The most disappointing part of Michigan State football's loss to Indiana
Free Press sports columnist Jeff Seidel answers three questions after Indiana crushed Michigan State football, 24-0, on Saturday in Spartan Stadium.
What was the most disappointing aspect of this game?
It was the Spartans' mistakes and self-destructive behavior. They couldn’t get out of their own way.
The Spartans were unable to tuck the ball and protect it — perhaps the most fundamental aspect of offensive football. And the Spartans fumbled three times in the first half, losing one of them.
It was the Spartans’ inability to make good decisions in the passing game. Quarterback Rocky Lombardi threw two interceptions in the first half, forcing both of them.
And it was the inability to capitalize on Indiana's mistakes. The Spartans forced Indiana quarterback Michael Penix to throw two interceptions in the first half — both times by putting pressure on him and rushing six defenders.
But MSU couldn’t capitalize. Because the Spartans made too many mistakes. And it seemed as if the Hoosiers had the ball in MSU territory all day long.
Few expected the Spartans to beat Indiana, especially missing three of their top defensive backs. But every game is a chance to measure how much progress the Spartans can make under head coach Mel Tucker, and it was alarming how many fundamental mistakes the Spartans made.
Did Tucker make the right decision putting Payton Thorne at quarterback?
Heck yes. You could even argue it didn’t come soon enough. Lombardi had a brutal start for the Spartans, throwing two interceptions and fumbling the ball on a botched handoff.
Tucker pulled Lombardi and put in Thorne, a redshirt freshman.
At first, Thorne showed more with his legs than his arm. He ripped off a 38-yard run on his first play. But he completed just just four of his first 10 passes. Some struggles are to be expected when a young player gets thrown into a game, and there were plenty of learning moments. On a fourth-down play, he took a sack when he should have forced a pass. At worst, even if it would have been intercepted, it would have been like a punt. And on another play, he forced a pass instead of just running for the first down.
But Thorne started to find his rhythm in the third quarter when Indiana had a 24-0 lead. The game was already over, but it was encouraging, as he completed five of seven passes and moved the offense down the field.
Where there are positives for MSU?
Antjuan Simmons, the senior linebacker, was a joy to watch.
Simmons was playing with bone-jarring, helmet-popping physicality, exuding energy and enthusiasm, no matter the score. The problem is the Spartans don’t have enough players like him.
On one Indiana touchdown, receiver Ty Fryfogle caught a simple pass and came up the sideline. Four Spartans had a shot at him and none of them could bring him down, as he scored a touchdown. I don’t care if the Spartans missed spring ball. I don’t care if this is a new coaching staff. I don’t care that three defensive backs missed the game. A college football player should be able to make a tackle.
If there was another positive, it was MSU’s run defense — thanks to Simmons. But Indiana didn’t need to run the ball. Not when they have somebody like Fryfogle, who the Spartans couldn’t come close to stopping.
There was one more positive for MSU: The Spartans did play tough and hard and never gave up. If they could have eliminated those mistakes, it might have been an interesting game. I’m not saying they would have beaten Indiana. But it wouldn’t have been such an ugly blowout.
Contact Jeff Seidel: email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter @seideljeff. To read his recent columns, go to freep.com/sports/jeff-seidel.