Michigan State unravels amid big plays, special teams miscues vs. Indiana

EAST LANSING – How does a team with 540 yards total attack lose to one with 288 yards total attack?

By having a series of misses from special teams and giving up big game after big game in the second half.

Such is the fate that befell Michigan State in Saturday’s 39-31 double overtime loss to Indiana at Spartan Stadium, as the Spartans gambled away a 17-point lead after halftime.

“Some of the hidden yards and special teams were a factor,” said Mel Tucker.

The problems started early. Indiana’s Jaylin Lucas returned the game’s opening shot 43 yards into midfield before eventually being driven wide. Four plays later, the Hoosiers had the first of their long touchdown runs, this time from 34 yards by quarterback Dexter Williams II.

Williams, making his first career start, brought more mobility to the quarterback position than Indiana had all year. He had 86 of the Hoosier season’s best 257 rushing yards.

“We’re thin at the D end and that played a part,” Spartans safety Xavier Henderson said of Williams’ overwhelming success. “If you’re playing a mobile QB, you need to have D-Ends that can try to hunt him down if you’re running this options play.”

After four straight Michigan State results, Indiana came out of the half with more big games.

In Indiana’s first offensive game of the second half, running back Shaun Shivers broke through Michigan State’s defense and raced 79 yards from his own touchline in a result that proved to be the start of a comeback.

“I think it was maybe three touchdowns where the guys were untouched,” Henderson said. “Take them out, we’ll let them drive more.”

From there, the missteps of the Spartans’ special teams hastened the team’s demise.

Later in the third quarter, after Elijah Collins scored to put Michigan State back up the lead at 17, Lucas took the ensuing kickoff 88 yards for a touchdown. He finished the game with 168 kickoff return yards.

Tucker said the multiple long kickoff returns were due to a lack of leverage from his kick return unit as they let the ball come out of cover.

“We did a few different types of kicks and that was effective,” Tucker said. “So we did what we could to try to change it. We’re not always entirely sure when we’re kicking the ball, where it’s going to go. That was a problem for us.”

And at the end of regulation and in overtime, the Field Goal Unit struggled.

When Michigan State went deep into Indiana territory in the last minute of a tie game, Tucker said the Spartans were playing for a touchdown, not a field goal. But when the drive faltered and Tucker called for a timeout with 38 seconds left, he called a run play to the right to center the ball in front of the post.

But that game’s ball carrier, Collins, said he thought he saw a hole developing to the left as play developed. He sliced ​​in that direction, only to be stopped with a two-yard loss.

This decision not only resulted in a slightly longer field goal, but also one on the left, the more difficult spot for left-footed kicker Ben Patton.

“I take responsibility for that,” Collins said. “I could have gotten a cut right.”

Patton missed the 22-yard field goal when time ran out and the game went into overtime. And when Michigan State had an opportunity for a field goal in overtime, backup long snapper Michael Donovan sent the snap up, resulting in a block (Michigan State’s special teams blocked a subsequent field goal attempt by Indiana to take the end game).

Those misjudgments combined to put Indiana back in the game, and the Hoosiers eventually closed the door with a touchdown in double overtime.

“We had a chance to win the game but didn’t make it,” Tucker said.