Poor MSU Offensive Line Play & Coaching Dooms Spartans in Arizona

MSU OL (PHOTO:  Tom Ackerson)
MSU OL (PHOTO: Tom Ackerson)

Going into Michigan State’s game against Arizona State on Saturday night, Big Ten teams were 0-9 on the road at Sun Devil Stadium the Spartans looked to remain unbeaten on the young season in the Arizona heat.

But the Spartans became the latest Big Ten conference team to fall victim on the road to the Sun Devils as Michigan State allowed a 13-6 lead in the fourth quarter to slip away, falling to Arizona State on a last second, chip shot field goal off the foot of Brandon Ruiz, 16-13.

The loss marks Michigan State’s third loss in its last four road games dating back to last season where the Spartans lost to Northwestern and Ohio State.

With Michigan State clinging to a 13-6 lead early in the fourth quarter, Arizona State would finally get its offense going as the Sun Devils needed just two plays to go 65 yards to get the equalizer as quarterback Manny Wilkins connected with standout receiver N’Keal Harry for a 27-yard score, tying the game at 13-13 with 8:45 left to play.

On the next Michigan State drive, the Spartans would again drive inside Arizona State territory, but things would quickly unravel from there as they would move backward, eventually facing a 3rd and 34 before a Rocky Lombardi punt. Lombardi stepped into punt after Jake Hartbarger was injured on the previous play, taking a helmet to the leg immediately following a false start call.

Arizona State would take over on its own 31-yard line with 4:55 left to play and would not give the ball back.

With the Sun Devils facing a third down and 10 near midfield, Michigan State would force an incompletion, but a pass interference call against Justin Layne would extend the Arizona State drive with just over three minutes left to play.

Arizona State would then drive inside the Michigan State 10-yard line with the help of a 13-yard run by Wilkins, and would then run the clock all the way down to three seconds, setting up for a game-winning 28-yard, game-winning field goal from Ruiz.

After allowing just three points in the first three quarters, the Michigan State defense surrendered 13 points in the fourth, making way for Arizona State to come from behind to upset the No. 15 ranked team in the country.

For a second straight week, the Michigan State defense allowed an opposing quarterback to throw for over 300 yards as Wilkins totaled 380 yards through the air on 30-of-48 passing.

Coming out of halftime with a 3-0 lead, the Spartans would drive deep into Arizona State territory on their first drive, but stalled out inside the 20-yard line as they would settle for a 28-yard field goal from Matt Coghlin, pushing the Michigan State lead to 6-0 with 9:37 left in the third quarter.

While the Michigan State offense was able to move the ball at times on Saturday night, the offensive line struggled for a second straight week, and it was particularly noticeable on two of Michigan State’s trips inside the red zone.

An Arizona State field goal cut the lead back down to just three points, but the Michigan State offense would score its first touchdown of the game late in the third quarter to push its lead to double digits for the first time.

The Spartans would drive into the red zone for a third time following a nine-yard run by true freshman running back La’Darius Jefferson, but the Spartans would immediately move backward after fullback Collin Lucas was flagged for an illegal block.

Moments later, junior quarterback Brian Lewerke would find a leaping Cody White for a 31-yard touchdown, giving Michigan State a 13-3 advantage with just over a minute left before the end of the third quarter.

The Sun Devils would manage to cut the deficit back down to one score on their next drive as they drove inside the Michigan State 10-yard line with relative ease but were forced to settle for a 24-yard field goal from Ruiz, his second of the night, with 14:19 left in the game.

Lewerke paced the Michigan State offense, completing 27 of his 39 pass attempts for 314 yards and one touchdown and one interception. White made nine catches for 113 yards and one touchdown, while Felton Davis III tallied five catches for 64 yards and Darrell Steward Jr. made five receptions of his own for 58 yards.

In a game where many expected an offensive shootout, neither would live up to that billing in the first half as both teams would get out to a slow start as a 37-yard field goal from Coghlin early in the second quarter gave the Spartans a 3-0 halftime lead.

Michigan State did have an opportunity to extend its lead to 10-0 immediately following the field goal, but a Lewerke pass intended for tight end Matt Dotson was tipped up in the air and intercepted by Dasmond Tautalatasi in the end zone.

When asked by Spartan Nation about the poor offensive line play after the game, Dantonio was quick to blame more than just players. He emphasized coaching was involved stressing, "Especially coaching." (You can watch that in the above video)

Michigan State will now have two weeks before its next game as the Spartans hit the road once again to take on Indiana in Bloomington on Saturday, September 22nd.

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