That sucked on many, many levels. Let’s get into it just so we can all move on and try and put this misery behind us.
Failure to Finish
Michigan State put up over 400 yards of offense in the game, but only scored seven points. Even last year’s team averaged 25.25 points per game when gaining at least 400 yards of total offense.
The problem on Saturday was that most of it came in between the 20-yard lines. Despite having seven drives into ASU territory, the Spartans only had two official red zone trips. One resulted in a touchdown, and the other in a missed field goal.
So the drives were stalling out before the red zone, despite looking good up to that point. The reasons behind this were varied, and included just about everyone on the team from coaches on down.
The first drive had two first downs, including Lewerke converting a third-and-nine to Dotson. Then back-to-back runs on first and second down just across midfield put them in third-and-long and a back shoulder throw to Hayes was broken up.
The second drive also had Lewerke pick up a third-and-long on a good throw to Cody White. This was after he picked up a third-and-short with his legs on an option keeper. That was followed by a pass interference call against ASU that had the Spartans first-and-ten at the Sun Devil 43-yard line.
And then Lewerke kept it again and ran off the right side, only to cough it up after a four-yard gain. It was sloppy, and another drive dies.
Drive three gets started with a big run by Collins, and then Lewerke hits Dotson over mid-field for a first down. Once again offense looks to be getting going.
Then comes a holding call as Lewerke tries to scramble to buy time. That is followed by a drop by Heyward on a screen pass on first-and-20, and then a Heyward run on second-and-20. This is now twice we have seen runs on second and long that lead to the drive ending.
Drive four starts with another big play as Lewerke hits a wide open Matt Seybert after a play fake and the tight end rumbles all the way inside the ASU 40-yard line. MSU then converts a fourth-and-inches with a Lewerke sneak to keep the drive going inside the ASU 30-yard line.
Then comes more Connor Heyward. A read option is blown up and Lewerke is hit for a loss of four, follwed by another run on second-and-long. A drop on third-and-long and Coghlin misses the long field goal.
Execution and play calling both are issues thus far.
ASU gets a field goal on it’s next possession to take a 3-0 lead.
MSU gets it back late in the first half and starts the drive with another nice play on first down, hitting Stewart over the middle for 10 yards. Collins picks up another first down with a nice run on second-and-seven and MSU is on the move.
On third down, Lewerke does a great job extending the play and finds Stewart in space for the first and a whole lot more, as the senior takes it all the way down to the ASU 14-yard line. This is the first trip inside the ASU red zone.
First down Lewerke has time but no one is open so he takes the check down to Hayes for a couple yards. Second down looks like a designed QB draw on an RPO. It picks up four and it’s third down and Lewerke misses Hayes near the first down line on a low pass behind the receiver. Looked a little like he expected Hayes to stop his route earlier, but either way it wasn’t executed.
Then Coghlin misses again...but after a delay of game when he makes the first field goal. Two of his misses were after boneheaded penalties cost them yards and took the make off the board. The miss was still from 31-yards, but it shouldn’t have happened.
So that’s the first half for MSU. Plenty of yards and multiple big plays, and nothing to show for it. Some of the play calling was weird, some of the execution was bad in important spots, and penalties once again played a role. But it LOOKED better, despite the lack of results.
But results are what you need. Winning the box score and losing the scoreboard is still losing.
Collins looked good almost any time he touched the ball. Lewerke made some nice throws and had some players make some big plays after the catch. But his fumble was costly.
Fourth Down Stuffed
Then we move to the first drive of the second half. After MSU picked up a first down into ASU territory following a short punt, a sack set them back behind the chains. But Lewerke hits Cody White on third down and he just barely can’t extend the ball enough to get the first. Fourth-and-one coming up from the ASU 34-yard line.
So here is what MSU comes out with. A power formation with a lead blocking back and Heyward deep. They have one WR split out wide to the bottom.
A couple things here. First ASU has eight guys at the line in the red box area. MSU has eight total blockers available, including the lead blocker in the backfield. That means it is eight-on-eight just at the line.
See that guy circled in orange. He’s the ninth guy. Guess who makes the play?
Also worth noting is how far off the receiver at the bottom the corner is playing. He doesn’t even pretend to believe that MSU might throw it here.
So here is after the handoff. MSU has the line blocked pretty well, and there is a running lane for Heyward. However, our friend in the orange circle is coming to fill that lane. There is no one left to block him because the eight MSU blockers are taking care of the other eight ASU defenders that were on the line.
It’s up to Heyward to make the defender miss, or run him over enough to get the first. He lowers his head a yard behind the line as the ASU tackler goes low on him. Heyward gets his legs cut out and is stopped dead in his tracks and can’t fall forwards to reach out. Turnover on downs.
We talked in the first film room after Tulsa about the lack of effectiveness of the MSU run game in short yardage spots. Going power simply wasn’t working. And to go with Heyward in this spot instead of Collins was also a puzzling decision.
The play was predictable, set up to fail, and did not utilize the best players available to you. That is just not winning football.
To Spy or Not to Spy
This was one of several spots where MSU could have ended the game. ASU has fourth-and-13 and a stop means MSU gets it back and can run out the clock. After calling TWO timeouts before this play this is the look MSU comes out with.
ASU has four wideouts, and one back in the backfield. Michigan State has three deep safeties, who start this play beyond the first down marker. They have four DB’s matched up with the four receivers and Bachie (red) in the middle of the field.
MSU chooses to rush three with an unbalanced look with two to the high side and one low. What this does is immediately open up a running lane right up the middle for the QB to scramble.
You can see Bachie drifts back in the middle of the field as the ball is snapped. If he is supposed to spy the QB, that sure isn’t what he would be doing. If the spy is one of the deep safeties, they also drift back. The receivers are all matched up with defenders as well.
Not only is no one accounting for the QB, no one is accounting for the back out of the backfield either. Had the pressure actually gotten there, he could have dropped it off to the back for an easy first down anyway.
As mentioned above, the three man rush opens up a huge hole up the middle and Daniels just scampers up the gut for the first without so much as being touched.
This play was a total failure and was never going to work. I have no idea what they were thinking. It was a complete mess. Forget the QB not being spied, Eno Benjamin is ASU’s best playmaker, and NO ONE ACCOUNTS FOR HIM.
This is a total failure by the coaching staff in a big spot. And this was one of like four of these moments throughout the game.
The execution was bad on Saturday. But as we have continued to chronicle over the last couple of years, the coaching staff did not put them in the best position to succeed. This play, the fourth down to Heyward, and obviously the debacle at the end are as much coaching failures as anything else.
The penalties and the execution on offense could have made the end of the game situations irrelevant, but that wasn’t the case, and it doesn’t excuse a coach and his staff that have been together this long for making mistakes like this.
This was a collective failure, and once again a great MSU defense has to answer for why they weren’t perfect. We have seen this play out the same way over and over the last year plus.
Michigan State has gone 15 straight games without allowing an opponent to score 30 points, the third longest streak in the nation. They are 8-7 over that stretch.
Hopefully everyone can learn something from this and we can all collectively move on to Big Ten play. But this was a bad one, no sugar coating it.