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Michigan State Football: Close call against Utah State

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The Spartans escape week one with a victory

NCAA Football: Utah State at Michigan State Mike Carter-USA TODAY Sports

Mark Dantonio entered the post-game press conference and was clearly unhappy with his teams performance after almost losing their first home opener in the last 11 years. “Coach Perles used to always say ‘they all count as one’ and that’s what I’m basically building on this one. We’ll take steps to try and correct some of the problems but hey, we’re 1-0 right now.”

The Michigan State Spartans entered Friday’s game as heavy favorites (-23.5 according to ESPN) and yet they struggled to pull away from, what most people thought of as an inferior Utah State team. Jordan Love, the Aggies quarterback, tore the MSU defense apart for what seemed like large portions of the game.

“We prepared as hard as we could, I’m not gonna knock us on that at all. We prepared hard this week, and you know they had a great game-plan. They attacked us very well. Their offense with that quarterback being able to run the ball put us under some stress, but their pace is hard. When a QB plays with tempo it’s tough and we’ve got to adjust; we’ve got to be better” said Joe Bachie on playing against this tempo and style of play.

NCAA Football: Utah State at Michigan State Mike Carter-USA TODAY Sports

Jordan Love managed to throw for 319 yards while completing 65.9% of his passes. He coordinated his offense with an elevated level of poise and put the Aggies in a position to score points throughout the game. The young quarterback was the reason USU was on the goal line with 5:07 left in the ball-game before Darwin Thompson punched it in for his second TD of the night.

His unique ability to command the USU offense was a big reason why the Spartans were down on the scoreboard with 5:05 left in the fourth quarter. However, Brian Lewerke proceeded to throw and complete five passes in a row for a total of 66 yards. Putting the Spartans at Utah State’s 21-yard line.

The 6’3 junior captain out of Arizona never wavered, even when the offense didn’t always look or feel great. Lewerke was able to keep his composure and lead the Spartans down the field one last time for the victory. “You’ve got to stay calm, you can never get down. I have confidence in myself and all the guys around me that there’s no reason we can’t drive the ball down and score every time we are on the field,” said Lewerke. He does what his teammates ask of him and that is to put them in a position to win football games.

“I felt like it was a pretty sloppy game, we could have done a lot of things better obviously but glad to get the win, and Coach D always says it’s hard to win so you can never be disappointed about a win so I’m glad we got it,” said Brian Lewerke during his opening statement.

Two plays later LJ Scott would put the Spartans at the USU goal line but the play would be called back due to a holding penalty. Which pushed MSU back to their opponents 16-yard line. Penalties can be drive killers and Michigan State experienced plenty of it throughout their home opener Friday night.

The Spartans had nine penalties overall (on offense and defense) for 62 yards. Michigan State ended up hurting themselves on offense multiple times, settling for three field goals that probably should have been touchdowns. “Whenever we don’t (score) we kind of shoot ourselves in the foot but, it was great to get that touchdown,” Lewerke said on what it was like leading his team down the field towards that final TD.

Michigan State’s running game struggled aside from a few chunk plays that were made by Connor Heyward. “Brian (Lewerke) made a good read on the option and usually he keeps those, but the way it was set up he just pitched it and the receivers made some good blocks, the O-line and it was just clear as daylight,” Heyward said on scoring the game winning touchdown. The 229-pound tailback didn’t have a lot of carries but made the most of his opportunities, scoring two touchdowns on just five rushes for 42 yards.

This was mostly because the offensive line wasn’t getting much of a push throughout the contest which resulted in a tough night for LJ (who carried the ball 23 times for 84 yards). In the first half they were badly beaten a couple of times forcing the offense to settle for a field goal along with the odd fumble Lewerke had while trying to shuffle pass it to a receiver in the area.

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

At this point, Mark Dantonio and the Michigan State Spartans are more than used to close games and what they represent to their program. But they will need to clean some things up on both sides of the ball if they want to leave Arizona State with a victory.

“Well I really think that if you go back over the course of our program here, we’ve won a lot of close game, especially opening games. That’s just been the nature of it. I can’t sit there and say why but we’ve won a lot of close football games. We’ve won 18 I think maybe, in the fourth quarter, or something like that since 2007, somebody told me. We’re able to play down the stretch, we’ve got experience to be able to do that, there was no panic in our offense. It was a three minute drive — we got the ball at five minutes so it was a three minute drive. We had to come back out there on defense and get the stop but we certainly make it interesting. I wish we wouldn’t but that seems to be the trend sometimes. It is tough to win,” said Dantonio on the close games his teams have experienced since he started coaching there.

NCAA Football: Utah State at Michigan State Mike Carter-USA TODAY Sports