Well, the first game is in the books. A game of football was played between two teams and I don’t think either offensive coordinator is going to be putting this one on his resume tape. On the plus side, that defense...ohhh boy were they good. Let’s get right into it.
The first drive should be noted because it resulted in an offensive touchdown, just the third by Michigan State in their last five games dating back to last season. It wasn’t exactly a pretty drive, as it required a fourth down conversion and was aided by a penalty as well. There were however a couple highlights.
This was the second play of the game, after they started the season with the standard handoff up the middle for three yards.
MSU is in two tight ends with two wide receivers and Lewerke in the pistol with Heyward in the backfield. Seybert (yellow circle) comes in motion, Lewerke play fakes to Heyward and then rolls out to his left while Seybert pulls across the formation to help seal off the defender.
The two receivers run deepish routes, with White going deep on the outside and Nailor running a 10 yard out from the slot position. This clears out the entire left side of the field for Lewerke on the bootleg who doesn’t hesitate to take off into the open area.
He easily beats the defenders to the edge and is 15 yards upfield before he steps out of bounds. He was then drilled well out of bounds to tack on another 15 yards, which basically turned this into a 30 yard play for MSU.
You can also see Nailor is dragged down while making his cut, which was flagged but actually might have helped because the defender basically took himself out of the play by committing the foul.
This was an encouraging play early on because it showed that Lewerke wasn’t afraid to take off when presented with obvious running room, something we didn’t see as much of last year. It was also exactly the kind of play design that you want to see with a guy like Lewerke, where he has the option to beat you either with his arm or his legs.
What that big play above sets up eventually is this, an actual real life touchdown.
It is third-and-seven and Tulsa is going to bring the heat. They rush their three down linemen, as well as four more from the back end to make it seven total. They leave one defender on the near side (red circle) on an island.
Ultimately MSU makes them pay for this decision. The receiver on the near side Barnett drags across the formation while Heyward flashes out of the backfield to the near side, forcing the lone defender to make a choice.
Lewerke recognizes the pressure and gets the ball out quickly to the vacated space. The defender on the near side breaks on the drag route ever so slightly, but enough that he is late in arriving to Heyward. The Spartan back puts a nice move on him to shed the tackle and then beats the rest of the Tulsa defenders to the pylon. Touchdown MSU.
This play was executed well by pretty much everyone in it. Lewerke got the ball out to the right spot quickly and Heyward made the individual effort after that. Sometimes the play can only do so much and the player needs to make the rest happen.
Fourth Down Issues
MSU attempted multiple fourth-and-short plays in this game, with not a lot of success. After picking up just enough on the first drive to keep it going, they try again later in the first quarter from the Tulsa 26-yard line.
This jumbo set from MSU has one receiver up top and everyone else stacked in the formation. Heyward is the lone deep back. Tulsa, as you can clearly see, is expecting a power run and has 10 guys in the box.
Heyward runs directly into two Tulsa defenders coming up unblocked to make the stop shy of the marker. Higby is late pulling across the formation to help block for Heyward because the immediate pressure up the middle impedes his progress.
Too many defenders that close requires everyone to win their battles, and not nearly enough MSU blockers did.
Now MSU is once again in fourth-and-short, so they go back to the play that (barely) worked for them the first time around, bringing in Rocky Lombardi at QB to try and pick it up.
This time they have two wideouts so its ONLY a nine man box. Meanwhile, Lombardi is in the shotgun and is going to keep it himself after a half-hearted fake to Heyward.
None of this has anybody fooled on Tulsa’s side.
MSU is once again out manned where the play is going. By the time Heyward gets ahead to try and lead block, two Tulsa defenders are already knifing in behind the line of scrimmage.
The unblocked defender makes the play on Lombardi, and MSU is stopped on fourth down inside Tulsa’s 30- yard line for the second time in the first half.
Most of the focus for this week was going to be on the offense, and rightfully so. But the defense was incredible. When they continue to be this good you worry that MSU fans might almost start to take it for granted. Let that never be the case. That was an excellent performance reminiscent of the Rose Bowl team defense where they just physically punished the other team for the entire game. You almost felt bad for the opposing quarterback by the end of the game it was so bad.
And so, with that in mind, let us bask in the glow of the Big Ten and National Defensive Player of the Week, Kenny Willekes.
If anyone had any concerns about Willekes and his speed, motor, or whatever coming off the injury in the Redbox Bowl, this game answered all those questions.
Look at him just blow past his guy, come back around the backside of the QB, make the hit, the strip, and immediately pounce on the ball in the endzone. This guy is just a flat out beast, and between he and what we saw from Panasiuk on the other side, opposing QB’s are going to be watching their backs all year against this defense.
That’s all for this week, let’s hope for a better offensive showing against Western Michigan next week to help ease our minds a little bit. Or we can just keep holding teams to negative rushing yards and turning them over every other possession, whatever works.