Mark Dantonio Deserves Blame for Michigan State’s Choke Job at Nebraska, Not Referees
Michigan State's season is over, and it's Mark Dantonio's fault.
Please, Spartan fans, resist the urge to deflect the groin-punch that was MSU gagging at the end of the game at Nebraska by blaming the officiating crew. And while you're at it, please also resist the urge to point to the Nov. 21 game at Ohio State as an opportunity at redemption--the only people who believe this team can leave Columbus with anything other than a blowout loss after watching the disaster at Nebraska are overdosing on green and white Kool Aid.
Yes, it's obvious that Nebraska receiver tracked out of bounds on his own. But do you really think MSU would have stopped the Cornhuskers on the ensuing play(s)? If so, I don't know what you're basing that on, given the Spartans hadn't stopped previously 3-win, 6-loss Nebraska at all on Saturday night.
And that's what's truly inexcusable. Not the officiating miscue, but that the Spartans surrendered 499 yards to the Huskers, and that the game wasn't already decided by the time the final moments arrived.
This one is on Dantonio and Dantonio alone, for a number of reasons.
MSU yielded almost 500 yards of offense to Nebraska.
The Spartans' defense made Tommy Armstrong look like an NFL prospect: He completed 19 of 33 passes for 320 yards and a pair of 30-plus-yard scoring strikes.
MSU gave up 179 yards rushing too, allowing an average of 5 yards per carry.
Simply put: Those numbers are unacceptable. And it's hard to win on the road in a primetime atmosphere against anyone who is moving the ball against you at will like that.
Let's also not forget that Dantonio and Co. had two weeks to prepare for this game. Two weeks! And that's what you come up with?
Dantonio and his staff went inexplicably conservative on their penultimate possession.
The Spartans' playcalling sequence on their last possession before surrendering the lead went like this: run up the middle, run up the middle, tight end reverse, punt.
Then, further compounding the problem, Dantonio called for an ultra-conservative 3-man rush prevent defense against Nebraska on first down. That, of course, immediately blew up in his face to the tune of a 30-plus-yard gain.
On the following snap, a clearly conflicted Dantonio sent pressure and got burned for another 30-yard gain. At that point, the MSU staff seemed like a guy playing against his buddy in Madden trying the complete opposite of what he had been running in a misguided attempt at finding anything that would work.
Michigan State coaches failed their players on several occasions Saturday night, including on the Huskers' final possession when Dantonio and Co. clearly were not prepared.
It wasn't the officiating crew who had Michigan State's offense run a tight end reverse on a third down with a chance to put the game on ice. That was Dantonio.
Think about it. Dantonio's decision to run an end-around with Jamal Lyles was effectively a choice to put the game in the hands of a back-up tight end instead of, you know, arguably the greatest quarterback in the history of the school.
Which brings me to Dantonio's next and most damning miscalculation...
Aside from the tight end reverse being an atrocious call on its own, it also took the ball out of the hands of Connor Cook, the guy who is MSU's all-time leader in wins and touchdown passes. He's also the guy who had lit Nebraska up to the tune of four touchdown passes Saturday night.
Dantonio didn't trust in Cook on third down with the game on the line. That's of course frustrating as hell, but it's even more inconceivable given Dantonio had very recently witnessed the perils of not converting late-game third downs while holding tenuous leads (see: MSU at Michigan, Oct. 17, 2015).
Then on fourth down, Dantonio elected to punt. On the surface the orthodox decision seems like the right one, but was it really? The crux of the question here comes down to this: Who do you trust more to close out the game--Cook or your defense? When you boil the decision down to that essence, it's practically a no-brainer: Cook is much more reliable than the Spartan defense.
No, Dantonio didn't put his faith in this program's statistically greatest passer. That same indiscretion ultimately cost MSU a national championship game appearance in 2013 (when Dantonio pulled Cook on the final drive at Notre Dame in favor of the supplanted Andrew Maxwell), and it could cost them the same this season.