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Game Recap: Michigan State pulls out narrow win over Utah State

Spartans find a way to win, needing a late touchdown to win 2018 opener against Utah State in East Lansing

Utah State v Michigan State Photo by Gregory Shamus/Getty Images

Michigan State Spartans fans have gotten accustomed to sweating out season openers and 2018 was no different. MSU needed a touchdown in the final minutes to beat the Utah State Aggies 38-31.

Utah State exploded out of the gates, scoring the first touchdown of the game in the first two minutes. The Spartans answered with a 49-yard field goal from Matt Coghlin. On their next drive the Spartans drove inside the one-yard-line before being stopped and held for another field goal (32).

MSU took its first lead of the game on a wide open completion from Brian Lewerke to Cody White early in the second quarter, going up 13-7.

The lead was short-lived, however. On the very next drive, Utah State quarterback Jordan Love raced down the field. The hurry up-air attack from the Aggies proved problematic all game long for MSU. This drive ended in another touchdown run for Utah State, taking a 14-13 lead.

The score stayed the same until the final 30 seconds of the first half. Lewerke moved the ball 75-yards down the field, finishing the drive with a completion to Felton Davis III in the back corner of the end zone.

Early in the second half, it looked as if Michigan State may put the early-game jitters to bed and run away with the game. Backup running back Connor Heyward went 17-yards on the ground to give MSU a 27-14 lead.

After the defense got the ball back, Michigan State looked to be on the verge of putting the Aggies away. However, a three-and-out led to a 40-yard Utah State field goal to bring the Aggies within 10 points. Then the game took a turn after a Lewerke pass was intercepted by Utah State’s Gaje Ferguson and returned for a touchdown, making it a 27-24 game.

The Spartans had another opportunity to put some distance between them and their opponent early in the fourth quarter. However, another drive died deep in Utah State territory, after a penalty inside the five resulted in another Coghlin field goal (24) instead of a touchdown.

Love and the Aggies continued to roll, taking advantage of numerous MSU mistakes on defense in addition to finding success on third down. Utah State was 7-13 on third down, with the majority of the conversions coming late in the game. With 5:05 left in the game, the air went out of Spartan Stadium when Darwin Thompson scored his second touchdown of the game. This one gave Utah State a 31-30 lead, with all of the momentum.

As they had all game, the resulting MSU drive was anything but pretty. However, with the help of penalties and Lewerke’s quick decisions, the Spartans kept moving the ball down the field. Two plays after a potential LJ Scott touchdown was called back due to a holding penalty, Heyward took the option pitch from Lewerke and took off for 13 yards into the end zone.

The drive was capped with a two-point conversion pass from Lewerke to Davis, giving MSU a 38-31 lead with two minutes to play in the game.

Utah State’s offense again appeared to be moving with ease through the tired Spartans defense. The hurry-up offense had given MSU fits throughout the game. But with just over a minute to play at the Utah State 46, linebacker Joe Bachie made the play of the game. The captain came on a blitz, tipping the Love pass at the line of scrimmage and coming down with the game saving interception.

Lewerke finished with 287 yards, going 23-33 with a quarterback rating of 156.7. He added 48 yards on the ground with a fumble and an interception. Scott ran for 84 yards on 23 carries with 57 yards receiving, more than half coming on one play. Heyward only ran for 42 yards, but with two touchdowns.

Four Spartans tallied more than 50 yards in receiving, led by White’s 70 on five catches with his touchdown. Davis added 69 of his own, on only three catches, with a touchdown and the crucial two-point conversion. Darrell Stewart caught a team-high seven passes for 55 yards.

Michigan State returns to action next Saturday, hitting the road to play Arizona State.