Michigan State Football: Winners & Losers from the Week 12 Game vs. Northwestern
In 2012, nearly every Saturday has brought a brand new nightmare for the Michigan State Football program.
The Spartans fell to Northwestern by the score of 23-20 in Week 12, marking the team's fifth loss in Big Ten play—each by four points or less. Now saddled with 5-6 overall record, one must ask: Where do they go from here?
Well, it's off to Minnesota for the regular-season finale in need of a road win just to become bowl eligible. You'd have to travel back to 2006 to uncover the last time the Spartans failed to qualify for the postseason.
Not only were the team's seniors unable to claim victory on Senior Day, the Spartans dropped each of their four home games against Big Ten opponents. Prior to 2012, Michigan State hadn't lost a single home game since November of 2009.
Let's move ahead to the winners and losers from Sparty's Week 12 game against Northwestern.
Loser: Dan Conroy
What in the world happened to Dan Conroy?
A botched field-goal attempt has become synonymous with a Spartans' loss in 2012. The once sure-footed kicker has missed eight of his 26 attempts, with several of them coming in key situations.
That's a far cry from 2010, when Conroy converted on 14 out of 15 tries.
Speaking in terms of percentages, the senior isn't booting it much worse than he did last season. Conroy finished 2011 17-of-23 in FG attempts. The difference, however, is that three of those six misses were from more than 50 yards out. Two of the other three came in blowout wins over Youngstown State and Florida Atlantic.
Conroy's miss Saturday came from just 37 yards out, his fourth whiff from 39 yards or less in 2012. Three of Michigan State's four losses that have come by three points or less included a missed field goal.
Like most Spartans, the clutch gene has not been with Mr. Conroy this season.
Winner: Spartans' Receiving Corps
Truth be told, dropped passes can be tolerated when they're accompanied by clutch grabs in key situations.
Aaron Burbridge, Dion Sims and Keith Mumphrey were each responsible for drops in the loss. However, Burbridge made a nice reception for a TD, Sims had a nice 44-yard catch early in the first half and Mumphrey hauled in a crucial grab for a two-point conversion late in the game.
The Spartans converted on eight of their 17 third-down attempts.
Sims' drop of Aaron Maxwell's fourth-down pass in the game's final moments did put a damper on his overall performance. The junior finished with 102 yards on five receptions in all.
Mumphrey caught six passes for 79 yards, and Burbridge contributed 46 yards and one score.
For once, Maxwell's surrounding cast, aside from Le'Veon Bell (who always contributes), made a positive impact. It wasn't perfect by any stretch of the imagination, but the junior signal-caller undoubtedly received more assistance than he has in any game over the past month.
Loser: The Offensive Line
Michigan State's offensive line hasn't been great at any point this season, but this will go down as one of the unit's more disappointing performances in 2012.
The Spartans turned the ball over four times on offense in the loss. Two were interceptions thrown by Maxwell, but one was a result of a breakdown up front. Maxwell was hit stepping into his throw, and the errant pass was returned for a TD.
A bad snap on a 3rd-and-short QB sneak inside the Wildcats' 2-yard line proved costly as well. Not to mention the lack of a push from the O-line on Bell's failed fourth-down run. Maxwell was pressured and hit throughout the game, but managed to throw for a career-best 297 yards nonetheless.
There was an even blend of good and bad from both Maxwell and Bell (133 yards rushing on 32 carries), but the duo could have experienced a far greater amount of success with consistent blocking up front.
Winner: Michigan State Defense
Like most weeks, you can't pin this loss on the Spartans' defense.
Michigan State's D forced eight punts, stopped Northwestern on 11 of its 14 third-down attempts and allowed only one TD on the day. The Wildcats and their stout rushing attack managed a mere 57 yards on 27 attempts.
Aside from one 15-yard pass interference call, Sparty's D stayed penalty free. There were holes in pass coverage at times, most notably when backup QB Trevor Siemian entered the game. Northwestern has recently started rotating Siemian and the speedy Kain Colter at QB, a strategy that did catch the Spartans off guard.
Siemian led the Wildcats in passing yards with 165, completing 13 of his 23 attempts.
Even so, you can't ask much more from a defense that allowed 57 yards on the ground to a team averaging 221.2 rushing yards per game in 2012. It's unfortunate that offensive miscues and questionable play-calling had to overshadow such a solid effort.
Loser: The Coaching Staff
Speaking of questionable play-calling, Dantonio's decision to run a QB sneak on 3rd-and-1 inside the Wildcats' 2-yard line is beyond me.
Le'Veon Bell had just moved the ball nine yards on the previous two snaps. Could there have been a more ideal time to feed the 6'2", 244-pound bruiser once more?
Granted, Bell isn't the shiftiest back in town. But he's built to move the chains from short distances. And it just so happens that was the assignment Michigan State's offense was tasked with.
Obviously, Dantonio and offensive coordinator Dan Roushar weren't expecting a botched snap on the play. But fumbles tend to happen more frequently on QB sneaks than pounding it up the gut with your workhorse running back.
Of course, it's up to the players to execute on the field. But when the same mistakes tend to occur one week after another, the coaching staff is left to shoulder the blame. Especially when so many of these games have been decided in the final minutes—or seconds.