"We've got a long way to go as far as a program to get ourselves to Indianapolis (to the Big Ten title game). But I don't think we're that far away. I don't think we're that far away at all and that's probably what's most disappointing to me right now. How darn close we are, and for us not to coach our guys well enough to get over that point is incredibly disappointing for me for our seniors. We will coach our tales off this next month. We're going to go right back to work on Tuesday. Those young guys that have been out there are going to go back out and practice their butts off. We're going grind 'em up for the next week until we find out who we're going to play. When we find out who we're going to play, we're going to put together a great plan and do everything we can to send these seniors out as winners. . . I'm bitterly disappointed for those guys that they didn't walk off that field as winners."
"That's Fitz. That's him every day when he wakes up," senior linebacker Bryce McNaul would later say when asked about the obvious fire in his coach's belly. "That's who you get, that passionate coach. It's the guy Danny (Persa) and I and our whole senior class wanted to play for. We didn't expect anything different from him today. We just would've liked to have won for him."
* The 'Cats, of course, did not win on Senior Day at Ryan Field. They instead fell to Michigan State, 31-17, in a display that recalled the inconsistency of their performances during their five-game losing streak.
* Senior corner Jordan Mabin, a three-year starter who has been flip-flopping sides to defend Spartan receiver B.J. Cunningham, injures his right shoulder with 6:28 remaining in the first quarter. He is replaced not by senior Ricky Weina or junior Demetrius Dugar, but by redshirt freshman Daniel Jones. "DJ's earned [the right to play] in practice," Fitzgerald will later explain. * The teams exchange field goals and then, after the 'Cat defense holds the Spartans to a three-and-out, their offense launches a grinding drive. Treyvon Green rushes for a yard, then Persa finds Kain Colter for seven more, then Colter runs for 10 and a first down at the Michigan State 47. Now, after an incompletion, Persa hits Jeremy Ebert for seven yards and now here comes Jacob Schmidt for five more and a first down at the 35. Then it's Colter for one and Green for four and Schmidt for four and, on fourth down, Schmidt for two and a first down at the 24. Now Persa scrambles for four, then Colter does the same for four more and then, on the option, Colter slithers through a crack for three and a first down at the 13. It's back to pounding now and Greene goes over right tackle for seven and then up the middle for three, where he's wrapped up and twisted so the ball is exposed. That is where Spartan linebacker Max Bullough finds it with his helmet, finds it and knocks it loose for a fumble recovered by his teammate Denzel Drone.
"I saw him kind of get twisted, then cough it up. But I couldn't see it really," Persa will later say of this play. "I thought maybe his knee went down as he was getting twisted. But I couldn't really see for sure."
Neither could Fitzgerald, who calls a timeout to give the replay officials extra minutes to look at the play. It stands and so, after running 15 plays and covering 62 yards and eating up nearly seven-and-a-half minutes and setting themselves up in the shadow of the Spartan end zone, the 'Cats come away with nothing.
* Treyvon Green, a true freshman, will not play again this day.
* Spartan quarterback Kirk Cousins has not yet tested Mabin's callow replacement, but after he drives them out to their own 47, he finally does. He does it by sending Keshawn Martin on a fly down the right sideline and, against a blitz, he finds him behind Jones for a 46-yard completion that sets them up on the 'Cat seven. On the very next play, Le'Veon Bell sweeps right, jukes Jones and lopes into the end zone with 1:40 remaining until half.
* The 'Cats, after the kickoff, begin from their own 27, but after Schmidt gains two, Persa is sacked for a loss of eight and the Spartans call time at :53. They call time again after Schmidt gets just five on third-and-16 and, at :48, the 'Cats must punt. Remarkably, up to this moment, they have given up just three yards on five punt returns the whole season, but here Brandon Williams hits a low liner that Martin fields on one hop. "We can analyze it and scrutinize it all we want," Fitzgerald later says, explaining what happened now. "We got a gunner unblocked. Then we got two guys who are gunners on the field and they get blocked by the ball. We've got four guys inside who are at the point of attack, our contain player gets beat and away you go. Usually when you miss one tackle against a guy like him, it's a big thing. When you have that kind of thing happen with Keshawn, it's dangerous."
* Johnson returns the punt 57 yards for a touchdown and the Spartans are up 14 at halftime. "We go in at halftime and the guys were upset with themselves," Fitzgerald will later say. "We've got a chance to score and take a lead and three-and-a-half, four minutes later, we're down 14 points. It's our fault. I give Michigan State credit. They made plays. Good for them. But we had every opportunity to do that and we didn't."
* The 'Cats, on their first possession of the third quarter, pull back to within seven after Persa's 69-yard completion to Drake Dunsmore sets them up on the Spartan three. But Michigan State responds, converting a third-and-one, then converting a third-and-eight, finally converting a third-and-13 from the 'Cat 33. On that last conversion, Cousins finds Cunningham running free of Jones and hits him for a touchdown on a deep post.
* One more time the 'Cats pull back to within seven, this time when Persa finds Demetrius Fields for 12 yards just 63 seconds into the fourth. But now, after each side goes three-and-out, the Spartans take possession at their own seven. On first down Cousins finds Cunningham, guarded by Jones, for 14, and then he sends him on a deep post against Jeravin Matthews, who is called for pass interference that set them up on their 36. Three plays later Cousins finds Cunningham on a fly behind Matthews for 25, and five plays after this he finds Cunningham two steps free of Jones on a post for the touchdown that puts them back up 14.
* Cunningham, with Jordan Mabin on the field, caught one little curl for nine yards. Free of Mabin, who never returned from his injury, he caught five passes for 111 yards and two touchdowns. But Fitzgerald, in character, would not use the senior's absence as an excuse. "We had plenty of opportunities, we were right there in position to make plays and we're not making 'em," he said instead, echoing a theme that was constant during his team's losing streak. "That's what I'm talking about, the little details. Third down, we felt we'd be able to do things coverage wise, then we're not in the post. We're a step away, we don't punch the ball out. We're supposed to be inside leverage, we're outside leverage. We've got guys slipping and falling. Little things. It's little things, and those little things add up to be big things. When you win, they add up positively. Today, that didn't happen."
* This day would conclude with the seniors and their families gathering at Fitzgerald's house, which is why he was asked if he would be consoling them this night. "I'm not a consoler. That's not my nature," he said, his emotions still palpable. "It is what it is, man. It is what it is. You look at yourself as a competitor and, you know. I can't stand it. It drives me crazy, drives me up a wall not to be successful. I expect to win. I expect to win everything we do. Not to do that six times this year is disappointing. But we have a chance to have a winning season. We have a chance to win a bowl game. We have a chance to send these seniors out the right way."
* And finally, Persa, on the immediate future: "Everything we do in the next how many ever weeks we have before our game needs to be focused on doing the fundamental things right, the little things right to get this win. The games that we've lost were because of little, fundamental things. It wasn't us getting blown out of the barn. It was little concepts we got to work on, little fundamentals that we got lazy on that cost us."