College Park, Md. — As Michigan State’s players and coaches slowly walked off the field at SECU Stadium Saturday night, a misty rain falling to perfectly frame another gloomy day of football, there was little Mel Tucker was going to be able to muster by the time he reached the locker room.
The Spartans coach had just watched his team lose its third straight following a similar script of digging an early hole then failing to have what it takes to manufacture a response good enough to end the misery this season is quickly becoming.
Just like losses to Washington and Minnesota, the Spartans let Maryland jump out first, and despite some first-half offensive success, the result was a familiar one as Maryland controlled things for the most part, cruising to a 27-13 victory.
“Obviously, we’re very disappointed,” Tucker said. “That’s a very disappointed locker room. Like I told the team, there’s not a whole lot to say right now in terms of, I can’t make them feel any better. When we turn on the film, it’s going to be a lack of execution — offense, defense and special teams.
“We didn’t score enough points on offense. We didn’t really do anything in the second half to sustain drives and we didn’t score, didn’t have any explosive gains. Defensively, we didn’t get off the field early enough on third down. We gave too many big plays early and we didn’t force any takeaways. Special teams, it was a lack of execution. It was just a poor showing.”
It was a poor showing, to be sure, and one that is starting to become the norm for Michigan State (2-3, 0-2 Big Ten).
Just as in previous losses, Maryland (4-1, 1-1) took advantage of Michigan State through the air as quarterback Taulia Tagovailoa enjoyed plenty of freedom, going 32-for-41 for 314 yards and a touchdown while rarely facing pressure in the pocket. He was aided by a running game that was good enough and used a late big play, led by Antwain Littleton, who ran for 120 yards and a touchdown, including a 68-yard scamper.
The Terps piled up 489 yards, just shy of becoming the third straight team to go over the 500-yard mark. And while they did have to punt three times, they were 8-for-17 on third down and 2-for-3 on fourth down.
“Really excited,” Maryland coach Mike Locksley said. “You look at the way the second half played out, our defense gave up 75 yards, no points. To me it’s the third game in a row where our defensive staff … has done a tremendous job making the necessary adjustments at the half and coming out and playing really good defense for us. Big Ten wins are special.”
Michigan State did have some things working well offensively in the first half, scoring on its first possession and gaining 246 first-half yards. However, two missed field goals and a botched extra point stunted any potential momentum, and by the second half, things stalled out as the Spartans had three drives of three-and-out, their best drive coming late in the game.
MSU coach Mel Tucker after the loss at Maryland
Michigan State coach Mel Tucker tries to come up with answers after the loss to Maryland, the third in a row for the Spartans.
The Detroit News
Payton Thorne was hurt by a handful of dropped passes, but he wasn’t sharp down the stretch, finishing 27-for-44 for 221 yards and a touchdown, a pair of interceptions wiped out because of Maryland penalties. The running game never really got going, either, as the Spartans did manage to get to 100 yards on the ground, but they couldn’t get the tough yards when it mattered.
“I think we had a couple of runs on that (final) drive that popped and we had a couple of passes that we were able to complete,” Thorne said. “Guys were getting open and it gives us an example of what we can do, but then we don’t score so it doesn’t really matter.
“So, there’s not really any moral victories anymore. We’re kind of tired of saying that, but we moved the ball, we’ve just got to get in the end zone.”
It didn’t take long to see this game would follow a familiar script as Michigan State’s defense was immediately on its heels, allowing Maryland to go 93 yards on 12 plays, converting a pair of third downs and a fourth down to take a 7-0 lead on a 15-yard run from Littleton. It was the third straight game the Spartans allowed a touchdown on the opening drive and once again put the offense in a hole.
The Spartans responded this time, though, with a 77-yard drive that ended with Elijah Collins’ 12-yard run. The defense, though, couldn’t maintain the momentum and allowed Maryland to go 85 yards in five plays to retake the lead, 14-7, on a 2-yard run by Colby McDonald.
Michigan State managed two straight three-and-outs on defense, but the offense punted and missed a field goal wide right from Ben Patton. The Spartans finally took advantage late in the second quarter when Thorne hit Jayden Reed for an 8-yard touchdown, but the extra point was botched, leaving Maryland on top, 14-13. The Terps then went 80 yards on 13 plays to extend the lead to 21-13 with a 5-yard pass from Tagovailoa to Rakim Jarrett.
The Spartans had a chance to get points late in the half, but Jack Stone’s 45-yard field goal was blocked to end the half.
“It’s going to be a lack of execution,” Tucker said, echoing a familiar refrain. “The opponent has a vote as well and they made plays, they did some good things. But we’re going to see a lack of execution (on the film) and then we’ll have to figure out how to fix them.”
There were few fixes in the second half as Michigan State got the ball first but a three-and-out followed by a field goal drive for Maryland extended the deficit to 24-13. The Spartans got a first down on their next play, but three plays later were punting again, the same result on their next possession to close the third quarter.
Maryland added a 51-yard field goal from Chad Ryland with 7:54 to play to extend the lead to 27-13 before Michigan State drove inside the Maryland 20 but failed to convert on a fourth down with just more than four minutes to play, effectively ending any shot at a comeback.
“There’s a lot of plays out there to be made,” Tucker said. “We moved the ball in spurts, but we just have to execute. I saw drops, I saw guys open that we didn’t hit. We had some room to run, and all sorts of things. I mean, it’s nothing special. It was nothing real complicated. It was just all about execution. That’s all it is.”
The Spartans now head home to continue a brutal stretch this month that includes home games the next two weeks against Ohio State and Wisconsin followed by an off week, then the trip to Michigan as the prospect of becoming bowl-eligible starts to become difficult.
“There’s some disappointment throughout the team because we know we’re a better team than this,” wide receiver Tre Mosley said. “But I have seen that guys are still sticking together and there isn’t any finger pointing or anything. We’re just ready to get back to work.”
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