Quarterback changes late nearly worked for Michigan State to make a miraculous comeback.
Now, the Spartans might be down to only one. And not because someone won the job.
Both Brian Lewerke and Damion Terry were injured in the fourth quarter as the Spartans watched their losing streak grow to six games with a 32-23 loss to No. 2 Michigan on Saturday at Spartan Stadium.
Terry left the game after his one drive with an upper-body injury following a big hit by three Wolverines defenders. Lewerke had to be carried off on his second drive after being twisted awkwardly to the ground on a fourth-down play.
It’s the fifth straight loss to open Big Ten play for MSU (2-6 overall). It’s the longest losing streak of coach Mark Dantonio’s 13-year career as a head coach. It’s also the Spartans’ first six-game skid since losing eight in a row between the last game of the 1981 season and the beginning of 1982. MSU also is 0-5 in the conference games for the first time since an 0-5 start to the 1980 season.
The Spartans missed three fourth-down conversion attempts, two of them as well as a field-goal try in the second half while trailing by 20 points.
MSU opened the game with Tyler O’Connor at quarterback and produced one of their signature initial drives, perhaps even better than others considering the opponent. The Spartans powered the ball 75 yards in a 12-play show of force. LJ Scott carried the ball on 10 of those plays and caught a pass on another for all but 14 yards on the drive, with the sophomore running back punctuating the opening punch with a 5-yard scoring run off left end.
After Michigan’s precision-like first score on the ensuing possession – an eight-play, 80-yard dissection capped by Jabril Pepper’s 5-yard scoring run – MSU continued to move the ball on its second drive. However, as they have all season, penalties and poor play-calling.
The Spartans subbed Gerald Holmes at running back for Scott after his strong first series, and the second possession stalled at Michigan’s 38. MSU went for it on fourth-and-1, but Peppers swooped in from his linebacker spot, grabbed Holmes by the waist and whipped him to the ground for no gain.
U-M answered with a quick-strike drive, going 62 yards in five plays. It inluded an option flip from Peppers to Eddie McDoom going the other direction for 33 yards, followed by a 26-yard pass from Wilton Speight to Jake Butt. Two plays later, De’Veon Smith took a toss around the left side for a 1-yard score that gave the Wolverines a 14-7 lead with 12:19 left in the second quarter. They’d never relinquish it.
MSU followed with its final scoring drive on the next possession, stalling again deep in Michigan territory before senior kicker Michael Geiger booted a career-long 52-yard field goal and gave a big fist pump. MSU cut it to 14-10.
The Wolverines answered with a Kenny Allen 23-yard field goal with 6:41 left, then running back Smith went 5 yards for another TD with 39 seconds left.
On the first play of MSU’s ensuing drive, O’Connor threw an interception on a pass to R.J. Shelton. Mark Dantonio criticized his fifth-year senior, who was starting for the first time since Oct. 8 against BYU.
“Actually, we had a screen called and the quarterback checked to it," Dantonio told a TV reporter at halftime. "You can’t check to it, in that situation. You just can’t do it, throwing it up for grabs.”
Allen booted a 23-yarder as time expired to send the Wolverines into halftime with a 27-10 edge.
O’Connor returned at QB, and Scott moved MSU to the Wolverines’ 9.
Michigan added a field goal early in the fourth quarter to make it 30-10, then However, MSU’s offense remained ineffective. Terry replaced him and got injured after leading the Spartans to the U-M 16 on his lone drive. Rather than going for it on fourth down trailing by three touchdowns, Geiger missed a 34-yard field-goal try.
Lewerke came in next and led a five-play, 59-yard touchdown drive that included a 34-yard pass to Shelton and a 20-yard touchdown to Monty Madaris.
The Spartans forced Michigan to punt on its next possession and took over at its own 15. Redshirt freshman Lewerke continued to march MSU down the field, getting to the 13 before stalling and facing fourth-and-5 with 1:53 to play. He avoided a rush but got bent backward awkwardly when Peppers sacked him.
O’Connor returned for MSU’s final drive, leading the Spartans to a touchdown in 36 seconds. His 5-yard lob to Donnie Corley in the end zone made it 30-23 with 1 second left.
MSU inexplicably went for the 2-point conversion down just 7 points. O’Connor’s option pitch bounced off Gerald Holmes’ shoulder, and Peppers picked it up and returned it for 2 points for Michigan.