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The Good, The Bad, The Random in MSU football’s win over Tulsa

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Come take a look at opening night with us

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

Happy belated Labor Day weekend gang, hope it was a swell time.

Before hopping back into the weekly grind, we can still look back on the highly anticipated MSU opening night. I mean, it beats getting ready for work or school.

SPOILER: The good will be predicable, the bad will be even more predictable and the random is...well, random.

Have any of your own thoughts? Throw them into the comment section.

THE GOOD

You’ve all seen the -78 rushing yards stat by now, but let’s just take one more peek at it to appreciate how ridiculous it looks.

Syracuse had to have felt good after their game...only to come up 69 whopping yards behind the Spartan Dawgs leading the board. Ouch.

Kenny Willekes looks like he’s only gotten stronger after breaking his ankle in the RedBox Bowl, leading the Spartans with seven tackles, 2.5 tackles for loss, 1.5 sacks and two fumble recoveries — one to put MSU up 22-0 minutes before halftime.

Willekes was honored with being named the Walter Camp National Defensive Player of the Week and snagging Big Ten Defensive Player of the Week honors as well. So, yeah, that ankle looks good.

Antjuan Simmons was an absolute animal on Friday night with six tackles, 2.5 tackles for loss and one sack. While that looks great on paper, it looked even better on film and just outright scary watching it in person.

Andrew Dowell will be missed after graduating, but it looks like Simmons will be pretty, pretty good filling in his spot.

And let’s talk about the special teams now, starting with Dominique Long blocking a punt taking the ball directly off the punter’s shoe top.

Jake Hartbarger also gave everyone that didn’t know how important punting is a lesson on how important punting is. He bombed five punts for an average of 47.1 yards and included a long of 61 in there, and when games turn into grueling possession of field battles (i.e. Ohio State game last season) that will be crucial. CRUCIAL.

And how great is it to see Matt Coghlin start his season reaffirming he’s arguably the best Big Ten kicker with a quartet of field goals on all four of his tries? That’s big time.

The only thing that could have made that better is not having to see Coghlin kick four field goals...

THE BAD

WHICH BRINGS US TO YOU KNOW PRECISELY WHERE. The offense.

I get it. It’s the first game. 2013 started with offensive struggles too. There is an injury on the offensive line. Blah. Another blah.

It’s also an offense that has a bulk of the same players, the same coaches that promised improvement and had eight months to show any remote sign of improvement.

Scoring one touchdown (on the opening drive) is not enough to be fine with the offense. Zero touchdowns in four first half possessions that started inside the 50 is simply not improving. Having no running back average more than three yards per carry is dejecting after going a full season with major running issues last year. Watching an opposing defensive line live in the backfield (a large part being the VIP access given by the right tackle) is concerning.

The fact that all of that happened against Tulsa — not Ohio State, not Penn State, not a Power Five conference team or not even a Group of Five team with a respectable defense — is flat-out alarming.

I want to believe that MSU just kept it vanilla and that’s why the offense was a non-factor. But there’s nothing vanilla about your running backs failing to break tackles or get big moderate runs against bad competition.

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

I want to believe we are just waiting for offensive linemen to get healthy, but we can’t be relying on a guy with back injury issues to be the answer.

I want to believe that, hey, maybe Tulsa’s defense just improved that much in the offseason...but why couldn’t MSU’s offense do that too?

All the same problems we dealt with in the last two months of last season are all still here. Zero run push. Squandering incredible opportunities presented by the defense. Predictable play-calling (all 70,000-plus fans knew what was happening, down to the failed result, on 4th-and-1 when Rocky Lombardi came in). Lewerke having to dance in the pocket constantly. They’re all still here.

I’m not ready to smash the panic button just yet. But after watching the problems of the 2018 offense come back to life in no time on Friday night, it’s time to at least have your finger on the button. I know it was week one, but it felt like a week 14 game carried over from last season.

Jalen Nailor fair-catching a punt on the five yard line with no one remotely around him gave me PTSD to last year’s punt returning escapades. Let’s try to not have a season full of those.

Fourteen penalties. FOURTEEN?!? You have to have a world class unit on one side of the ball to have that many penalties and get away with that. And luckily MSU does.

THE RANDOM

After looking at this photo, I’m actually shocked the defense didn’t hold Tulsa to -778 rushing yards.

Two Spartans that were close to the cut line on their rosters made NFL teams this weekend, starting with Shilique Calhoun cracking the 53-man roster for the Patriots. Well, actually, the second guy was cut...but then Brian Hoyer was signed to a 3-year deal by the Indianapolis Colts. What an icon. And Matt Sokol also cracked the practice roster for the Chargers.

And *puts on basketball hat* Nick Ward signed on to a Israeli professional team as he inked a deal with Hapoel Galil Gilboa. To recap, Matt McQuaid signed on with Germany’s Fraport Skyliners and Kenny Goins is in Italy with Pallacanestro Trapani (don’t ask me to pronounce that).

Back to football — here are one-sentence thoughts about other Big Ten teams in their openers over the weekend.

  • Looking at the bottom line and seeing Maryland beat Howard 79-0 was laugh-out-loud funny — glad I got the Terps at -78.5.
  • Couldn’t cash the Penn State -78.5 ticket though.
  • Minnesota gave us the Big Ten game of the week by having to squeak by South Dakota State in the final minutes of the fourth quarter, so thanks for that Thursday night entertainment PJ Fleck.
  • Purdue’s slight meltdown at Nevada is something, and now revered head coach Jeff Brohm has losses to Nevada, Eastern Michigan and Rutgers under his belt.
  • All other games were pretty boring, sorry.
  • Wait, actually Stanford’s sensational backdoor cover to cash the -6.5 tickets saved that from being a horribly boring game at the buzzer.

MAN TELL ME THIS VIDEO JUST DOESN’T GIVE YOU CHILLS.

Gets me every time.

Place your bets on next weekend’s game against Western Michigan. Our Spartans opened up as -17.5 point favorites, so let’s gamble some fake money.

Poll

Who do you got for MSU vs. WMU?

This poll is closed

  • 45%
    MSU -17.5
    (209 votes)
  • 54%
    WMU +17.5
    (249 votes)
458 votes total Vote Now

Alright gang, rolling into work on Tuesday off a Labor Day feels like a short week. Hydrate, reset and let’s get ready for another fun night on Saturday.

And as always, don’t forget to celebrate.

GO GREEN!