The first thing I want to do after Michigan State's disappointing last-second loss to Iowa is to give some due credit to the Hawkeyes for their incredible defensive effort.
That was the best play by a front defensive four that I've seen all season, and the inability of the Michigan State offensive line to even lay a hand on them for most of the game was truly remarkable.
Adrian Clayborn looked like Lawrence Taylor out there, and Sparty's O-line was running scared all night.
Iowa's defense is very, very good.
Their offense? Not so much.
That's what makes the decision by Mark Dantonio to sell out his defense and concede three quarters of the field in the final seconds of the game absolute blasphemy.
I've chosen not to harp on the terrible personal foul call by the refs that directly led to Iowa's second-to-last field goal producing drive, because even after that absolute pile of a call, State's defense picked itself up and held the Hawkeyes out of the end zone...again.
Was it a momentum killer and possibly a game changing call? Yes, but that's not what lost the Spartans the game.
The game was lost by their coach.
Sure their receivers would do well to catch the ball every now and then when it hits them in the hands on third and long, and sure their O-line has to be asking about the license plate of the truck that continued to roll over them all night, but for the most part State matched Iowa's defensive play (and then some) and played moderately better on offense.
The stats will tell you that the game was as tight as they come, with both teams converting only five of their third downs and State holding the total yardage edge with Iowa holding the time of possession lead.
But 70 of Iowa's 276 yards came on the last drive, when Mark Dantonio decided to vote no confidence in a defense that had absolutely dominated play for the entire game.
Even though the Hawkeyes had struggled to move the ball all night, and had not managed to crack the Spartans tough man-to-man coverage, Dantonio went to the prevent with just less than two minutes left in the game, officially conceding three quarters of the field to a team that looked offensively challenged at the best of times.
With the damage then done, and his defense free to attack again, the team came up with big play after big play in the red zone, until a defensive holding call gave the Hawkeyes a fresh set of downs from the seven yard line to win the game.
The holding call was the right call, even though the play had absolutely no shot at a completion with or without it, and unfortunately was one of a couple familiar "Sparty errors" that came up big in the game.
Whether it was jumping off sides to give away a free first down on a crucial drive or dropping passes in the bread basket, there is little doubt in my mind that the biggest mistake was by the coach when he took the game out of their hands.
The game they had already won.
The game their defence had dominated.
The game that by all rights should have been theirs.
For all the talk about how Mark Dantonio has led to some sort of renaissance in East Lansing, the results look painfully similar to me.
Terrible last second losses to Central Michigan, Notre Dame, Iowa, and their best attempt to spit one up versus Michigan.
In each of those contests State was the better team on the field for much of the game and in each of those contests State went into conservation mode when they thought they had the game in the bag.
Good programs win games, while losers just try to hang on.
And at this point you can't blame it on the kids.
They played their hearts out tonight versus a very good Iowa team.
And when the game was in hand, and the blood and sweat had been spent, their coach coughed up a hairball.
Concede your own seven yard line?
I don't care how good your defense is, if you keep letting folks gun at the end zone from that distance only bad things can happen.
Mark Dantonio owes his team, and more specifically his defense, an apology.
And for the rest of us it may be time to start wondering about an explanation as well.
Yes, this team is young and will only continue to improve, but for God's sake have a little faith in them man.
Under Dantonio's watch, the Spartans continue to lose to marquee opponents under the bright lights, and that's not what we brought him in here for.
So, while the guy we could have had is now lighting it up with Dantonio's old team the Cincinnati Bearcats, I think a fair question to ask is what exactly do we have?
And where do we go from here?
Oh, to be a Sparty fan, perpetually asking these questions...
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