Got home from the MSU-Northwestern game a bit ago, greeted the wife, started flipping between the Kansas State-Baylor and Oregon-Stanford games. First No. 1 K-State goes down big. Then No. 2 Oregon in OT. And, as I’m sure you will be stunned, I can find a perfect correlation in one of those games to the Spartans (and will force you to read how after the jump).
Take a look at the pass interference call near the end of regulation in the Cardinal’s mammoth upset of the Ducks. It set up Oregon’s high-powered offense near midfield with less than a minute to play and not too far to go to get into field goal range. Instead, Stanford’s defense rose to the occasion, stuffed the Ducks like a Thanksgiving Day turkey, then watched them miss a field goal on the first possession of overtime. The Cardinal nearly fumbled away their golden goose, but they managed to recover the ball and kick the winning field goal and destroy the BCS.
Now the tie-in: The Spartans haven’t overcome potentially costly penalties. Good teams like Stanford do. Mediocre teams like MSU lose five times by a combined 13 points to conference foes and become forced to answer the same questions, week in and week out.
Mark Dantonio has talked about it all season, finding the ability to overcome adversity. Saturday afternoon, MSU created plenty of its own all day – and still had chances to win late. But the demons of a .500 team reared their ugly heads yet again, leaving his team still needing one more win to reach bowl eligibility midway through November.
It’s what has separated the 2012 Spartans from the 2010 and ’11 versions. More often than not the past two seasons, MSU found ways to win close games by overcoming some of its own missteps along the way. Forcing a turnover here, a lucky bounce on a last-second catch there, a trick play tucked in there somewhere, too. This year’s team hasn’t discovered that moxie and is running out of time and chances – realistically, if they don’t next Saturday at Minnesota, their next opportunity to iron out their issues in front of a crowd will be in April during the Green And White scrimmage game.
And this program needs a sixth straight bowl game. For recruiting. For posterity. For the fans. But most importantly, for the players to get that extra practice and one more game to learn how to win under the type of close-game circumstances the Spartans have wilted for much of this season.
Look back to 2009′s team, Kirk Cousins’ first as starting quarterback. That squad endured a number of close losses, squeaked out a win at Purdue in the next-to-last game of the regular season to get into the postseason, got blown out in the finale against Penn State, then watched a number of players get suspended for their own stupidity at Rather Hall.
Despite that adversity, much of what was to come for those players became forged during the difficulty month of December while they shorthandedly practiced for the Alamo Bowl and Texas Tech. Even though the Spartans lost that game 41-31, they performed well beyond the expectations of a .500 team without a number of key players in defeat. And that month of practice helped create both an on-field chemistry and a locker room togetherness that resulted in a share of a Big Ten title in 2010 and a spot in last year’s inaugural conference championship game last season.
So winning next Saturday at Minnesota becomes imperative for this reason. That month-or-so of extra work, of looking back to correct the problems while also moving forward, will be a long-term benefit both individually and as a team.
And a loss? Well, there would be a long time and a lot of negatives to think about before spring practice begins.
To recap Saturday’s loss, here is your Sunday linkage:
Graham Couch and I give a quick video breakdown of the 23-20 loss to Northwestern, while Joe Rexrode goes into the gory details via the written word. And here’s my quick look at the biggest plays and players.
And Graham looks at how MSU’s latest defeat resembles all the others and gives his grades of the Spartans’ performance.
MSU hockey lost 2-0 at Miami (Ohio) tonight, the volleyball team swept Northwestern in straight sets for its sixth straight and the men’s and women’s cross country teams wrapped up their seasons at the NCAA meet.
Sunday continues this busy weekend, with MSU’s men’s soccer team traveling to Notre Dame for its second-round NCAA Tournament game. Kickoff is at 2 p.m. And the Spartan basketball teams will host a doubleheader at Breslin Center – the men open the day at noon against Texas Southern, while the women host Virginia Tech at 4 p.m.
Oh, and there’s that tiny little story that the Big Ten might be adding Maryland and Rutgers.
Phew. Is it June yet?