It was a meltdown the likes of which had not been seen in East Lansing since John L. Smith roamed the sidelines.
Central Michigan had dominated Michigan State's passing defense all afternoon, but the Spartans still led 27-26 after a failed two-point conversion. Even in a game where Michigan State allowed Dan LeFevour to run rampant, amassing 328 yards, the Spartans were still in an excellent position to win the game with just 30 seconds on the clock.
Then, the game went from bad to worse.
With a golden opportunity to recover an onside kick, run out the clock and forget about just how badly they had played, they choked. It was a very well-executed onside kick, but replays show that the Spartans also had a great chance to smother the ball before it took the high bounce into Bryan Anderson's waiting arms.
From there, all the Chippewas had to do was keep tearing apart the MSU secondary like they had for the entire game. They got themselves into field goal range very quickly, and lined up for a 47-yard attempt.
But wait, Michigan State's special teams had let them down for the second time in 30 seconds. Colin Neely jumped offside, negating the missed field goal. Central would have another shot at victory, this time from 42 yards.
Andrew Aguila wasn't going to miss twice. He snuck his attempt just inside the left upright, giving the Chippewas a 29-27 victory in Spartan Stadium.
Grading the units
This loss has to fall squarely on the shoulders of Pat Narduzzi, Michigan State's defensive coordinator. LeFevour picked the secondary apart all afternoon, but Narduzzi did not make a single adjustment.
Central Michigan made excellent use of short wide receiver screens all afternoon, racking up hundreds of yards after the catch. This play was as effective in the first quarter as it was on the final drive because the Michigan State secondary was giving the CMU receivers a very large cushion on the line of scrimmage, often 10 yards or more.
Once Narduzzi saw that his zone defense was being shredded to pieces by the accurate LeFevour, he needed to make an adjustment but failed to do so. Some bump and run coverage at the line would have likely done a lot to disrupt the CMU receivers' routes and timing, but Narduzzi was all too content to allow Central to continue to take advantage of his pass coverage.
Special teams: F
The special teams were only slightly better on the day than the defense, by virtue of a pair of Brett Swenson field goals. But, when the game was on the line, the special teams came up short.
First, the Spartans neglected to recover an onside kick that would have allowed them to escape with a victory. Again, it took a perfect bounce, but the Spartans could have pounced on the kick well before it reached that point.
Once the kick cleared the first line of defenders, there was nobody but Chippewas waiting to recover the kick. That's a big failure on the part of the kicking team.
The special teams unit blew it again when CMU missed the 47-yard field goal attempt on their final drive. Had Colin Neely not jumped offside, MSU would have escaped by the skin of their teeth.
It's rare that a team gets a second chance to redeem itself after blowing an opportunity to ice the game. It's even rarer that a team will miss a second consecutive opportunity to escape with victory.
For the second consecutive week, Michigan State got a fantastic game out of Blair White. He followed last week's nine catch effort with seven catches for 105 yards this week. Kirk Cousins found White with a 39-yard reception on the opening drive that set up a one-yard touchdown run by Caulton Ray.
Cousins also found B.J. Cunningham on a 35-yard play during the Spartans' last drive, setting up a Cunningham score to put the Spartans up 27-20. Charlie Gantt chipped in with a touchdown catch of his own as well, continuing the excellent tight end play of the Spartans.
It seems like the Spartans will finally be able to settle on a quarterback after this weekend's game. Keith Nichol didn't exactly play poorly, but he did come up short with a couple of easy passes. Cousins, on the other hand, looked very composed in the backfield and completed passes all over the field with a great deal of accuracy. Right now, it looks like Cousins will give MSU the best chance to win.
While the passing game was a highlight, the running game was anything but. As a team, Michigan State ran for 101 yards on 30 carries, a far cry from the production they received last year from Javon Ringer. The offensive line is struggling to open up holes, and as a result, the running backs have been frequently held to gains of just one or two yards.
The play of Kirk Cousins. A 39-yard strike to Blair White on the opening drive, and a pair of excellent passes to B.J. Cunningham on the Spartans' final scoring drive appear to put him in the driver's seat in the quarterback battle.
Pat Narduzzi's playcalling. Generally, when a team is carving up your secondary by running the same play on every down, you're expected to make an adjustment to stop that play. Narduzzi neglected to do that, and the Chippewas marched to victory.
Bad penalties. MSU was whistled for eight penalties, for a total of 81 yards. More than a few of these calls extended CMU drives, and the last penalty gave CMU the victory. Mark Dantonio prides himself on playing mistake-free football, but this game was anything but.
Dan LeFevour, for being the best player on the field by a wide margin.
Blair White, for turning in another fantastic effort and racking up his second consecutive 100-yard receiving game.
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