Spartans seek growth from Notre Dame loss

Saturday's 20-3 loss to Notre Dame was a humbling one for Michigan State. All the Spartans can do now, head coach Mark Dantonio says, is grow from it.

For sure, there are many areas for potential growth, especially on offense. Does that mean we'll see personnel changes on that side of the ball for this week's game against Eastern Michigan? The depth chart the team released contains no new starters. Dantonio hinted there could be some moves at receiver but that's "not for public knowledge."

The receivers failed to make plays against Notre Dame, dropping passes and losing one-on-one battles. Their struggles are not unexpected given their inexperience, and the Spartans may just have to wait for them to grow up.

"When you look at [junior] Bennie Fowler right now, he's got more snaps in three games than his entire three years he's been here previously," Dantonio said at his weekly Tuesday news conference. "He's the most experienced of our [receivers]. The rest of them are younger players that are sort of finding their way through it, through the smoke.

"We'll have to go through some of those growing pains with that. I think we have a lot of talent at that position and it will show itself before the season is over. "

The offensive line didn't perform well, either, as Le'Veon Bell didn't have much room to run and Andrew Maxwell dealt with pressure in his face. Tackle Fou Fonoti missed the Notre Dame game and is out at least four weeks with a stress fracture. He could be redshirted. That limits Michigan State's options, but Dantonio said the offensive line breakdowns can also be blamed on Maxwell not changing protections and the receivers not getting open.

"Is it personnel? No, it's not personnel," he said. "It's a combination of everything. We have good enough players to win at that position and we will win."

And then there's Maxwell. While there's no chance of Dantonio switching quarterbacks, the first-year starter needs to accelerate his learning curve. Dantonio rated him as "high average" during the Notre Dame loss. Maxwell was less kind to himself.

"Not well enough to win," he said of his play. "Obviously anytime you lose, it's tough. Especially when it's because the offense just can't get going, you can't really find a groove, so that's got to fall on me. I have to put us in a better position to win."

Dantonio also pointed the finger at himself, saying he stayed in hurry-up mode too long in the second half and went away from Michigan State's bread and butter, the running game with Bell and tight end Dion Sims in the passing game. He said he "got impatient" trying to jump start a comeback.

So there are many ways in which the Spartans can grow from that loss. The question is how much growth they can expect to get out of playing Eastern Michigan, an 0-3 team which is wildly overmatched on paper.

"This will be about us," Dantonio said. "This will be about who we are, this football team. It's an opportunity to step forward, to show a response. That's what we're going to do. We're going to show a response."