Michigan State football: Grading the Spartans after win over Tulsa
No. 18 Michigan State opened the season with a convincing 28-7 victory over Tulsa, getting the season off to a great start thanks to a dominating, record-setting performance by the Spartans’ elite defense.
Let’s hand out some grades after Game 1:
Here’s what I liked in Michigan State’s win over Tulsa
- Michigan State’s defense is ‘best-in-nation’ elite: A year ago, Michigan was No. 1 in the country in rushing defense, allowing only 81.3 yards per game. The Spartans took it up a notch Friday night against Tulsa, allowing — that’s probably not the right word — an amazing minus-73 yards, which is a school record. (I’m seeing minus-51 on a few sites, which I don’t understand.) There wasn’t a single player for Tulsa who had positive rushing yards, going backwards on their 25 attempts. Linebacker Joe Bachie and defensive end Kenny Willekes led the way with seven tackles, and Willekes also recovered two fumbles. It was an awesome first step for this group, which is unquestionably elite.
- Stopping the run meant unleashing pass rush: You knew the Spartans were going to get after it defensively, but once it became blatantly obvious that the Hurricanes weren’t going to be able to run the ball, the MSU defensive front pinned their ears back and came hard on the rush. That results in six sacks of Tulsa quarterback Zach Smith. Shakur Brown led the way with two sacks, Jacob Panaciuk was credited with 1.5 sacks while Willekes and Antjuan Simmons had one each. Racquen Williams had a half-sack. It was an impressive display to be sure.
- Brian Lewerke was good enough at quarterback: It was not an overly impressive night by any means, especially numerically, but Michigan State quarterback Brian Lewerke played well enough to help the Spartans get that season-opening win. he was 21-for-37 passing for 192 yards and a touchdown and made good decisions most of the night. The Spartans are going to need more from him down the road, but this was a good start.
Here’s what I didn’t like in Michigan State’s win over Tulsa
- Spartans still struggling to run the ball: The Spartans averaged only 2.7 yards per carry, and that was a bad reminder of their struggles on the ground all of last year. This offensive line was supposed to be better, but we didn’t see that in the opener. Connor Heyward led the way, but he had only 43 yards on 15 carries and his longest run was only 7 yards. This has to get better — and fast. Penalties were also an issue, with 14 of them for 122 yards. “Way too many penalties, we’ll go to work to fix those,” Michigan State coach Mark Dantonio said. “I was disappointed in execution and I was disappointed in unforced errors, when you jump offsides and things of that nature. Too many penalties.”
- Getting stuffed early on fourth down is a bad sign: It didn’t matter in the grand scheme of things in a 28-7 victory, but it was a bad look to get stuffed on fourth down midway through the first quarter. This team needs to finish drives and they can’t ever leave points on the board. There are going to be too many times down the road where they are going to need to convert on short-yardage situations. They need to fix this quickly too.