EAST LANSING, Mich. -- The New York Yankees picked the worst time of the year to have their bats go missing.
Mark Dantonio understands the feeling all too well.
As Michigan-Michigan State week kicks off, the Spartans head coach finds himself with an offense that has ranged from mediocre to awful this season. The low point came Saturday, when Michigan State lost 16-13 in double overtime at home to hapless Iowa.
"We'd like to score more points, but the reality of the situation is that we have three players on offense who played on a consistent basis last year -- Dan France, Chris McDonald and Le'Veon Bell," Dantonio said. "The rest of the guys are new, and they are gaining experience as we go."
Quarterback Andrew Maxwell, trying to fill the shoes of Kirk Cousins, struggled badly in the rain on Saturday. He completed 12 of 31 passes, was intercepted once and sacked twice.
"It was a tough weather game, and I think that had something to do with it," Dantonio said. "Iowa has always had a stingy defense, and they have always given us competitive games. Andrew continues to be our quarterback and I think he's growing. He's got to continue to gain confidence, and this is part of it."
It didn't help that Maxwell was missing one of his biggest weapons, tight end Dion Sims. Sims injured his ankle two weeks ago against Indiana, and missed the Iowa game. Tuesday, he wasn't even listed on Michigan State's depth chart for the Michigan game.
"We'll know more this week," Dantonio said. "He's a big target for us -- our leading receiver -- and he's a firm blocker, so there's a lot if we get him back. As the week continues, we'll find out more about where he really is."
The Spartans have scored just 16 points in each of their last two home games -- a one-point loss to Ohio State and the overtime defeat by the Hawkeyes, and also lost 20-3 at home to Notre Dame. They also trailed Indiana 27-17 after three quarters before rallying to win 31-27 in Bloomington.
"We have to make sure the team doesn't split into offense vs. defense," Dantonio said. "We have to continue to play together and pick up the pieces. That's always a challenge when you lose football games, but I believe this team is up to it."
Dantonio believes that it will help Michigan State's morale to be facing the Wolverines this weekend. The Spartans have beaten Michigan four straight times, tying the longest streak in school history, and no player wants to be on the team that sees that run come to an end.
"I've always said that pressure is good -- we've always talked to our football team about how pressure is good and stress is bad," he said. "Pressure helps prepare you, keeps you on edge and keeps you mentally sharp. The important thing to understand there is pressure, but not stress out about what we're doing. You have to be able to play very physically and emotionally, but keep your composure at the same time.
"That's why football continues to be a great game, because you can take all different aspects of science and physics and the psyche, as well. They are all intertwined."
One thing that Dantonio did this week to keep his players away from stress was to not make them available to the media. The Wolverines had four players who spoke to the press on Monday, including captains Jordan Kovacs and Denard Robinson, but Dantonio took the opposite approach.
He said there were multiple reasons, including avoiding bulletin-board material for the Wolverines.
"It's threefold. There's a lot of people, and we certainly don't want anything getting put up there," he said. "We really don't want anything getting out about injuries or whatever, but I also think it is just about getting ourselves together. People on our team -- our coaches and our players -- sort of sequestering ourselves and getting everybody ready to go.
"That's what has worked for us before, so that's what we will do again."