Spartans win one, lose one vs. EMU
EAST LANSING, Mich. -- Sometimes you win and still lose.
The scoreboard said Michigan State won by a 23-7 score, but it lost something Saturday afternoon against overmatched Eastern Michigan.
What the Spartans lost was the sense of power and entitlement that comes with winning the way you should. And the timing couldn’t be much worse with Ohio State visiting Spartan Stadium next week for the Big Ten opener.
Swagger is on the shelf. Or at least it should be.
Although tailback Le’Veon Bell, tight end Dion Sims and outside linebacker Denicos Allen can act any way they want. Without them, State likely would’ve experienced an embarrassing loss.
Bell ran for 253 yards, Sims caught six passes for 112 yards, and Allen made the big defensive plays.
The Spartans were 33-point favorites against an 0-3 team that had just been routed, 54-16, at Purdue. Receiver Bennie Fowler talked about a need to “dominate” the Eagles, and strong safety Isaiah Lewis spoke of wanting to “blow this team out.”
Instead, State found itself fighting for a win and a little dignity.
Jim Miller, the former Spartans quarterback who played nine years in the NFL, said just before halftime on the radio broadcast: “This is what happens when you are not intense. You can see it on the sideline. Michigan State is getting slapped.”
State’s receivers had as much to do with the flat feeling as anything. They dropped seven passes in the first half, and quarterback Andrew Maxwell had three poor throws.
Fowler had a good shot at a 24-yard touchdown catch but couldn’t come down with it in tight coverage by Kirkland Bryant. Fowler later caught one, but fumbled it away.
“Players make plays,” Spartans coach Mark Dantonio said. “Plays don’t make players. We need to be more consistent in what we are doing and play better.
"That’s the message we delivered at halftime, and I thought we played better in the second half. We need to bring our emotion every day, and it wasn’t there in the first half.”
Eastern had a 7-3 lead at the half, thanks to a 23-yard touchdown pass to Donald Scott by backup quarterback Tyler Benz, a surprise starter over Alex Gillett.
“We can’t control what the offense does,” said Allen, who had a sack and forced a fumble but dropped a potential interception. “But the defense is prepared.”
The Eagles’ longest first-half drive was the one on which they scored the touchdown, on the first play after Fowler fumbled.
“Some guys just showed up and threw their helmets out there,” Allen said.
Did Allen feel compelled to point that out to teammates?
“Yeah,” he said, “I did. I said, ‘You’re looking flat.’ You do your best to get them riled up.”
Dantonio had to be frustrated by the offense, and he became frustrated with the postgame questions about it and other matters. Several times, he supplied short answers before concluding, “NEXT question.”
He also punctuated a question about defensive end William Gholston not starting until the second half by saying, “I don’t talk about injuries: NEXT question.”
Then Dantonio made a quick press conference exit, stage left.
Spartans defensive coordinator Pat Narduzzi clarified what happened, saying Gholston was banged up.
“He was not able to play all week,” Narduzzi said of Gholston not practicing. "If he’s got a health issue, we’re not going to throw him out there.”
Gholston, though, didn’t seem to favor anything physically in playing most of the second half.
The story for State continues to be its passing-game struggles.
“I don’t think we made any progress at all,” Spartans offensive coordinator Dan Roushar said. “Le’Veon Bell had a good afternoon running the football (sixth-highest total in school history). Dion Sims got active in the game and made some plays.
"Short of that, we are going to have to get a whole lot better.”
Sims said Eastern’s defenders did not jam him off the line as much as most recent opponents have been, and he ignited the offense by catching 16- and 17-yard passes on successive first downs late in the third quarter.
“We definitely picked it up after those two plays,” Sims said. “Those two plays were a boost for us. It was a sense of urgency. Something had to be done.”
The Eagles stacked eight and nine men on the line in an attempt to stop Bell, which took the safeties out of coverage. The Spartans just couldn’t capitalize on that until Sims lit it up.
Bell had six runs of 15 yards or more, including 40 on his final carry. He’s up to 610 yards and five touchdowns after four games.
As great as both Bell and Sims were, State would’ve lost had one of them been just average.
There are simply too many missing pieces to this puzzling team.