Inside Slant

The Sports Xchange

September 04, 2018 at 9:14 pm.

Spartans know they must get a lot better

Michigan State opened the season with a win, but it didn’t go exactly as planned.

When the offense trotted out on the field last Friday with just more than five minutes left on the clock, not many expected the Spartans to be trailing.

But that’s exactly the position they were in, behind by a point to Utah State in the season-opener. Just five minutes stood between Michigan State and what could potentially have been a crushing defeat just one week into the season.

Instead, the Spartans marched down the field, took the lead on sophomore Connor Heyward’s 13-yard touchdown run that was accentuated by a two-point conversion pass from junior quarterback Brian Lewerke to senior wide receiver Felton Davis. On the next possession, junior linebacker Joe Bachie tipped and intercepted a Utah State pass to seal the 38-31 victory.

It left the Spartans in a position far better than those that were upset in their openers — coming up with answers without suffering the upset.

“I think our football team has got a dose of reality in all honesty,” coach Mark Dantonio said on Tuesday. “I think they step back, they probably thought they were going to come in and play better than they did, thought maybe Utah State didn’t have the football team maybe they did. A combination of one or the other. So, I think our players have always understood what they need to do.”

There were plenty of things to improve on from the opener, most notably the running game and getting pressure on the quarterback.

Heyward scored twice but he and senior LJ Scott had trouble getting rolling as the offensive line struggled to get a consistent push against a Utah State defense that was poor against the run a season ago. Michigan State finished with 165 yards on the ground, but the line didn’t play well, overall. There was some shuffling up front as junior left tackle Cole Chewins was out with an injury, but there needs to be a significant step forward heading to Arizona State on Saturday.

“I thought we played better as the game progressed,” Dantonio said. “Had too much pressure early in the game. I thought we did a better job protecting the quarterback, then running the football as the game progressed. I think Connor benefited from that. On that (winning touchdown), he slid outside, creased it.”

Scott had similar success on the same play earlier in the drive, but a holding call negated his touchdown.

On the other side of the ball, junior defensive end Kenny Willekes recorded a pair of sacks, but Utah State’s Jordan Love threw for 319 yards.

Even with the issues in the opener, Dantonio was happy to take the win and pointed out that most games are far from easy.

“I just want to win a football game,” Dantonio said. “We’re 1-0. As far as I’m concerned, we’re always getting pushed up the ladder. Went 10-3 last year, what are we going to do this year? All these guys back, all these kind of things. Everybody has to play, everybody has good football players, guys on scholarship, too. Everybody comes with an opportunity to win.

“It’s a struggle out there. It’s challenging. I don’t care who you play against, it’s challenging.”