Milwaukee Journal Sentinel
Spartans look to bounce back
MADISON – Michigan State's players were still in the visiting locker room inside Ohio Stadium late Saturday when head coach Mark Dantonio challenged their resolve.
“I don't think we stopped playing hard,” Dantonio explained after the Spartans suffered a 34-10 loss to rival Ohio State. “But as I told the football team in the locker room, we'll always be defined by what we do next.
“We've got to rise back up this week because we go to Wisconsin.”
The Spartans (4-2, 2-1 Big Ten) face No. 8 UW (5-0, 2-0) at 2:30 p.m. Saturday on the Big Ten Network. They last visited Camp Randall Stadium in 2012 and rallied for a 16-13 overtime victory.
Michigan State finished just 3-5 in the Big Ten and 7-6 overall that season but then went on a three-season tear under Dantonio.
From 2013 through '15, the Spartans went 22-2 in the Big Ten and 36-5 overall. They capped the '13 season with a 24-20 victory over Stanford in the Rose Bowl, finished the '14 season with a 4241 victory over Baylor in the Cotton Bowl and then stumbled to close the '15 season when they suffered a 38-0 loss to Alabama in the College Football Playoff semifinals.
The numbers have flipped since those days.
Michigan State is 15-15 in the Big Ten since 2016 – a run that began with a stunning 30-6 home loss to UW – and 24-20 overall.
The loss to Ohio State, which could challenge for a national title this season, revealed Michigan State's flaws.
Michigan State's offense, which has struggled at times this season, made a handful of plays but also made too many mistakes.
The Spartans lost two fumbles on their first four offensive plays and finished with three turnovers. Quarterback Brian Lewerke hit 20 of 38 attempts for 218 yards, with one touchdown and one interception.
His biggest miss of the night came with the Spartans looking to cut into Ohio State's 17-7 lead in the second quarter.
Facing third and 6 from the Buckeyes' 21, Lewerke had wide receiver Cody White running uncovered on a crossing route. The ball sailed high and the Spartans settled for a field goal.
“He was open,” Lewerke told reporters after the loss. “I just gotta hit him.”
Ohio State hit back five plays later when tailback J.K. Dobbins ripped off a 67-yard touchdown run to help the Buckeyes take a 24-10 lead with 2:24 left in the first half.
Cornerback Josiah Scott had a chance to bring Dobbins down from behind but instead tried to force a fumble.
“We can't go for the punch on the ball,” Dantonio said.
“We've got to secure the tackle, play another play.”
Michigan State's defense, which surrendered 356 yards in a 40-31 victory over Indiana one week earlier, made too many mistakes against the Buckeyes.
A blown coverage resulted in a 60yard touchdown pass in second quarter and the Buckeyes averaged 6.6 yards per carry and finished with 323 rushing yards on 49 attempts.
“At the end of the day we didn't stop the run effectively enough,” Dantonio said. “They had too many explosive plays.”
Perhaps the most galling moment for Dantonio occurred in the third quarter, with Ohio State holding a 27-10 lead.
Michigan State drove from its 25 to third and 5 at the Ohio State 9. Lewerke threw an incompletion on third down and Matt Coughlin missed a 27-yard field-goal attempt, in part because Ohio State got pressure up the middle.
“We thought we had the right mindset coming in,” Dantonio said. “We knew we'd need to play mistake-free football and we were unable to do that early in the game.
“We're playing hard and making plays on defense and we put together a couple drives. But in the end, when you look at the football game, we've got to play at our best, which I don't think that we did.”
Next challenge: Rebound to face UW. “We're a 4-2 football team and at the end of the day, that's what we are,” Dantonio said. “As I said earlier, we'll be defined on what we do next. We've got to get our mindset right.
“I truly believe that you are defined by how you handle problems and how you handle your next challenge.”