Mel Tucker spent part of his Friday night at the Breslin Center watching the Michigan State basketball team lose their sizable lead late before escaping against Villanova in the last minute. The Spartans’ third-year football coach has evidently learned no lessons on how to avoid a late-game collapse.
At least Tom Izzo’s side struggled to knock out an experienced brand-name opponent, a team that made the Final Four last year and started the season inside the AP Top 25. Tucker’s team lost sight of the ball in the second half Saturday against a mediocre Indiana team that had lost seven straight games and barely bothered to even try to throw the ball.
Despite temperatures well below freezing, MSU’s halftime lead melted away by three touchdowns minutes into the fourth quarter and the Spartans found themselves in a 31-31 game. However, MSU saved its biggest mistakes for the end when kicker Ben Patton missed a 22-yard field goal on the buzzer near the end of regulation and a high snap resulted in his brief try on the first offensive series being blocked by Overtime.
That series of errors meant Indiana needed a result, a result at all, to recapture the Old Brass Spittoon, but the Hoosiers had their game-winning field goal blocked, extending the game to a second overtime. The Hoosiers pushed forward with a 1-yard touchdown run from Josh Henderson and added a two-point conversion pass to AJ Barner to earn a 39-31 win.
MSU’s final attempt in the second overtime ended with quarterback Payton Thorne incompletely throwing Jayden Reed’s wideout in the back of the end zone.
Now at 5-6, next weekend’s regular season finale in Penn State is a must for the Spartans to secure a spot in a bowl game.
It was a disastrous end for an MSU team that seemed to have found some momentum in the second half of the schedule. Indiana quarterback Dexter Williams II completed just 2 of 7 passes for 31 yards, a stat line that summed up MSU’s errors on a snowy, blustery afternoon in East Lansing.
Williams sprinted for a 34-yard touchdown to give Indiana the game’s first lead before MSU scored the next 24 points. Patton started the run with a 19-yard field goal before touchdowns from tight end Maliq Carr, Collins and wide receiver Keon Coleman gave the Spartans a 24-7 lead at the break.
The Hoosiers cut the lead early in the second half with Shaun Shiver’s 79-yard touchdown rush. After Collins responded with a 31-yard touchdown, his second of the day, Jaylin Lucas broke free for an 88-yard kickoff return touchdown.
A few minutes later, a Thorne interception gave Indiana prime field position, and the Hoosiers conceded with a 40-yard field goal for a 31-24 touchdown at the 4-14 mark of the third quarter.
Henderson tied it at 31 with 12:59 in the game, and MSU’s two drives to try to retake the lead yielded no points.
QB Dexter Williams
The Hoosier quarterback was a threat all day, repeatedly searing MSU defenses for big games with his legs. The Spartans haven’t seen many dangerous mobile quarterbacks this year, and their lack of experience against such a player was evident. The last time they really got sliced from the quarterback run game was early in the Akron game before the Zips’ starter was injured. Williams was smart and elusive, rushing for 86 yards and a touchdown with 16 carries. In the passing game, he wasn’t a threat at all, but the Hoosiers were good at moving the ball.
WHAT IT MEANS
As previously mentioned, the Spartans must now travel to Happy Valley and beat a top-flight Penn State team on the final day of the regular season to gain bowl eligibility. That should have been a game for better bowl positioning.
Additionally, it’s another loss that reflects poorly on MSU’s coaching staff and their ability to handle late-game situations. MSU’s special teams were pathetic, with subpar punting from Bryce Baringer, field goal miscues and an 88-yard kickoff return touchdown allowed in the third quarter.
The trip to Penn State, which will determine whether MSU’s season ends or includes a 13th game.
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