The Detroit News' Matt Charboneau breaks down Michigan State's season-opening victory over Utah State The Detroit News


East Lansing — Michigan State was one of the top defenses in the nation last season, and with all but two starters returning in 2018, odds are the Spartans will continue to be one of the better units not only in the Big Ten but in the entire nation.

To do that, however, the Spartans will need to take some significant strides after Friday’s 38-31 victory over Utah State at Spartans Stadium.

Utah State, using a fast-tempo, took just 2:02 to score on the opening drive of the game and had the Spartans scrambling most of the night.

“I think we're all a little bit surprised how fast Utah State was able to run their offense,” defensive coordinator Mike Tressel said. “I mean they really did a great job. We thought we were going to be able to sub if we were right on top of it. Obviously it caught us on the first drive and we had to stop doing that. That was difficult, but the quarterback, he's a good player. He hit some small windows, we adjusted and started playing a little bit more man to take away those windows and he was still able to complete some balls.

“Not many big plays down the field, but they impressed me with how consistent they were being able to dink and dunk it and put together 12-, 15-play drives. We need to do a better job of turning those into field goals.”

Only one scoring drive ended in a field goal for the Aggies, who gained 344 total yards, including 319 through air. Quarterback Jordan Love was 29-for-44 and ran for one score while running back Darwin Thompson had two rushing touchdowns.

Michigan State seemed to settle in late in the first half and through the third quarter. But an interception returned for a touchdown by Utah State late in the third quarter seemed to shift momentum. The Aggies were able to put together a 15-play drive to take the lead with 5:05 to play in the game.

After the MSU offense rallied, Utah State got the ball back with two minutes to play. Quickly, the Aggies were at midfield.

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“When we got near the 50-yard line we started to be a little bit more aggressive,” Tressel said, “particularly up the middle where we thought we could get some hands up in the quarterback's face. Joe Bachie made a huge play. Bottom line is we got a little more aggressive.”

Bachie was able to put the game away by tipping a Love pass in the air then grabbing it for the interception. It was the big play the Spartans needed, though they know there’s a long way to go to regaining the form they had last season.

“You always hope your biggest improvement is going to be from game one to game two,” Tressel said. “You roll into game one with a high level of confidence, but not really knowing what to expect.

“Obviously we need to make a big play here or there or do better on a third down. Our guys will look at that and take that challenge.”


Slapdash start

Sloppy would be the best way to describe the way Michigan State played overall, and the best example was the nine penalties for 62 yards.

What’s worse was the critical nature of the calls. Twice MSU was at the Utah State 1 and had to settle for field goals. The first time in the first half a false start call stalled things and in the fourth quarter, an illegal formation wiped out a Cody White touchdown.

Other calls also loomed large, including a pass interference on Utah State’s final touchdown drive.

“The unforced penalties, that’s a concern for me,” Michigan State coach Mark Dantonio said. “You jump offsides, call the wrong play in the huddle, not have enough guys on the line of scrimmage on a touchdown pass. Those are the types of things that can be corrected.

“Some of the plays, like the holding calls, some of those things are subject to interpretation, I guess, is the kind way to say that. But I can’t argue that aspect. But some of those we can control.”


Chewins out injured

Junior Cole Chewins missed the game with an undisclosed injury. The 6-foot-8, 290-pound Chewins started the previous 16 games at left tackle, which was tied for the longest streak on the team. The former walk-on from Clarkston has appeared in 24 career games.

Sophomore Luke Campbell, who started 12 games last season at right tackle, moved over to start in place of Chewins while sophomore Jordan Reid got the nod at right tackle. It was the first career start for Reid, who appeared in all 13 games last season as a true freshman.


Not in uniform

In addition to cornerback Josiah Scott and defensive end Dillon Alexander, who have missed most of camp with injuries, others not on the dress list Friday night included sophomore tight end Noah Davis as well as a group of freshman — linebackers Chase Kline and Edward Warinner, tight Trenton Gillison and offensive lineman Dimitri Douglas. Defensive lineman Mufi Hill-Hunt and running back Alante Thomas were also out.


Extra points

Three true freshmen saw action in the opener, including safety Xavier Henderson, defensive tackle Jacob Slade and wide receiver Jalen Nailor.

Henderson was primarily on the kickoff team while Nailor caught his first career pass, a 14-yarder. Slade recorded one tackle but also had a quarterback hurry.

… Fifth-year senior tight end Matt Sokol was the game-day captain.

… Redshirt freshman Cole Hahn handled the kickoffs, beating out fellow redshirt freshman Tyler Hunt for the job.