East Lansing — When Michigan State’s 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 Connor Heyward’s touchdown run that was accentuated by a two-point conversion pass from Brian Lewerke to Felton Davis. On the next possession, linebacker Joe Bachie tipped an 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 the opener — 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 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. There was some shuffling up front, as left tackle Cole Chewins was out with an injury, but there needs to be a significant step forward headed 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, but a holding call negated his touchdown.
Even with the issues in the opener, Dantonio was happy to take the win and pointed out that most games are far from easy to win.
“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.”
Edwards 'a good man'
Arizona State surprised many last December when it hired former NFL coach and analyst Herm Edwards to be its head coach.
But after rolling over UTSA in the opener, there doesn’t seem to be as much head-scratching going on around the Sun Devils. Of course, things get tougher this week, but it was a good start.
Dantonio said he spent time with Edwards last year at charity event in Grand Rapids, and that his first memories of Edwards came when he was a young assistant under Marty Schottenheimer with the Kansas City Chiefs, a team that included a young Tony Dungy on the staff. At the time, Dantonio was coaching at Kansas.
“Yeah, I like Herm Edwards. Good guy,” Dantonio said. “Got charisma. Says what he means. Those type of things. … I think he's done a great job. I think thus far from what I see, transitioning into the college game, he's one game in. It's a grind. A good man.”
After starting 16 consecutive games, Chewins missed the opener against Utah State because of an undisclosed injury. On Tuesday, Dantonio didn’t give an update on Chewins’ status for Saturday’s game at Arizona State, but did confirm Chewins is practicing.
Sophomore Luke Campbell started at left tackle after starting last season at right tackle. Starting center Tyler Higby also saw some time at left tackle, while sophomore Jordan Reid started at right tackle. All had some problems.
“He'll play better as time goes on,” Dantonio said of Campbell. “He's a competitor, got to get ready to play, just like all of our guys. I don't think we played our best football game by any stretch last Friday. But it's a starting point and sometimes you need a starting point to send you off, too.”
… Dantonio said he hasn’t heard from the Big Ten regarding junior cornerback Justin Layne, who appeared in to throw a punch at a Utah State receiver last week. Layne and Ron’quavion Tarver were given unsportsmanlike conduct penalties.