EAST LANSING, Mich. – Michigan State coach Mark Dantonio had never experienced four straight games that were decided in the closing seconds. And if he never again has to go through the frustrations of the past month, he won't miss it.
A 28-24 loss to Nebraska was the latest dagger for the Spartans (5-5, 2-4 Big Ten), who have dropped four league games by a total of 10 points.
Michigan State, heading into its off week, is 3-4 in games decided by four points or less this season.
"With a little this or a little that at the end, a different call or a different decision by a coach, maybe by me . . . " Dantonio said Tuesday. "If I go fourth-and-2 (vs. Nebraska), and we get that one or I go fourth-and-1 on Michigan, maybe we win. Maybe we don't. I don't know."
There are no easy answers when a team is picked No. 13 in the preseason and seen as one of the favorites to return to the Big Ten championship game, then has to revise its goals before Election Day.
Still, Dantonio wouldn't say his team is struggling. He pointed to being a couple of plays away from title contention for the third straight year, instead of battling to be bowl-eligible a sixth straight time.
"To me, struggling is cashing it in," Dantonio said. "You lose a close game, to me, that's not struggling. That's the game. That's people making plays. That's inches away. We're inches away from being 9-1, 8-2 — inches, seconds. We've rallied back every week and played and played hard. So I wouldn't say that we're struggling."
The Spartans watched the video of another agonizing fourth quarter in a team meeting Monday morning, then put the Nebraska game away and began the business of making the most of whatever opportunities remain in Legends Division games against Northwestern (7-2, 3-2) and Minnesota (5-4, 1-4).
With six conferences games decided by a total of 17 points, less than a field goal per week, Michigan State knows it can play with anyone.
"Life's not fair. It's just not," Dantonio said of a string of injuries and tough officials calls. "So why worry about it? Just keep on going, doing what you're doing, and things will even out. Eventually, things will even out. Things come in cycles. Things come in bunches."
That included some penalties the kept that Cornhuskers close and eventually helped them to win. Big plays by quarterback Taylor Martinez, that last one with 6 seconds left, were the difference, as the Spartans held the league's top offense to minus-4 yards in the third quarter, then broke down for the fourth time this year.
Dantonio spoke with Big Ten Supervisor of Football Officials Bill Carollo about a couple of calls from Saturday's game but couldn't divulge what was said. He did say a church sermon Sunday reminded him of the values of suffering and the dangers of self-pity.
"All I can tell you is we come to play," Dantonio said. "We compete. Our chemistry is very good. We have good young people. Because you lose doesn't make you a bad person. We're going to be ready to play, get back focused and focus on our next deal which is Northwestern. I also know that we need to get past this."