Michigan State Spartans defensive end Shilique Calhoun (89) and Michigan State Spartans linebacker Taiwan Jones (34) celebrate fumble recovery for a touchdown against the South Florida Bulls during the first half at Spartan Stadium. (Mike Carter-USA TODAY Sports)
EAST LANSING (DETROIT FREE PRESS) - The same team that trailed McNeese State 33-7 at halftime last week was down 7-6 on Saturday at Michigan State after 30 minutes.
And those rapidly improving South Florida Bulls, fresh off a 53-21 home loss to the Cowboys of the FCS, didn't let MSU's offense score a point until five minutes into the fourth quarter of another weather-delayed game.
That they still lost 21-6 to the Spartans is in part a testament to MSU's defense defensive end Shilique Calhoun leads the team in scoring with 18 points after two games. The rest of the game was another scathing indictment of MSU's offense.
There's one game left to tinker before a Sept. 21 trip to Notre Dame and the Big Ten schedule, and the Spartans bring four possible quarterbacks, countless questions and few reasons for optimism into next week's game against Youngstown State. MSU (2-0) has scored two offensive touchdowns total in two games against USF and Western Michigan, and passed for 94 yards Saturday.
The boos are raining with more frequency at Spartan Stadium as the pressure on Mark Dantonio and his staff mounts.
"There's a sense of urgency because we want to be the best," Dantonio said. "I think we have a championship defense, I think we can do things on special teams to a championship level and we have to raise our performance on offense, because we're not shooting for 7-6."
That was last season's final record, and it might sound good in a couple months if the Spartans don't find some answers. They still can't find a quarterback.
Dantonio and his coaches started sophomore Connor Cook, played redshirt freshman Tyler O'Connor in the first half, started the second half with benched senior Andrew Maxwell and finished up with Cook.
He led the lone MSU scoring drive, a 33-yard march that ended in a 2-yard Jeremy Langford touchdown run. Cook was 6-for-11 for 32 yards and said of his first start: "Passing not good. Running, I thought I did a decent job."
O'Connor got two series and was 2-for-4 for 22 yards. He and Dantonio agreed that his forced pass into triple coverage in the end zone cost him more chances.
Maxwell got two series and was 4-for-9 for 40 yards. Saturday broke his 14-game streak as a starter and Dantonio complimented him on the maturity with which he handled the demotion.
But Dantonio, irritated at times in his postgame news conference and joking at others, had no answers on where MSU will go from here at quarterbacks.
"We're evaluating things day to day. Practice to practice, as it should be," he said. "Nobody's out of the mix. I don't care how many people boo me or boo us. Nobody's out of the mix, everybody has an opportunity. The bottom line is you have to be productive."
And the bottom line with freshman Damion Terry, he said, is that strep throat and a thumb injury prevented him from getting enough practice reps during the week to have a chance to play. He could be considered in the future.
The MSU offense did feature a running game that produced 171 yards, led by junior Nick Hill's 63. And the defense dominated again, giving up a 44-yard field-goal drive and another field goal after Andre Sims Jr. fumbled a punt at the MSU 22 late in the first half.
USF managed 155 total yards and 6-for-26 passing. A week after scoring on a 16-yard fumble return in a 26-13 win over the Western Michigan, Calhoun scored twice against the Bulls a 4-yard fumble return and eye-popping 56-yard interception return.
That side of the ball is having all the fun. The other side is getting all the attention, for the wrong reasons.
"I still totally believe in us as an offense, as our players as an offense," MSU co-offensive coordinator Dave Warner said. "There's frustration there, but at the same time, we are going to get it taken care of because our defense is playing so stinking good, we've got to find a way to help them along."
Contact Joe Rexrode: email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter @joerexrode. Check out his MSU blog at freep.com/heyjoe.