Bob Wojnowski, John Niyo and Tony Paul preview MSU-Arizona State and review Michigan's double-OT win over Army and look ahead to the Wisconsin game in two weeks. The Detroit News
East Lansing – For one week, everything was right in the world of Michigan State football.
Two weeks into the 2019 season, the Spartans were rolling as the offense was finally finding its footing, racking up 51 points in a victory over Western Michigan. Along with a defense that was its usual self, plugging up holes and making life generally frustrating for the Broncos, the Spartans found themselves in an unfamiliar position.
They were reveling in the runaway victory, clearing the bench in the fourth quarter, not at all worried about any last-minute letdowns.
“It felt good,” junior offensive lineman Luke Campbell said. “I haven’t had that feeling in a minute.”
Nor had the rest of the Spartans. The last time they experienced such an easy fourth quarter was probably the Holiday Bowl at the end of the 2017 season. Michigan State was in control for much of that game, beating Washington State, 42-17.
Momentum, however, did not continue into the next season as Michigan State’s offense suffered through a miserable 2018. The Spartans scored 38 points in the opener, a total that proved to be the most they would manage the entire season.
So, after dropping 51 on Western Michigan after a shaky opening win over Tulsa, there is a clear directive for No. 18 Michigan State as it gets set to host Arizona State at 4 p.m. on Saturday: Make the Week 2 offensive performance more of the norm as opposed to the exception.
“Now it becomes consistency and performance,” Michigan State coach Mark Dantonio said. “We have to continue to do that and get better and better and better. I thought our offensive line played well, but they will be challenged this week with a lot of different looks and some pretty good players up front, as well. So it will be interesting to watch and see how the game unfolds.”
Interesting is one way to put it, but when a team is expecting to contend for the Big Ten championship, showing consistency from week to week is vital. It’s something that has eluded Michigan State (2-0) going back to the start of last season and it’s likely Arizona State provides more of a challenge than Western Michigan did.
The Spartans understand that.
“I think we just need to keep building on it,” said sophomore Matt Carrick, who has started each of the first two games at right guard. “It’s nice and all to beat Western but that’s not who we want to beat this year. We want to beat those other teams. We just have to keep building on that each week and just show everyone and show ourselves that we can be a dominant offensive line.”
The offensive line had drawn plenty of criticism amid the offensive struggles, particularly after the Tulsa game when Dantonio challenged the effort and lack of physical play. He addressed it as a team-wide issue, but it was clear, the offensive line was the primary target.
That’s what made the turnaround against Western Michigan all the more impressive as Michigan State continues to use at least seven different players up front.
If that rotation continues to work this week, they’ll be doing it against a defense that is similar to the one Tulsa ran. It is a 3-3-5 alignment on most downs, and Michigan State didn’t play well against that defense in the opener, managing just 68 yards rushing from its backs and 108 for the game.
Quarterback Brian Lewerke was also under pressure in the opener, something that wasn’t a problem against Western Michigan and will be critical this week when facing a veteran Arizona State secondary.
“I was pretty comfortable,” Lewerke said of the Western Michigan game. “I felt like I could see the defense. Obviously, that helps when you have a ton of time to pass the ball. I mean, I had plenty of time to kind of sit back there and diagnose what’s happening. And once you start going quick, you get in a rhythm and it makes it pretty easy.”
A similar rhythm against Arizona State (2-0) could mean avenging last season’s loss in Tempe while making Dantonio the winningest coach in Michigan State history.
The coach in his 13th season hasn’t spent a lot of time on where he stands, instead focusing on the mindset of his team.
“I do think we're confident, and I think we're excited to play and that's half the battle all the time – the excitement that you bring with you, with your football team,” Dantonio said. “That's a big component I think in every football game. You can't fake that kind of stuff. I don't think you get all rah-rah during the week. That's just the way we've always approached it, but I feel a sense of optimism and that's exciting.”
The players seem to buying in to that same sense of optimism.
With a championship-level defense, the offense is starting to show it can uphold its end of the bargain, and if last week was just the beginning, then there’s no telling where things go from here for the Spartans.
“It was good and it helped boost our confidence,” Campbell said. “We just know that we're ready. We can contend with anyone out there.
“(Being consistent) is just a mindset. You’ve just got to have a mindset that that you have not arrived, and we have not arrived. Just keep bringing it each and every week and prepare to be the best we can.”
Arizona State at Michigan State
Kickoff: 4 p.m. Saturday, Spartan Stadium, East Lansing
Records: Both teams 2-0
Line: Michigan State by 14