Michigan State's players react to the 28-7 win over Tulsa to open the 2019 season. Matt Charboneau, The Detroit News
East Lansing — The season opener in college football is rarely a work of art.
Unlike in the NFL where there are four preseason games, there are no practice runs for college teams. So, that means all of the kinks are getting worked out when the games count.
For No. 18 Michigan State, the kinks were many on Friday in a 28-7 victory over Tulsa.
In addition to converting just 6 of 19 third downs, the Spartans committed 14 penalties for 122 yards. Not enough to keep them from getting the win but enough to have them feeling frustrated.
“Obviously, there's a lot of stuff to clean up, a little sloppy on our part,” quarterback Brian Lewerke said. “We just got to be able to finish drives once we get down there, stay penalty free and get the ball in the end zone. Other than that we got to keep pushing and work on getting better.”
The penalties on offense were many, including a holding call on guard Luke Campbell that erased what would have been redshirt freshman running back Elijah Collins’ first career touchdown.
But they were critical on defense, too, as Tulsa’s only scoring drive was kept alive when defensive end Kenny Willekes was called for roughing the passer on a third-and-8 pass that fell incomplete. The drive kept going and the Golden Hurricane eventually cashed in with a 28-yard touchdown pass from Zach Smith to Sam Crawford Jr. late in the first half.
“I think we were ready to play,” Michigan State coach Mark Dantonio said. “I was disappointed in the execution and I was disappointed in the unfortunate errors when you're jumping offsides and things of that nature and too many penalties. Penalties hurt you and put you behind things and put you behind the sticks a little bit and you've got to be able to overcome that.”
The Spartans were able to get away with it against Tulsa, but it’s something that will prove much more costly as the season progresses.
“We gotta eliminate the mental mistakes,” Willekes said. “Me personally, I can’t have a late hit on the quarterback. It ends up costing us a touchdown. So you know that's something we got to eliminate. We can't have it and we're going to work and keep getting better.”