Spartans' defense lives up to billing, blows away Hurricane's run game

Matt Charboneau
The Detroit News

East Lansing — There’s no doubt the frustration with Michigan State’s offense was lingering late Friday night.

But after the 18th-ranked Spartans took care of business in the season opener by beating Tulsa, 28-7, the feeling about Michigan State’s defense are drastically different.

That’s because the Spartans picked up right where they left off last season, stuffing the Golden Hurricane at the line of scrimmage and dominating in virtually every aspect of the game.

Tulsa finished with minus-73 yards rushing, a Michigan State record, and managed just 80 total yards after throwing for 153. The Spartans also had 13 tackles for loss, including six sacks, and forced three turnovers. To cap it off, they added a touchdown when Raequan Williams knocked the ball from Tulsa quarterback Zach Smith and Kenny Willekes recovered it in the end zone for a touchdown.

“It’s pretty cool to score a touchdown,” Willekes said. “Shout out to my dog Raequan. He punched it out for me right into my arms, so thank you Raequan for my first touchdown. It just speaks to the chemistry in our defense, how much work we put in this offseason. You see how dominant we are and when we can play together and we all do our job you see how dominant we are. So it's good to see and it felt good to be back out there.”

Michigan State was the No. 1 rushing defense in the nation last season in addition to ranking in the top 10 in total defense and scoring defense. So it was no big surprise they were dominant again the opener.

And, it appears, they had some extra motivation after Tulsa running back Corey Taylor hinted last week that the Golden Hurricane were capable of averaging 200 rushing yards a game.

Tulsa quarterback Zach Smith, left, is sacked by Michigan State defensive end Kenny Willekes and defensive end Jacub Panasiuk in the fourth quarter.

“That's just something you take personal,” Willekes said. “We pride ourselves on stopping the run. That’s our No. 1 goal each and every week, stopping the run and it's something we pride ourselves on so when someone says they’re coming to our house to rush for 200 yards that is something we take very personally.”

Added defensive tackle Mike Panasiuk: “Every day we're going to come out there and do our thing. Doesn't matter who's talking about what and stuff like that, you know, we're playing the football game. So that's kind of what happened.”

Taylor ran the ball seven times for minus-1 yards while Shamari Brooks didn’t gain any yards on six carries. The Golden Hurricane also lost 32 yards in sacks and another 40 on snaps that went over Smith’s head.

“This may be the best defensive line we've faced as a whole since I've been here, and we've played some really good teams,” Tulsa coach Philip Montgomery said. “This group that we faced tonight, everyone across the board is a Big Ten player and then you got (Willekes) over there, the Big Ten defensive (lineman) of the year.”

Willekes and linebacker Joe Bachie each had seven tackles for Michigan State while Willekes had two tackles for loss and recovered two fumbles. Cornerback Shakur Brown had two sacks, Jacub Panasiuk had 1.5 sacks and Willekes and Antjuan Simmons each added one sack.

Simmons also had six tackles and intercepted a pass.

"The goal is always to be better,” Bachie said. “We train ourselves this summer, this fall camp, to be better and we strive to be better and we knew their game plan inside out from last year. It was kind of the exact same matchup with it. So we were very confident out there, we were calling out some plays and it just helps you play a little faster. Once you get a couple big plays, it starts to roll and that's what happened tonight.”

Twitter: @mattcharboneau