It’s easy to cast numbers just about anyway you’d like, and that’s especially true with football statistics. But what was eye-popping about Friday night’s game was how much Michigan State’s vaunted defense shut down Tulsa in the Spartans’ season opener.

Completely shut down.

Tulsa had a minus-73 yards rushing, which borders on impossible. It really does. Sure, they botched a couple snaps that led to some negative yards (a 15-yard loss and a 6-yard loss), but that’s not even a third of it. They could literally not advance the ball on the ground in the 28-7 win. The minus-73 yards broke a Michigan State school record that had stood for 69 years (minus-63 by Pittsburgh in 1950).

Tulsa’s two running backs, Shannon Brooks and Corey Taylor, rushed a combined 13 times of a total of minus-1 yards. Their longest run of the night was for 5 yards. The mistakes and the sacks (which college counts as lost rushing yards, unlike the NFL) added up to that minus-73 yards.

Obviously, the performance means that Michigan State leads the nation in rush defense after one week, and by a wide margin. Only Syracuse (minus-4 yards) held an opponent to negative yardage. That’s picking up right where the Spartans ended last year, with a No. 1-ranked rush defense in all the land. (For comparative purposes, Georgia Tech is dead last at No. 129 after allowing 411 yards rushing. That’s a 484-yard difference in one week!)

Which begs the question. Is this  the best defense Michigan State has ever had?

It’s easy to make a case for it for a variety of reason. Last year’s No. 1 ranking helps, and based on how they’ve started this season, another top ranking in rush defense seems inevitable.

And when you look at personnel, the Spartans are just loaded in the front seven. There’s no one on their schedule who will be able to post big numbers in the running game. And there are a lot of guys who are going to be making big pay checks on Sundays soon.

The most obvious is senior defensive end Kenny Willekes. He had a monster game Saturday, winning the National Defensive Player of the Week award from the Walter Camp Foundation and also winning Big Ten Defensive Player of the Week as well from the league.

The Spartans are lucky to have him on this defense. He was NFL ready a year ago, but when he broke his leg in the bowl game against Oregon at the end of the season, he decided to stick around East Lansing and play out his senior year.

Based on this start, he’s looking at first-team All-American honors when this season ends. He’s that good.

Willekes had his first career touchdown Saturday, forcing a sack along with Raequan Williams and then falling on the fumble in the end zone. He also had another fumble recovery as well.

“It’s really hard to point to anybody on defense who did not play well,” Michigan State coach Mark Dantonio said. “They all graded at winning level. I thought Xavier (Henderson) played very well, and Antjuan Simmons played very well.

“The defense played well. They need to continue playing well, set the tone.”

Michigan State looks to keep setting that tone on Saturday against Western Michigan in Spartan Stadium at 7:30 p.m. ET (TV: Big Ten Network)