EAST LANSING, Mich. – It had been a while since Mark Dantonio and Pat Narduzzi had to answer for a loss like this.
The Michigan State coach and defensive coordinator have turned the Spartans into one of the Big Ten's top programs, but their team looked overmatched at times Saturday night in a 49-37 loss to Ohio State. Michigan State's defense, the foundation for so much success in recent years, allowed 568 yards in the Spartans' first Big Ten loss since 2012.
"We will regroup and I think that should be what sports teaches you. Somebody is going to win, somebody's going to lose," Dantonio said. "We'll learn this side of the lesson right now, but that's life. I'm not going to sit here and be depressed about it."
It's the first time in a while the Spartans have experienced major disappointment. They went unbeaten last year in the Big Ten, finally making it to the Rose Bowl after coming close in 2010 and 2011. The most obvious next step was to qualify for this year's playoff, and Michigan State was in the mix until Saturday's game.
But even with a spirited home crowd cheering them on, the Spartans couldn't slow down Ohio State. Michigan State's defense hasn't been quite as good as it was in 2013, and the Buckeyes moved down the field with stunning ease.
"They did a great job executing," Narduzzi said. "We did do a great job executing, but I obviously didn't do a great job coaching and preparing them to go. We will bounce back."
Michigan State (7-2, 4-1) dropped five spots to No. 12 in Sunday's AP poll.
Dantonio lamented a missed opportunity in the second quarter, when his team recovered a fumble in Ohio State territory but came away with no points after a penalty and a missed field goal. Michigan State led 21-14 at the time, but on Ohio State's next offensive play, J.T. Barrett found Michael Thomas for a 79-yard catch-and-run touchdown that tied the game. Barrett then threw a 44-yard TD pass to Devin Smith to put the Buckeyes ahead with 56 seconds left in the half.
Jeremy Langford ran for 137 yards and three touchdowns for Michigan State, and Connor Cook threw for 358 yards and two TDs. The Spartans gained 536 yards and did not have a turnover. That still wasn't enough.
Michigan State had not allowed this many yards in a game since giving up 579 to Texas Tech in the Alamo Bowl in January 2010. The Spartans bounced back from that tough season by going 11-2 and sharing the 2010 Big Ten title — the first real sign that Dantonio's program was emerging.
Since then, Michigan State has played in the Big Ten title game twice, winning last year. The Spartans also added a Rose Bowl victory last season, and it looked like they had momentarily supplanted Ohio State as the Big Ten team most likely to have a chance at the national title.
But after Saturday night, it's the Buckeyes who have more to play for, and Dantonio will have to keep his team focused and energized after so many goals appear to have slipped away.
"We're going to have a lot of disappointments in our lives. That's what we talk about all the time," Dantonio said. "It's going to be how you respond to those disappointments. Are you going to hang your head and go south or are you going to get up and play better? And are you going to get better because of it? ... Very easy to coach, be a head coach up here after a win. Everybody's happy, everybody's happy with you. But how you respond after the fact is to me sometimes more important."