Blaming officials for a team’s woes is usually a short-sighted view, one I’ve mistakenly had many times as a writer. I tried for better perspective in today’s Lansing State Journal column — a rather depressing piece, upon reflection — about Michigan State’s 28-24 loss Saturday to Nebraska, and to not simply pin the Spartans’ latest heartbreaking loss on two horrible calls, as replays show.
MSU had chances that had nothing to do with officials.
Among them: How about trusting your QB on your final drive and chasing another first down before just chasing away seconds? And after gaining 8 yards on three downs, go for it on fourth-and-2.
Afterwards, head coach Mark Dantonio and offensive coordinator Dan Roushar both lamented those two decisions.
Or just make the stop on fourth-and-10 (easy to say from my perch).
But the frustration with the officiating is also absolutely fair, especially from players and coaches who spend all year preparing for these 12 games. It’s a brutal sport, in terms of commitment and physical price, and when an official alters the outcome of the game, it’s deflating.
And, there is no question, two incorrect calls impacted the result.
The first, Darqueze Dennard’s 95-yard fourth-quarter interception return for a touchdown, negated by a personal foul call on Johnny Adams. The video shows this was a legal hit, a sound block in front of the shoulder of a Nebraska player. Dennard’s run back was an exceptional display of athletic ability — as was his first INT — but, more importantly, it should have put MSU ahead 31-14. In other words, ball game.
The second bad call was, of course, when Dennard was flagged for pass interference in the end zone on a third down in the final minute. I haven’t heard one person agree with it yet, from ESPN SportsCenter anchors to the former VP of NFL officials. It looked like perfect defense from a player who’s really emerged this year.
The first call cost MSU the game. The second probably cost MSU a chance to win it in overtime.
My issue is why these calls were made. Spartans coach Mark Dantonio tried to take the high road Saturday night.
“Everybody’s trying to do the very best they can do out there,” he said. “I don’t think anybody’s out for Michigan State, I don’t think anyone’s out for Nebraska. It’s an instinctive game and it’s instinctive for officials, too.”
Well, if your instinct is to make those calls, you shouldn’t be officiating. These were huge moments. You’re either incompetent as a ref or you enjoy making yourself part of the game, which means you’re unethical. I guess the former is the better option, if you have to choose.
Either way, an explanation is warranted. At the very least, the Big Ten office should admit these were goofs. Players and coaches work too hard and fans invest too much to put up with such amateurism at this level.
These weren’t tough calls. Definitely weren’t necessary ones.
MSU could have taken it out of the officials’ hands, but when the Spartans didn’t, they also didn’t deserve to have the game taken from them.
It’s a tough way to go into a bye week. And an awful way to essentially fall from relevance.