EAST LANSING — Michigan State may have won the battle, but they sure didn’t win the war.
On Senior Day, the Michigan State Spartans (5-6, 2-5) lost their fourth game in six weeks to the Northwestern Wildcats (8-3, 4-3) 23-20.
Statistically, Michigan State was the better team. They had more first downs (23), passing yards (297), rushing yards (122), less penalties (2 for 21 yards), more possession (34:19), and more third-down conversions (8 of 17) than the Wildcats. However, the Wildcats won the two categories that matter most, the score and turnover margin.
The Spartans turned the ball over four times in today’s game, and the Wildcats didn’t turn the ball over once.
“Very very difficult to win when you’re minus four in turnover margin,” MSU head coach Mark Dantonio said. “We outrushed them, we got more first downs, we got more passing yardage, we got more third-down conversions, but you can’t overcome mistakes.”
Aside from the four turnovers that the Spartans committed in Northwestern territory, senior kicker Dan Conroy missed a 37 yard field goal, his seventh miss of the season, with 2 seconds left before halftime.
“We lost 12 points in the first half due to mistakes and turnovers and then throw an interception in the beginning of the second half due to blown protection and it goes for a touchdown,” Dantonio said. “Our defense gets no turnovers and they come up with four, which makes it very difficult to win.”
The Spartans did get a big game out of running back Le’Veon Bell who had 32 carries for 140 yards which puts him at 1,382 for the season.
Junior tight end Dion Sims, who has been battling injury the past couple weeks, was the most reliable target tonight as he had five catches for 102 yards.
“He was much healthier,” MSU offensive coordinator Dan Roushar said. “I thought he played well. From what I saw, he blocked very well as well. I thought he stepped up and had a nice game.”
Freshman Aaron Burbridge played well, despite his fumble in the third quarter, as he had an exceptional touchdown catch two series before his fumble that showed off his amazing hand strength.
Michigan State seemed to be in position to win the game as the defense had the Northwestern offense pinned at their own 12-yard line with 2:40 left.
Northwestern’s running back Mike Trumpy started off the drive, following a Mike Sadler punt, with a rush of no gain. The Spartans then called a timeout immediately, the first of their three.
The next play was 2nd and 10, Northwestern quarterback Trevor Siemian threw an incomplete pass to the left sideline to Rashad Lawrence that was called pass interference on senior corner Johnny Adams. The questionable call gave the Wildcats an automatic first down and an extended drive that caused the Spartans to use all of their timeouts.
Michigan State defensive coordinator Pat Narduzzi gave the political answer when asked what he thought about the call on Adams, but it was clear in his tone and body language that he was upset.
“Players play, coaches coach.” Narduzzi said. “I have no idea. I’ll see it on tape again.”
While the Spartans play was not ideal, their performance today summed up their season in a nutshell.
Missed field goals, check. Dropped passes, check. Missed throws, check. Return problems, check. Solid defense, check. Bell and Sims being the only reliable offensive production, check!
The Spartans are one win away from being bowl eligible, and luckily for them their season finale is at Minnesota. Michigan State has lost five of their six games at home this season, something that baffles coach Dantonio.
“I’ve been here 12 years and that’s never happened,” he said. “This has always been a great place to play and a great environment. I appreciate the support we had today and thought the fans showed up. I feel badly for them because they suffer too.”
If Michigan State wants to continue to play and have something to show for their season they must look no further than Minnesota. A “win or go home” mentality should be on every Spartans minds until the final whistle blows against the Golden Gophers.