Defeat leaves Spartans lamenting lost opportunities

Matt Charboneau
The Detroit News

East Lansing — It’s becoming beyond repetitive following Michigan State games this season, almost like a broken record that keeps playing the same notes over and over again.

The Spartans walked away from a game lamenting what might have been — for the sixth straight week.

This time it was against No. 2 Michigan, the hated rival the Spartans had dominated for the better part of the last decade, winning seven of eight in the series. This one wasn’t supposed to be close, bit it turned out a little closer than most expected.

And when the final tally was counted — Michigan 32, Michigan State 23 — it was Michigan State, once again, going over all of the plays that could have turned the game around.

“We have to convert on our opportunities,” Michigan State coach Mark Dantonio said. “When you play a good football team, you can’t miss on opportunities. You have to make good on opportunities. A lot of that is play-calling, a lot of that is my decision making. A lot of that is execution. That’s why I always say it’s all inclusive. It’s all inclusive.”

There was quite a list after this one.

Three times Michigan State got in the red zone on Saturday and didn’t come away with a single point. In the fourth quarter that included a missed field goal from Michael Geiger and a turnover on downs, but the crucial one came in the third quarter after a Darian Hicks interception of Michigan quarterback Wilton Speight.

It led to the Spartans reaching the Wolverines 2 with a first down and Michigan leading, 27-10. Four straight runs were called and they went like this – loss of 1, gain of 1, no gain, loss of 2. The ball was turned over and Michigan eventually added a field goal to push the margin to 30-10.

“We ran the ball for 200-some yards,” Dantonio said of an offense that gained 217. “LJ (Scott) had (139) yards. It’s first-and-goal from the 2. My thinking is that we have to get the inches. Obviously, I was wrong. Ever since 2007 when Jehuu Caulcrick had 22 touchdowns, that’s what we do. But that was my decision and I’ll take the heat for it.”

Quarterback Tyler O’Connor said there was no real option to check out of the run plays.

“Bottom line is we have to get a push,” O’Connor said. “First-and-goal from the 2-yard line, we expect to be able to run the ball. If it takes four times, it shouldn’t, but if it takes four times, we expect to get it in.”

Another miss came in the second quarter when Michigan State went for it on fourth-and-1 from the Michigan 38 and the score tied at 7. Gerald Holmes was stopped for no gain and Michigan answered with a touchdown to take a lead it wouldn’t relinquish.

And one that didn’t seem as big at the time but turned out to be was the interception at the end of the half thrown by O’Connor that led to three more points for the Wolverines.

For the Spartans, it was all too familiar.

“It is tough, and I say that repetitively,” O’Connor said. “We keep facing those same issues and like I said, there is no moral victories and there are missed opportunities and things like that, but we just have to keep overcoming, keep teaching people and wherever this season leads us, our goal is to finish this season on a high note and go to a bowl game and take these younger classmen to where they should be and where we should have been this year.”

That’s a longshot at this point, but the Spartans did play better in the second half before failing to capitalize on their chances.

“At the end, I’m proud of our guys, I’m proud that we came out to play,” Dantonio said. “I’m very proud of how we came out the second half … We played and got back in the football game, but we just gotta convert those opportunities. That third down, that third quarter, cutting that, at that point in time, that’s a huge goal line stand for them, when we don’t get in.”