Michigan State: Five things we learned

Matt Charboneau
The Detroit News

Touchdown challenged

You can’t win without scoring touchdowns, at least not very often, and that was obvious for Michigan State Saturday in its 45-12 loss toe Penn State. The Spartans didn’t punt the ball in the first half and outgained Penn State, 256-125, but each of their drives ended with a Michael Geiger field goal. All were impressive drives that took 11 plays or more and all moved the ball inside the Penn State 20, but the failure to find the end zone loomed until Penn State finally put it all together in the second half.

“You have to score touchdowns in this football game,” Dantonio said. “There is no question about that and we were short on that end. If we scored four touchdowns in the first half, that’s 28 points and maybe it would have been a different type of game.”

Terry enters QB fray

One of the big reasons for the offensive success in the first half was the play of junior quarterback Damion Terry, who earned his first career start and was 7-for-12 for 101 yards while running for 13 yards. But Terry took a hit to the head on a 9-yard run in the second quarter that helped set up Michigan State’s third field goal and was lost for the game.

While it wasn’t enough to give the Spartans the victory, it was enough to indicate Terry will be a real factor in the quarterback battle that is sure to take place in the spring and into preseason camp next August. Redshirt freshman Brian Lewerke might have the advantage, even after missing the last four games with a broken leg, and freshman Messiah deWeaver will also have a shot to be the starter. But Terry showed on Saturday he won’t be overlooked, something that might have been easier to do a day earlier.

Michigan State gets right to work on 2017

Defense regresses

After playing well the previous two weeks the defense took a step back in the second half on Saturday, especially in the secondary as the Nittany Lions had four scoring plays of 34 yards or more, including a 59-yard pass to Chris Godwin and a 45-yarder to tight end Mike Gesicki. Much of the responsibility falls on the secondary that was caught out of position on several occasions.

The lack of pass rush was also a factor, even though the Spartans did get a sack in the first half and put pressure on Trace McSorley, though somehow were not credited with a quarterback hurry. The youngsters up front failed to sustain that pressure in the second half and McSorley was allowed the time to pick apart the Spartans’ secondary.

Run game derailed

Michigan State’s running game had been as good as it has all season entering the final game, having run for more than 200 yards in four of the previous five weeks. But against Penn State, the ground game stalled and gained only 109 yards. Some of that was because of the first-half injury to LJ Scott, who returned in the second half but was ineffective and finished 6 yards short of 1,000 for the season.

The Spartans also lost guard Brandon Clemons to injury early in the game and were trying to work in freshman Thiyo Lukusa at tackle, however the push wasn’t there for much of the game and by the second half, Michigan State was forced to go to the air as it was trying to make up a significant deficit. Building on the momentum of the previous five weeks will be vital heading into the off-season.

Internal strife

When the losses pile up, frustrations can certainly become an issue. For the most part, Michigan State avoided those problems this season but there were signs all was not well in the locker room. The biggest might have bene the fact senior captain Demetrious Cox did not travel with the team and missed his final game in his native Pennsylvania for what Dantonio called a violation of team rules. It was the second time Cox had been at the center of an issue after not joining the other captains for the coin toss earlier this season at Illinois.

That was brushed off at the time as no big deal, but the fact the safety was not with the team for its final game was a clear indication there were bigger problems, and the fact he’s a captain could have signaled the fact the Spartans were lacking the proper leadership this season.