Andrew Maxwell walked off the field Saturday with his head hung as he knew what every Spartan fan was afraid of– Michigan State is in danger of missing a bowl game for the first time since 2006.
Maxwell could do nothing but look forward to the next game against Minnesota in which they need to win in order to make their sixth straight bowl game under Mark Dantonio.
What hurt the most for Maxwell and the Spartans? They lost by just three points, their seventh straight game decided by four points or less and their fifth straight loss decided by the same margin. I can’t keep excusing this team’s poor play because of how close the games have been, as they have been competitive in every game, but they have lost their five Big Ten games by a combined 13 points.
Losing by an average of 2.6 points in conference play is heartbreaking enough, but the thought of missing a bowl game rips at the hearts of every Spartan player, especially the seniors.
Senior Day was supposed to be one to remember for the departing class, a game in which they can all look back and play out their favorite moment in their heads. A game to look back on and say that was the most satisfying moment of their career as they won their last home game as a Spartan. However, this Senior Day left a sour taste in the seniors’ mouths.
Losing to a team that they usually have good success against is never easy, especially when it comes at home. Many thought Michigan State would win their final two games and have a chance at the Jan. 1 Gator Bowl, but that is no longer the case. The Spartans must win at Minnesota next week to have a chance at the Dec. 29 Buffalo Wild Wings Bowl in Arizona.
Not going to a New Years’ Day bowl will be tough for a team that has grown accustomed to playing on Jan. 1 or later, making a bowl game of the sort in four straight years.
The Spartans had many chances to put this game away and earn a bowl bid before the final week of the season, but it was the same mistakes, different week that cost them the game.
Andrew Maxwell is usually great at taking care of the ball, but the pressure got the most of him on three occasions. In the first half, the Spartans worked the ball down to the Northwestern one-yard line and a quarterback sneak led to a Maxwell fumble. A few drives later, they got the ball down to the one-yard line again and they, once more, failed to execute a solid play in multiple chances, turning the ball over on downs inside the five.
Two drives inside the five-yard line and the offense comes up with nothing? This is something that should worry this team. The offense looked solid all game long, but couldn’t capitalize on the opportunities handed to them. Their lack of turnovers on defense and they lack of execution inside the 20-yard line on offense led to the demise of this game and the season as a whole.
Two more mistakes plagued the junior quarterback as he threw two ill-advised interceptions in the second half, one that led to a 43-yard return for the score.
This 2012 Spartan team is missing two things: a sense of urgency and a leader.
The lack of a sense of urgency is frightening because they could be a 10-1 team if they played to their full potential and didn’t always rely on playing comeback. The lack of a leader may be a temporary factor to this team’s non-success. Andrew Maxwell and Max Bullough may be the closest this team has to a leader, but, unlike last year, you would be hard-pressed to see a player fired up and trying to fire up other players on the field verbally and emotionally.
Are these Spartans down and out? Do they deserve to make a bowl game this year after all the poor play? What if they capitalized on all the opportunities they had this year?
If you could base success on the amount of “what ifs” a team accumulated over the span of a season, the Spartans would be undefeated. However, that’s not the case and this team sits at a mediocre 5-6, with a strong possibility of missing a bowl game.
The Spartans face an already-eligible Minnesota team this week for a bowl berth. If this team can play to their full potential, they will win the game and win big.