Prior to this past Saturday, Michigan State coach Mark Dantonio owned a 51-12 record in East Lansing. Prior to this past Saturday, he hadn’t lost at home since 2014, when his team was bounced 49-37 by Ohio State.
That one hurt. But not as bad as the one from this past Saturday — a 30-6 dismantling courtesy of the Wisconsin Badgers. Prior to this past Saturday, the Spartans hadn’t been handled in a such a manner since 2010, when the Iowa Hawkeyes used a 37-6 romp to hush East Lansing.
Yeah, this past Saturday was a lot like that one. Maybe even worse.
Back in 2010, the Spartans were just learning to win big under Dantonio, who has won at least 11 games in five of the six past seasons. Six years ago, the Spartans weren’t the Spartans. They were close, but not yet there.
And that’s why Wisconsin’s victory packed a little more sting. Defending Big Ten-champion Michigan State, not up-and-coming Michigan State, obliterated by a redshirt freshman quarterback and second-year Badgers coach in Paul Chryst.
Dantonio was out Dantonio’d on his own turf. There’s no other way to describe the series of events.
Wisconsin’s offense moved the ball while its defense removed the ball… from the hands of L.J. Scott, who was popped by Dakota Dixon early in the third quarter, causing a fumble that led to a 66-yard scoop-and-go by Leo Musso.
“Well, first of all the game, on Saturday, got away from us with a couple plays — so you can look at that and certainly point to ‘Here’s why this happened…,'” Dantonio said during Tuesday’s Big Ten coaches conference call. “And then the next thing is that we still control our own destiny because that game was outside our division, so everybody we play within our division is still yet to be played. So that’s a positive…”
While fresh on their minds, one loss won’t cripple the Spartans as they prepare for a gut-check on the road versus Indiana. Michigan State has rebounded before. Following the Iowa loss in 2010, the Spartans finished the year with a three-game winning streak and Big Ten championship — much of that success could be attributed to the influence of upperclassmen.
“We need to focus on getting better, accepting the challenge and, you know, our seniors — or our leaders on this football team — need to take a step forward as well,” Dantonio said. “We all need to grow and move forward. We’ve not lost a lot of football games here recently, especially home games, and so we experienced that and we need to learn something from that experience.”
Part of that learning curve pertains to picking up the pieces after Alex Hornibrook’s debut. The redshirt freshman completed 16 of 26 passes for 196 yards and one touchdown. Despite throwing one interception, he was incredibly efficient.
Hoosiers QB Richard Lagow, a 6-foot-6, 240-pound JUCO transfer, could present the same type of problems — if not more. If they’re not careful, the Spartans could find themselves at the mercy of another conference rookie.
Lagow leads the Big Ten with 1,002 passing yards, averaging roughly 334 yards per game. He also has seven touchdown tosses. But this past Saturday, he threw five interceptions during a 33-26 loss to Wake Forest, proving that he’s indeed human.
“Well, we’ve got to play great technique. You know, I think IU has a great system. I think their quarterback plays within the system,” Dantonio said. “And you know, it’s rapid deployment, or slow it down, depending on what they want to do.
“So again, it’ll be a challenge — it’s a challenge every week. There’s great coaching being done in this conference, and elsewhere in the country, and offenses are always trying to find new ways — just like defenses… it’s up to us to tackle well in space, make plays on the ball, have the right leverage in coverage and make the right calls.
“It’ll be a great challenge for us.”
Dantonio’s right — Saturday in Bloomington will be a “great challenge” for his program. Back-to-back regular-season losses? Hardly. Not at Michigan State. The Spartans don’t just need a win against Indiana, they need to rediscover what got them here in the first place.