The Michigan State Spartans lost a shot at a Big Ten title with a 48-3 loss at Ohio State on Saturday, Nov. 11, 2017, in Columbus, Ohio. Video by Chris Solari/DFP
EAST LANSING — Football games are won and lost at the point of attack. That’s where Ohio State dominated Michigan State the most Saturday.
On both sides of the ball.
It was a very un-Mark Dantonio-style performance by the Spartans. The offensive line gave up six sacks and struggled to both run and pass block. The defensive line got shoved out of position off the snap and had alignment issues. The Buckeyes “changed the line of scrimmage,” Dantonio said, “and they won up front.”
“Usually what we’ve always said here is you’ve got to win up front first. It makes the quarterback’s job easier,” Dantonio said Sunday. “It makes the linebackers’ job easier. And you can play around that.
“We just didn’t win up front. Now, we’re young. We’re young up front on both sides of the ball. But you still have to win. You have to win your share.”
Michigan State ends regular season vs. Maryland, Rutgers at 4 p.m.
The 24th-ranked Spartans have two regular-season games left to correct those mistakes, starting Saturday in their home finale against Maryland (4 p.m./Fox).
That’s coming off the heels of a 48-3 blowout by the Buckeyes in which quarterback Brian Lewerke was sacked three times and Messiah deWeaver three more in MSU’s last four offensive plays, tied for the most sacks the Spartans have allowed in a game under Dantonio (Pitt in 2007 and Georgia in the 2009 Capital One Bowl).
“We know what went wrong, it was simple stuff,” senior center Brian Allen said Monday night. “But anytime you lose a game like that, the first thing you want to do is get back out there. That’s the only thing that can really make you feel better.”
Michigan State’s Messiah deWeaver is sacked by Ohio State’s Chase Young during the fourth quarter Nov. 11, 2017 at Ohio Stadium in Columbus, Ohio. (Photo: Kirthmon F. Dozier, Detroit Free Press)
Lewerke, who threw for 845 yards in MSU’s two previous games, tried to evade the pressure laterally. However, the Buckeyes constantly had a spy watching him to bring a second wave of pressure unlike he’s seen all season. That prevented him from running for big chunks of yardage or buying time for receivers to get open.
The sophomore went 13 of 31 for 81 yards and two interceptions before adding 50 more yards by completing five straight throws on MSU’s final drive. The Spartans’ 195 yards of total offense was their fewest since 2011 against Nebraska (187).
“I kind of got antsy just with the pass rush, not trusting it,” Lewerke said. “I got on my toes and made some bad throws. It’s just my experience – you gotta learn to take the hits and realize you’re gonna get hit and just make accurate throws, no matter what.”
MSU also failed to generate 100 yards rushing for the fourth straight game. The Spartans managed just
“The inability to run the football puts you in long-yardage situations at times, and then they can tee off on you,” Dantonio said. “And then if you over-set or if you don’t do it exactly right, then there’s a power issue – you’re not in a position of power to protect the quarterback. And then everything else just starts to fall downhill.”
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It didn’t go much better along the defensive front. MSU allowed 335 rushing yards, the most in Dantonio’s 11 seasons, and a season-high 524 total yards of offense. The Spartans also failed to get a sack for the first time all season,
“It was physically painful to watch that game,” senior linebacker Chris Frey said Monday. “It was frustrating, too, but you sit there and just watch plays – plays you could’ve made, big plays that hurt us. You go back and watch the film and it’s like, ‘Man, if I just could’ve done this differently or I’d done this differently, I could’ve made a play for minus-2 rather than plus-16 or plus-80.
“It’s tough to watch things like that.”
Dantonio said his players and coaches struggled to adjust or adapt to Ohio State’s double-team blocks in the middle against MSU’s defensive tackles. That allowed the Buckeyes’ offensive line to then reach the second level of his defense to “scoop” the linebackers with zone blocks, which pushed the Spartans out of their gap assignments and created issues with leverage and tackling.
“There was a little bit of everything,” Dantonio said. “We’ve talked about the storms that we’ve been in or played through. This one was a storm as well and we couldn’t play through it.”
Co-captain Allen said the Buckeyes’ beatdown is an experience MSU’s young offensive linemen around him will grow from. He’s the only senior in the group, which features two true freshmen (Kevin Jarvis and Jordan Reid), two redshirt freshmen (Luke Campbell and Matt Allen) and two sophomores (Cole Chewins and Tyler Higby).
“It wasn’t pretty by anyone really on Saturday,” Brian Allen said. “Just let them know that you’re gonna have bad games and that stuff’s gonna happen. Been there and struggled with teams like that when I was young, and I just let them know that that stuff happens. It happened to me, it’s happened to guys like Jack Conklin – everyone’s been through that where you’ve struggled.
“Just learn from it and get better and trying to level up. … Now that they know what it’s like, they know what to expect a little bit more and just be more ready the next time a challenge like that comes this way.”
Contact Chris Solari: firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @chrissolari. Download our Spartans Xtra app for free on Apple and Android devices!