September 16, 2012

Fowler, Roushar sound off on dropped passes

EAST LANSING - Michigan State didn't do a lot of things well in their 20-3 loss to Notre Dame on Saturday night.

But one of their biggest areas of concern was the lack of production from the wide receiver position.

While the No. 20/19 Irish's stout defense put the No. 10 Spartans (2-1) in many unfavorable 3rd-down situations, MSU didn't enjoy the kind of big play ability in those pressure situations they obviously enjoyed last season with experienced pass catchers like B.J. Cunningham, Keshawn Martin and Keith Nichol.

Something Notre Dame counted on if it could slow MSU's run game.

"We felt like if we (could) get (Le'Veon Bell) under control and force (MSU) to throw the football, we would much rather have that scenario,'' said Notre Dame coach Brian Kelly, whose defense held Bell under 100 yards on 19 carries. "Once they started to throw the football more, that was exactly where we were hoping the game would kind of shift towards, and it did. We got them throwing the football and that was the key defensively.''

It turned out to be an even bigger key than the Irish could have hoped for because at no time on Saturday night did the Spartans gain any momentum off a big catch from its wide receivers in a crucial moment.

And many, if not most, of those momentum-changing opportunities could be blamed on dropped passes - maybe non bigger and more telling than Bennie Fowler's dropped 28-yard touchdown on MSU's second drive of the game.

With a chance to tie the score after Notre Dame went up 7-0 on its previous possession with a 36-yard touchdown pass from quarterback Everett Golson to senior wideout John Goodman, the Spartans responded by taking the ball at their own 25, eventually working the ball down inside of Notre Dame's 30 yard line.

But on a 1st-and-10 play, with Fowler running a go-route, Andrew Maxwell's nicely-placed pass went through Fowler's hands in the endzone for an incomplete pass.

After an eight-catch, 99-yard performance against Central Michigan the Saturday before, which included his first touchdown of the season, Fowler ended his night against the Irish with no catches.

"I just didn't look it in, lack of concentration,'' Fowler said. "Maxwell threw a good ball and I just didn't finish it.''

Despite all of the missed chances for big catches, there was one bright spot in the receiving corps with sophomore Keith Mumphery hauling in six catches for a team-leading 71 yards. One of Mumphery's catches included bringing in a ball thrown tight to the sidelines where he was able to keep possession with one foot in while being defended closely by a member of Notre Dame's secondary.

That play came on a 2nd-and-4 situation near the end of the 3rd quarter and resulted in a 22-yard gain but other than tight end Dion Sims' 23-yard catch, none of MSU's wideouts produced any catches over 11 yards.

"We felt like we had to go in and make some big plays and that was certainly part of it,'' offensive coordinator Dan Roushar said. "The second drive, we go down there and we missed one in the endzone. You know, you count on those guys making the plays, and we didn't tonight. So we'll evaluate it and we'll have to continue to work at getting better. We thought some plays could have been made in a lot of different areas but those guys will benefit greatly from this and we'll have to get better. We've got to catch the football better. That's an area that we're going to have to get better at.''

As a matter of fact, only four of MSU's wideouts made catches Saturday night and only two of them ended with multiple catches.

Sophomore Tony Lippett, who is and was expected to add some dynamic, if not consistent options at wideout, ended with just 3 catches for 21 yards. While redshirt freshman Andre Sims Jr. and true freshman Macgarrett Kings each had one catch apiece.

As a group, MSU receivers finished with 11 catches but ended with just 97 yards gained. The Spartans finished with a total of 187 passing yards.

"I felt like we got open and that we had some opportunities to catch the ball, we just didn't finish as receivers,'' Fowler said. "But the good thing we can take from this is that we were able to get open We've just got to finish the plays.''

Maxwell, who finished with only 187 yards after throwing the ball 45 times, let his receivers off the hook eventhough Roushar said his quarterback had a solid throwing night.

"Those guys are going to be the hardest critics on themselves because everyone of them is a worker, and everyone of them wants the ball, and everyone of them wants to make a play,'' Maxwell said. "We can't make a bigger deal out of it than it is. It's one night and we can't lose our confidence in making plays down the field. We'll come back, we'll have a great week of practice and they'll get better there.''

So while all of MSU's offensive woes against Notre Dame can't be blamed on its receivers, it's obvious that some changes are going to be explored this week as the Spartans prepare to host Eastern Michigan next Saturday.

"I wish we had some (catches) back from our wide receivers because I thought we had some drops,'' MSU coach Mark Dantonio said. "We're going to find out some things about our players this week in practice, and we're also going to find out some things on our players by watching game film, and we're going to have make some decisions, some tough decisions but those decisions are going to have to be made.''

While changes may be made, Dion Sims offered up some worthwhile advice and encouragement for MSU's young and inexperienced group of receivers going forward.

"I just think we have to be more focused and we'll execute it,'' Sims said. "It's just executing plays. Also, when you drop a pass, you immediately have to forget about it. You can't continue to think about because you get down on yourself and bad things tend to happen. When you drop a pass, I think the best thing to do is to put it behind you and just move forward. Catch the next one''

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