EAST LANSING, Mich. — Michigan State’s season was chalked up as a rebuilding year on Saturday.
Spartans coach Mark Dantonio didn’t use those exact words, but his tone and demeanor were crystal clear: He’s not happy with three consecutive losses for the first time since 2009, and he’s well aware of the holes scattered throughout his team.
While addressing the media, he discussed the past nine years of construction. And really, that moment said it all. Dantonio knows. He knows everyone else does, too.
“‘Hey, if you think you have it bad now, it can always get worse. I promise you,'” Dantonio said, relaying an earlier message of optimism to the Spartans.
An incomplete project. Also a complete mess.
No such thing as a do-over, but it’s safe to assume Dantonio would like to rewind to camp or fast-forward to 2017. But first, he has to get Michigan State to a bowl game — which would entail winning four of the final seven games. Three are on the road, and two are at home: Ohio State and Michigan.
Bowl eligibility would also require massive strides from from fifth-year senior quarterback Tyler O’Connor and surrounding pieces.
Easier said than done, though.
The deck has been stacked against the Spartans — from player performance to play-calling by coordinators.
What was the hang-up during the 31-14 loss to the BYU Cougars? What led to another embarrassing defeat? Michigan State has given up 30 or more points during two of the past three losses — and both were in East Lansing.
“I think you look at everything involved. I already said that,” said Dantonio, who’s faced the same question since losing 30-6 three weeks ago to the Wisconsin Badgers. “It’s not one person’s fault; it’s a cumulative effect. Play calling, structure, execution, it’s all of it.”
What about a quarterback controversy? Is there one of those? Sure seems like one has developed. But Dantonio shot down that notion in a hurry. However, it’s only fair to question his choice to swap O’Connor for Damion Terry in the second half. Granted, Terry helped slightly move the ball, but O’Connor was supposed to be the Spartans one and only.
O’Connor connected on seven of 11 passes for 58 yards. He should have had nine completions, but receivers dropped two well-thrown balls in the first half. Terry completed six of 10 throws for 63 yards. With that said, Terry’s time came in the second half, when time had essentially expired for Michigan State.
“At that point in time, I felt like we needed to make a move. The last thing I want to do is create controversy,” Dantonio said. “I just felt like we needed to provide a spark and have something happen. Damion Terry came into the season thinking he was going to take some reps.
“It wasn’t out of the picture that we should see him. He did some things and took us down the field on that one drive. Had a poor throw on the interception. I’m not here to blame Tyler O’Connor for this. It’s not his fault we lost.”
So O’Connor was said to be the guy coming out of camp. But Terry was told he’d see some action? Mop-up duty? Like it or not, the lack of specifics have put Dantonio in a difficult position. He has to defend his senior, the chosen leader, but also has to acknowledge that Terry — depending on who you ask — may be capable of doing a better job.
Or, maybe Dantonio sees the early collapse as a way to groom Terry for next year? Why give O’Connor the reps? He’ll be gone at the end of the season. Terry has another year to do what some thought O’Connor would do in 2016. But then again, given the offensive line struggles and receiver drops, it’d be difficult to project success for any quarterback at this juncture.
Times are indeed hectic in East Lansing.
Right now, the Spartans are trying to remain level-headed in the wake of BYU’s 398-yard escapade of total offense. Two-hundred-and-sixty by way of the running game. The days of storied, all-time-great defenses have flipped with the pages of the calendar.
Dantonio has a set recipe. It works. The recipe hasn’t been the problem. Look at the ingredients.
With that said, don’t assume that he has gone into panic mode. There won’t be any drastic changes during game-day activity. Despite plenty of criticism directed toward offensive coordinator Dave Warner, Dantonio won’t intervene and call plays.
“No, I am not going to do that,” Dantonio said of what would be an obvious waving of the white flag. “Absolutely not. That will not happen.”