Michigan State’s issues – and losing streak – continue with 27-13 loss to Maryland

COLLEGE PARK, Md. — Michigan State football’s problems, and losing streak, continue.

Maryland quarterback Taulia Tagovailoa went 32-for-41 passing for 314 yards, while Antwaine Littleton II ran 19 times for 120 yards and another score to send the Spartans to their third straight loss on Saturday, 27-13, at SECU Stadium.

It marks the longest losing streak in Mel Tucker's three seasons as MSU's head coach.

"Obviously, very disappointed, very disappointed locker room," Tucker said. "I told the team, I said, 'Listen, there's not a whole lot a lot to say right now.' In terms of, I can't make them feel any better. When we turn on the film, it's gonna a lack of execution, offense, defense and special teams."

MSU quarterback Payton Thorne went 27-for-44 for 221 yards and a touchdown, but his offense finished with just 75 yards after halftime to Maryland's 231. The Spartans (2-3, 0-2 Big Ten) managed just 316 yards of offense for the day while their defense gave up 489 yards and allowed the Terrapins (4-1, 1-1) to convert 7 of 17 third downs and 2 of 3 fourth downs.

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The Spartans, who never led in the game and have given up 1,500 yards during the losing streak, host No. 3 Ohio State at 4 p.m. Saturday (ABC).

"We talk about being neutral all the time, so that's really where I feel like I'm at right now," Thorne said. "Obviously, I'm frustrated and disappointed. But we just got move forward."

Defense struggles again

MSU’s defensive issues remained prevalent at the outset, while the Spartans’ offense settled into a better groove early than it did in last week’s 34-7 home loss to Minnesota.

Maryland won the toss and opted to receive, and MSU appeared to catch a break with a penalty that forced the Terps to start at their own 7. But Tagovailoa directed a ball-control march from the start, slicing apart the Spartans’ secondary with a pair of long third-down conversion passes and another for 20 yards to running back Roman Hemby.

Facing fourth-and-1 at the MSU 19, Maryland went for it, and running back Littleton powered for a 4-yard gain and a conversion. Littleton took the next carry around the left end for a 15-yard touchdown to cap a 12-play, 93-yard drive in 5:45.

"Just execution for the most part and getting off the field on third down," MSU defensive end Jacoby Windmon said.

The Spartans, who went three-and-out on their opening two possessions in three of their first four games, eventually answered. Thorne came out throwing and hit tight ends Tyler Hunt and Daniel Barker for 32 combined yards and receivers Keon Coleman and Jayden Reed for another 21 to get deep into Maryland territory. Senior running back Elijah Collins took over from there, using power for an 8-yard gain and following that with a shifty cutback and a speed burst for a 15-yard touchdown run. Kicker Ben Patton, an Auburn transfer, made his debut with the extra point to tie it, 7-7.

"When a team comes in like Michigan State, who were basically circling the wagons, we knew we needed to start fast to kind of take the air out of them," Maryland coach Mike Locksley said. "I liked the way we responded on offense. Unfortunately, defensively, we allowed them to go down and answer."

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But Tagovailoa continued to assault the Spartans’ secondary, immediately responding with a 39-yard pass to wide-open tight end Corey Dyches when Maryland took over. A personal foul penalty called on MSU’s Justin White — who wasn't on the field, but Tucker said the actual flag was meant for cornerback Chuck Brantley — a moved the Terps into the red zone, where running back Colby McDonald caught a 14-yard pass to set up his 2-yard TD run on the next play with 5:45 left in the first quarter.

"He's a great player. That's a great team on that side of the ball," Windmon said of Tagovailoa. "They did a good job of executing."

Not-so-special struggles

That’s when MSU’s special teams started to melt down.

Thorne moved the offense into scoring territory early in the second quarter before the drive stalled at the Terps’ 16. Patton set up for a 34-yard field goal but shanked it wide right.

After the defense forced Maryland into a second straight three-and-out possession, Thorne again moved MSU down the field. He connected with Reed for an 8-yard touchdown pass to make it 14-13. But the snap from Hank Pepper went wide and left the Spartans trailing with 4:24 to go before halftime.

The Terps again moved down field fast, a 13-play, 80-yard drive capped by a 5-yard score from Tagovailoa to Jarrett. The key play was a third-and-3 conversion on a botched play where the Maryland QB hit tight end CJ Dippre for 15 yards.

Thorne, though, pushed the pace in the hurry-up and got MSU back into field goal range. This time, Stone’s 45-yard field goal try was blocked as time expired, allowing Maryland to carry a 21-13 lead into half.

"Special teams, it was lack of execution," Tucker said. "It was just a poor showing that way."

Flipped faults

Everything changed after halftime. But the issues again proved too problematic for the Spartans to overcome.

The offense regressed to where it was against the Gophers, failing to sustain drives. MSU went 13 plays in its first four possessions and produced a total of just 5 yards and one first down.

"There were players out there that could have been made," wide receiver Tre Mosley said, "but we just didn't get the job done."

The defense meantime held Maryland to a 42-yard Chad Ryland field goal on the Terps’ first drive. Ryland, an Eastern Michigan transfer, also missed a 52-yarder late in the third quarter.

Then despite a communication issue between safety Kendell Brooks and cornerback Ameer Speed that resulted in a 68-yard run by Littleton, who finished with 120 yards rushing, the MSU goal-line defense bowed up for the third time in three weeks and stopped Maryland on four straight run plays from the 2- and 1-yard lines. However, the Spartans’ offense couldn’t move past the 5 and punted in three plays. Ryland banged in a 51-yard field goal with 7:54 to play that made it 27-13.

"For me, man, it's frustrating to go out there and lose," Windmon said. "But sometimes when you lose, you don't see the good things that happen in the game and build off of that. So for the most part, I think we need to look at the tape, look at the good stuff we did and build off that, look at the bad stuff we did and learn from it and just go from there."

Thorne got one more chance and moved MSU to the Terps’ 19 in a hurry-up offense. But nothing was open deep, and he eventually ran out of bounds on fourth-and-10 short of the sticks, which wouldn’t have mattered anyway because of a holding penalty that Maryland declined.

"We come to win. That's why you play the game. You don't play just to compete, you play to win," Thorne said. "We didn't do that tonight. Offensively, we we didn't score obviously as much as we would like to on any day."

The Spartans had six penalties for 47 yards and couldn’t take advantage of eight Terrapin flags for 71 yards.

"Penalties are drive killers. So obviously, that hurt us," Tucker said. "But you gotta just play the next play."

Contact Chris Solari: csolari@freepress.com. Follow him on Twitter @chrissolari.

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This article originally appeared on Detroit Free Press: Michigan State football falls to Maryland, 27-13