The Detroit News' Matt Charboneau breaks down Spartans' first Big Ten loss of the season.
Evanston, Ill. — There’s no secret to Michigan State’s offensive game plan — run the ball first to set up the passing game.
It’s the plan every week and rarely changes. It’s the philosophy of head coach Mark Dantonio and gets executed each week by co-offensive coordinator Dave Warner, who calls the plays.
But on Saturday in the 39-31 triple-overtime loss to Northwestern, as the offense plodded through the third quarter with off-tackle running plays getting consistently stuffed by the Wildcats, there had to be some thought to opening it up. The Spartans did that in the fourth quarter once they were behind and rallied to tie the game.
However, there wasn’t any indication that would have happened any sooner.
“Usually when you look at us there is a magical number, we’ve got to run this amount of times,” Dantonio said. “They’ve got to stop the run, too. If you never run it they just start playing pass defense. You have to force the issue of stopping the run to open up the passing lanes, too. That’s my feeling.
“You can’t just throw all the time, then it becomes a vanilla secondary at times. Same on their end … it’s sort of a cat-and-mouse type thing and you have to play through it, play through the pain a little bit.”
All the heat can’t go on Warner, though he’s a popular target for fans.
In the first half, Michigan State moved the ball effectively and hurt itself with a Cody White fumble inside the Northwestern 10 and later quarterback Brian Lewerke missed Darrell Stewart and Felton Davis on deep throws that likely would have been touchdowns.
In the fourth quarter and overtime, things were opened up and Lewerke got rolling as Michigan State went away from the run almost entirely.
The Spartans finished with 445 yards passing on 57 attempts while running 30 times for 95 yards for a 3.2-yard average.
“There were some opportunities where we missed deep shots and had guys open,” Dantonio said. “That could have maybe opened the game up a little bit, but we overthrew some of those. But you’ve got to stay balanced. I thought Coach Warner did a great job, but you’ve got to stay balanced to some degree.”
How that affects the game plans moving forward remains to be seen.
“We left a lot of plays out there on the field,” Davis said. “That’s what you don’t want to do as an offense. We need to get back to practice and get better at the deep balls and get them on the money, keep the wide receiver standing up and score points.”
Cody White's 165 receiving yards are the most by a Spartans freshman in a single game in school history and 19th most overall by a MSU wide receiver.
… Darrell Stewart set career highs in receptions (11) and receiving yards (98). His 11 catches are tied for seventh most by an MSU player in a game.
… The opening 92-yard touchdown drive was the longest for Michigan State this season.
… Kicker Matt Coghlin’s 46-yard field goal was a career long.
… The 60-yard pass from Lewerke to White in the first quarter was the longest passing play this season for the Spartans.