just more than two minutes to play proved to be the winner against the Terrapins and helped make the Spartans bowl eligible. It still wasn’t what Coghlin or the Spartans were expecting after Coghlin earned first-team All-Big Ten honors last season, but it at least proved that Michigan State will have a reliable kicker next season as it tries to get back to contending in the Big Ten East.

Big breakdowns

While Michigan State’s numbers against the run have remained solid this season, the defense’s penchant for giving up big plays continued to be an issue in the victory over Maryland. The Terrapins entered the game ranking 109th in the nation in total offense yet still managed to rip off two big plays on Saturday that were almost enough to turn the game in their favor. The first was a 44-yard touchdown pass from Josh Jackson to Dontay Demus late in the first quarter, followed by a 63-yard touchdown run by Anthony McFarland early in the second half. McFarland carried the ball only eight times but still ran for 134 yards, showing how big chunks are available against the Spartans’ defense.

It’s been an issue from early in the season, beginning with the loss to Arizona State in the third game and continuing through a five-game skid that derailed the season. The defense did manage to get off the field in the final minutes of the game, at least avoiding a late collapse, another issue that had plagued Michigan State all season.

Michigan State's Tre Mosley runs on a pass reception against Maryland's Antoine Brooks Jr. during the second half.

Catching on nicely

Michigan State lost fifth-year senior wide receiver Darrell Stewart four weeks ago to a foot injury, leaving the door open for someone to jump up and fill the void. Junior Cody White has been solid most of the season, but the opportunity has been seized by freshman Tre Mosley, who has now played five straight games, including one start. During Saturday’s victory over Maryland, Mosley had career-highs with receptions (eight) and receiving yards (73), while his sideline grab on the final drive went for 13 yards and put the Spartans in position to kick the winner.

Along with fellow freshman Julian Barnett, Mosley is the future for the Spartans at wide receiver and will be a big part of the offense, something that was made clear by the decision to burn the redshirt by playing in his fifth game of the season on Saturday. Along with White, Barnett and sophomore Jalen Nailor, the Spartans won’t be lacking playmakers, even as they enter next season unsure of who will be the quarterback.

Run game issues

While Michigan State gained 430 total yards in the victory over Maryland, only 88 came on the ground. Redshirt freshman running back Elijah Collins injured his ankle and was limited to 41 yards on 15 carries, while freshman Anthony Williams gained 13 yards on five carries and freshman Brandon Wright gained just 7 yards on five attempts. Collins has proven he can be the workhorse, but with three backs in the same class, the depth is lacking while the consistency has been absent all season.

It’s not all on the backs, though, as the offensive line has dealt with its share of injuries. Cole Chewins never played this season while veterans like Kevin Jarvis, Tyler Higby, Blake Bueter, Matt Allen and Luke Campbell have all missed time. It’s led to two freshmen starters – Nick Samac at center and J.D. Duplain at left guard – along with extensive action for freshman Devontae Dobbs at left tackle. The cohesiveness hasn’t been there, something that has played a significant role in Michigan State’s offensive problems.

Minimum standard?

After Michigan State had finished off the victory on Saturday to reach a bowl game for the 12th time in Dantonio’s 13 seasons, quarterback Brian Lewerke said that winning six games and becoming bowl eligible was the “minimum standard” for Michigan State’s program. It was an alarming declaration for a team that has won three conference titles since 2010 and has played in the College Football Playoff. Maybe before Dantonio took over, just reaching a bowl game was the goal. However, that bar has been lifted significantly under his time as head coach.

Sure, getting to a bowl is better than not, but just squeaking in to a lower-tier bowl game is hardly the standard that Dantonio set. It might make the Spartans feel good by saying it after a six-win regular season, but even inside the program there was belief they’d compete for the Big Ten title this season. The Spartans never came close, which makes the spin about minimum standards seem fairly empty.


Twitter: @mattcharboneau