This is not the start anyone expected from the Michigan State Spartans. In the preseason, there was talk of contending in the Big Ten East, and of possibly making it back to the College Football Playoff.

They started the season ranked No. 11 in the first AP Poll, which seemed about right, give or take a couple or three spots in either direction. You looked at the schedule and figured the Spartans would be 5-0 heading into the big Oct. 13 showdown with Penn State.

But the Spartans have not impressed — at all — coming out of the gate. They barely beat Utah State in the home opener, hanging on for dear life in a 38-31 win. Then they lost late Saturday night at Arizona State, blowing a 10-point lead late in the fourth quarter to lose 16-13.

It’s certainly not the start they wanted. They’re 1-1 now and they’ve tumbled down all the way to No. 25 in the poll, and it was a bit of surprise that they were even ranked. That’s how unimpressive they’ve been so far.

Here’s what I liked — and didn’t like — about the loss at Arizona State:

What I liked

  1. QB Brian Lewerke is making big plays: Despite the turnovers, Lewerke is playing like a veteran and moving the ball well much of the time. He threw for 314 yards on Saturday night on 27-of-39 passing. He had pass plays of 13 yards or more to six different receivers. He’s making plays, but he just needs to clean up a few things (see below).
  2. Defense was great for basically three quarters:  Led by linebacker Joe Bachie, who had double-digit tackles for the second game in a row, the Michigan State defense kept Arizona State in check most of the night. The Sun Devils had only 210 yards and three points through nearly three full quarters, which is great. The 214 they gave up in the final 16 minutes was not so great. Blame it on the heat? They Spartans didn’t, but it had to be a factor.
  3. Spartans refuse to make excuses for loss: Pulling for this team is often easy because of the quality of the kids on the roster. They work hard, play hard and usually find a way to win. When they don’t, they tip their cap to their opponent and move on. “They competed, they got players,” Bachie said. “Like you guys can see, they’re on scholarship too. We’ll watch the film. There are no pointing fingers on this team. It’s a team effort and we’ll get back to work on Monday.”

What I didn’t like

  1. Blowing a fourth-quarter lead: One thing we’ve come to expect from Mark Dantonio over the past dozen years is that the Spartans know how to close out games. They entered the fourth quarter Saturday night leading Arizona State 13-3, and that’s the scenario that almost always leads to victories for the Michigan State. This time, they gave up 13 unanswered points in the fourth, and lost it on a game-winning field goal at the buzzer. That’s not the Spartans, and it’s not this team. Or is it?
  2. Turnovers in the red zone: Quarterback Brian Lewerke had a 3-0 lead and the Spartans were knocking on the door again early, looking to start a rout. He threw into the end zone, looking for tight end Matt Dotson. The throw was off and Dotson couldn’t reel it in. It went off his fingertips and was intercepted. In close games, you simply cannot give away points in the red zone. It came back to bite them, and this was a week after Lewerke lost a fumble and threw a pick-six.
  3. Not playing like Spartans play: Blowing leads, bad turnovers, giving up 300-yards plus in the passing game two weeks in a row, not running the ball well. Those are things you almost never see from a Michigan State team. How quickly will they turn that around? It needs to be fast.