Michigan State(4-3, 1-2) has gotten off to a nightmare-ish start this season and their Rose Bowl hopes have seemingly diminished. In a division that boasts two undefeated teams in conference play, the Spartans goal of getting to Pasadena took a hit on Saturday as they lost at home to divisional foe, Iowa(4-2, 2-0).
The Hawkeyes played from behind all game, finally taking their first lead of the game in the second, and final, overtime. They kicked a field goal to go up 19-16 with Michigan State’s offense still to take the field.
A touchdown would have won it for the Spartans and a field goal would have pushed it into a third overtime. The final result? An interception that ended the game and the Hawkeyes pulled off the upset on the road.
There are many things that this 2012 Spartan team needs to work on and right now the team leadership and chemistry seems to be the lacking the most.
Take a look at how I graded the Spartans at each position group after Saturday’s loss.
Andrew Maxwell had the worst game of his Spartan career and definitely a game he will try and forget. The junior quarterback passed the ball 31 times, completing just 12 of them for 179 yards and no touchdowns. Yes, that’s an astonishingly poor 38 percent completion percentage. In Maxwell’s defense, the weather conditions were less than ideal for a passing attack and the rain was falling all game long, making it hard to get a grip on the ball. He threw his first interception since week one in the loss and his first game without a touchdown since week three.
Running Backs: B+
Le’veon Bell had a tremendous game given the weather conditions, but lacked the big plays needed to make this Spartan offense successful. Bell had a 27 yard scamper late in the game, but failed to get into the endzone other than in the first drive of the game when he scored on a 14 yard run. Bell has the most yards of any running back in the Big Ten and is one of the teams only bright spots in this week’s heartbreaking loss.
Wide Receivers/Tight Ends: C
As much as I’d like to say this wasn’t their fault for such a low grade, I believe that the route running had a lot to do with the lack of production from the wide receiver and tight end positions. There were only 12 completed passes all game and it seemed like everyone was struggling to get open and trying to make moves on a wet field is tough, but that’s when short routes are key. They failed to consistently run those routes and come up with positive yards. Tight end Dion Sims missed this game due to injury and that proved to be vital because the tight end group caught just one pass for two yards. Freshman Aaron Burbridge was solid once again at receiver, catching five passes for 89 yards. His second straight start and he now has over 200 receiving yards in the past two games.
Offensive Line: C+
The line seemed to open up a few more holes for Bell and protect Maxwell better than they have in weeks past, but they still aren’t were they should be as a unit. Granted, they have had injuries to multiple players on the line and it takes a while to gel as a unit, but if that gelling doesn’t happen soon, the Spartans will be in bigger trouble than they already are.
Defensive Line: B-
The defensive line looked solid through most of the game, at one point holding Iowa fullback Mark Weisman to 22 yards on just 10 rushes. After that point, the fullback had 16 carries for about 100 yards and the game-tying touchdown in the final minute of regulation. The defensive line seemed to get tired as the game progressed and failed to put constant pressure on the quarterback, something that has been an issue all season long.
The same goes for the linebackers that I said about the defensive line: the run defense could have been better late in the game. However, Denicos Allen had over 10 tackles and an interception on Iowa’s first drive of the game. There were some crucial dropped interceptions by the linebacking crew, most notably Taiwan Jones‘ drop of an early interception that would have been an easy touchdown and a momentum-shifter. The linebackers looked solid all game long and continue to be one of the team’s most consistent position for performance.
Defensive Backs: A-
The backs, led by senior cornerback Johnny Adams, played one of their better games of the season. They didn’t allow the big play that usually killed them in previous weeks and they looked like they got back on track as a group. The longest pass play they allowed was a 35 yard pass and other than that, the pass plays rarely went beyond 10 yards. The group would have gotten a higher grade if they would have come up big in a late game situation when Darqueze Dennard dropped an interception in the endzone in the second overtime, ending up being a crucial drop.
Special Teams: B-
The special teams were strong for this team a year ago, but seemed to have dropped off a bit in 2012. Nick Hill was the premier kick and punt returner for this team and was poised to have a big season, a few muffed punts and short punt returns later and there is a new punt returner for the Spartans. Andre Sims has taken over those responsibilities and had just two returns and failed to produce positive yardage. The punt game wasn’t much better early as Mike Sadler punted his first ball of the game for just about 20 yards and gave the Hawkeyes great field position. He settled down after this and punted the ball 59 yards his next time out. The biggest positive– Dan Conroy‘s 3 for 3 field goal performance. This was a big lift for the Spartans and looked like the dependable Conroy from years past and kept the Spartans in the lead for the majority of the game.