East Lansing — Michigan State was expecting to establish the line of scrimmage in its opener on Friday against Utah State. Instead, the Spartans are still looking to find some cohesion.
The numbers say the offensive line did fine in No. 11 Michigan State’s 38-31 victory over Utah State – 165 rushing yards with a pair of rushing touchdowns – but the Spartans weren’t feeling great about the overall performance heading into next weekend’s trip to Arizona State.
“I'm disappointed with what our run game produced,” co-offensive coordinator Dave Warner said. “You maybe look at it and misinterpret the rushing because those last couple plays we ran the option and got some big chunks right there. You take those plays out of it when we're trying to bang LJ (Scott) up in there, a little bit of Connor (Heyward) up in there and we didn't get much movement.
“I'm not sure what our run average was there, we just didn't have any consistency. So, I'm disappointed in that absolutely.”
Scott gained 84 yards on 23 carries and Heyward had 42 on five attempts.
The average per carry wasn’t great – 3.9 yards on 42 attempts. But take out the two runs from Scott and Heyward in the fourth quarter, as Warner suggested, and the average per carry drops down to 3.45 yards. Based on last season’s numbers, that would rank the Spartans next to last in the Big Ten.
Needless to say, those results need to improve.
The Detroit News' Matt Charboneau breaks down Michigan State's season-opening victory over Utah State The Detroit News
“We're still growing obviously, we still have stuff to learn, but it was a good starting point,” junior center Tyler Higby said. “New guys getting in like Blake Bueter getting his first reps, it was fun to see people getting excited for him. We've got a long way to go, but a good start.”
The Spartans were without junior left tackle Cole Chewins and how long he’ll be out with an undisclosed injury is unclear. His absence bumped sophomore right tackle Luke Campbell to the left side to start and sophomore Jordan Reid got the call at right tackle.
Both had their share of problems, which led to some shuffling. Campbell moved back to the right side and Higby went out to left tackle for several series as sophomore Matt Allen got some time at center. Bueter, a redshirt freshman walk-on, saw his first action at left guard when he spelled fifth-year senior David Beedle.
Only sophomore right guard Kevin Jarvis went the whole way as the Spartans feel like they started to find some rhythm in the second half as it adjusted to Utah State’s Tipa Galeai, the 6-foot-5 defensive lineman transfer from TCU that caused issues the entire game.
“I thought the second half was better,” Higby said. “We made an emphasis to run the ball and leave gaps sound and do what we were talking about doing all week. We didn't really do that in the first half. In the second half we kind of buckled down and did what were supposed to do, and I felt like it would open things for us.”
How the rotation up front works itself out remains to be seen. Chewins’ return will certainly have an impact but the Spartans will need to come together quickly as Arizona State allowed just 3 yards rushing in its victory over UTSA on Saturday while recording 15 tackles for loss, including nine sacks.
Those numbers came against a team not at the level of Michigan State. Even so, the Spartans know they’ll have their work cut out to win on the road.
“We put a lot of guys up there and we're going to find out a lot about ourselves as we take the next step to the next game,” coach Mark Dantonio said. “You've got to be able to run the ball and win up front, I've said that all along, I've said that for years.
“It was tough sledding in there running the football, but during the second half we ran 100 plus yards. There were some positive things there to work on.