'Very disappointed': Spartans sinking with 3rd straight loss

Matt Charboneau
The Detroit News
Josiah Price

East Lansing — A week ago, Michigan State found itself in the unfamiliar position of having lost two straight Big Ten games.

By Saturday night, the Spartans were trying to wrestle with the fact they have now lost three straight following a 31-14 defeat at the hands of BYU at Spartan Stadium. It’s the first time Michigan State has gone through a three-game skid since 2009.

“Obviously a disappointing day for us,” Michigan State coach Mark Dantonio said. “The reality is we’re a 2-3 football team. We should handle ourselves with conviction and with those things we need to do to turn this thing around.

“But again, it was disappointing. A very disappointed locker room.”

The non-conference matchup with BYU (3-3) was the chance for Michigan State to light a spark to a season that had quickly gone in the wrong direction after a 2-0 start. Instead, with conference play set to resume next week, the Spartans (2-3, 0-2 Big Ten) find themselves in a scenario where just getting to bowl eligibility might be a question mark.

“(The frustration level) is pretty high,” junior linebacker Chris Frey said. “We’re in a spot now we haven’t been in in I don’t know how long. So I came back in the locker room after the game, everybody is heated and everybody is upset. But I went to every guy on the defense and said, ‘I love you guys. You guys are my brothers.’ We just have to get better. That will fix everything. We need to get better.”

BOX SCORE: BYU 31, Michigan State 14

It’s a fairly simple formula at this point, but it’s about all the Spartans have to go on. As was the case with the previous two losses, there was plenty of blame to go around in this one.

Against a BYU defense that allowed 53 points last week to Toledo and ranked 120th in the nation against the pass coming in, Michigan State managed only 206 total yards of offense with 72 coming on the first drive of the game. And defensively, a solid first half was wiped out a by a second in which BYU scored 28 points, including 21 in the fourth quarter.

“It’s all inclusive, it always is,” Dantonio said. “There’s a lot of blame to go around. Offense, defense, special teams, whatever it is. Like I tell our football team all of the time, ‘Hey, if you think you have it bad now, it can always get worse. I promise you.’ We need to find a way out of the hole.”

It appeared early as if Michigan State wouldn’t be in any sort of hole.

The Spartans forced a turnover on downs by stopping BYU on fourth-and-6 from the Michigan State 32 before putting together a 15-play drive that took 7:03 off the clock. It ended with Gerald Holmes scoring on an 8-yard run to put Michigan State ahead, 7-0, with 4:10 left in the first quarter.

Michigan State came out firing, throwing on the first four downs as quarterback Tyler O’Connor was 6-for-8 on the drive.

From there, the offense went completely silent, managing to gain just 206 total yards and 13 first downs. O’Connor finished 7-for-11 for 58 yards and was pulled in favor of Damion Terry in the fourth quarter. However, Terry’s interception led to a BYU touchdown in the fourth quarter.

The offense was so stagnant after the first drive that the 74,214 at Spartan Stadium spent much of the second half serenading the Spartans with boos.

“The same things are happening,” O’Connor said. “It’s one thing here, one thing there. A missed block here or there. We executed plays but then there would be a missed block or a missed assignment — the little things.”

The little things added up to a big day for BYU, which gained 398 total yards as running back Jamaal Williams ran for 163 yards and two touchdowns while quarterback Taysom Hill threw for one touchdown and ran for another.

“I made the statement before that I thought we could win this game on the line of scrimmage, and our guys did a great job on the offensive and defensive lines,” BYU coach Kalane Sitake said. “When you play college football, wins are hard to come by, so you need to celebrate them as much as possible. We plan on doing that.”

After the early score by Michigan State, it took some time for BYU to get rolling. The Cougars got on the board late in the first half when Rhett Almond booted a 35-yard field goal as time expired to cut the Michigan State lead to 7-3 headed into the locker room.

The start of the second half was an foreshadow of things to come for Michigan State as it was forced to punt after just four plays and then allowed BYU to march the ball 73 yards on 13 plays to take the lead, 10-7, with 4:52 left in the third quarter. The drive took 7:29 off the clock and ended when Hill hit Colby Pearson with a 4-yard touchdown pass.

Things didn’t get any better after another three-and-out for the Spartans as the Cougars capitalized, converting a fourth down in Michigan State territory before Hill scored on a 12-yard run to extend the BYU lead to 17-7 with 12:43 left in the fourth quarter.

Michigan State tried to spark the offense by putting Terry in at quarterback, but the junior was intercepted by BYU cornerback Michael Davis, who returned the ball to the MSU 32 with 9:29 left in the game. BYU added an 8-yard touchdown run by Williams with eight minutes to play that extended its lead to 24-7.

“If I take a positive away from the game it’s just the way I responded after I threw the pick,” said Terry, who was 6-for-10 for 63 yards. “I just hate losing. This is an unfamiliar spot. I haven’t been in this situation since I’ve been here. I have almost the total losses (now) I had the past three years. But we’ll bounce back and be all right and be ready for Northwestern next week.”

The Spartans had a bit of life late in the fourth quarter as they went 75 yards on 10 plays, cutting the BYU lead to 24-14 with 4:59 to play on a 1-yard run by Terry. But Williams broke off a 61-yard run that led to the final touchdown.

“It is us,” senior receiver R.J. Shelton said. “Whatever happens, win or lose, good and bad, we go down as one. That’s how it has been since I have been here. We don’t point the fingers. We take the losses when they come and the wins when they come as well. It is a team game. We don’t point the fingers at anybody. It is on all of us.”