Notre Dame football: MSU knows it let one get away

South Bend Tribune


The opportunities stared Michigan State in the face.

But in the biggest moments, the Spartans blinked.

When they needed a big play, miscues followed for the Spartans.

Drives bound for the end zone ended in field goals, including a miss, and defensive stops were ruined by penalties.

Senior kicker Kevin Muma missed a 30-yard field goal attempt less than four minutes into the game after the Spartans blocked a Notre Dame punt.

Michigan State scattered 10 penalties for 115 yards, four of which came on pass interference calls, in a 17-13 loss at the hands of No. 22 Notre Dame.

The biggest blunder may have come on a questionable play call. The Spartans drove down the field for a field goal to tie the game at 10 to open the second half. On the next Michigan State possession, head coach Mark Dantonio chose to call a trick play — one quarterback Connor Cook remembered practicing only once before — with freshman wide receiver R.J. Shelton throwing a pass downfield to a double-covered Bennie Fowler. Notre Dame safety Matthias Farley made an easy interception, and a rolling Michigan State offense was taken off the field.

“I made the suggestion on that one because I felt like we needed a big play,” Dantonio said. “He's got a great arm on him. The guy was covered. Probably should have just pulled it down and ran. So that's my call. I'll take responsibility for that.”

Cook could only watch as the offense he had been asked to lead wasted an opportunity to pull ahead.

“We probably should have mentioned to R.J. that if it’s not there, just run it,” Cook said. “I think that really changed momentum. He’s young. He’s inexperienced. He’ll learn from it.”

On the ensuing drive, Michigan State cornerback Darqueze Dennard intercepted a Tommy Rees pass, but was called for a pass interference to negate the turnover. The Irish would capitalize with a Cam McDaniel rushing touchdown in the opening minute of the fourth quarter to push their point total to 17.

“I thought it was good defense,” Dennard said. “I thought I made a great play. After I caught the ball and I started running, I saw he threw a flag and I thought it was probably on me so I just ran out of bounds.”

The Spartans were unable to overcome the obstacles they created for themselves, even if they disagreed with some calls made by the Big Ten officials. Dantonio tried his best to avoid commenting on the penalties after the game.

“Defensively, I felt we played the ball the way we teach them to play the ball,” Dantonio said. “That's how they played the ball. Beyond that, I'm not going to have any comments.”

He later said he hadn’t experienced more pass interference calls against his team in a game in his 30 years of coaching.

Dennard, who called for one pass interference and one holding penalty in the secondary, said he didn’t question the officials about what he was doing wrong. He insisted on playing the way he had been taught. He told fellow corner Trae Waynes, who received two pass interference penalties of his own, the same.

“I’ve actually been in some rough, bad calls. It’s nothing new with me,” Dennard said. “I just told Trae to keep playing his game, keep playing physical and the way we play. I told him to continue doing what he was doing.”

The Michigan State offense rushed for more yards, tallied more first downs, and generally outplayed its Irish counterpart. But when the unit approached the shadows of the goal line, plays were less crisp and passes fell incomplete.

“We know we can move the ball,” said offensive tackle Jack Conklin.

“We learned we’ve got to finish.”

Michigan State quarterback Connor Cook (18) looks to throw during an NCAA college football game on Saturday, Sept. 21, 2013, at Notre Dame. SBT Photo/JAMES BROSHER