“Over one, over all we will reign.”
Neither team exactly reigned, as the above verse from Western Michigan’s fight song implies. But it did rain over all at Spartan Stadium — including a nearly hour-long weather delay — in MSU’s uninspiring 26-13 win against the visiting Broncos on Friday night in the 2013 season-opener.
With an abundance of talent returning on defense, MSU lived up to its billing on that side of the ball, outscoring its offense with two touchdowns and wearing down the Broncos in the home stretch with its depth and physicality.
The Spartans offense, however, struggled to move the ball effectively for much of the night, drawing flashbacks of 2012 with inconsistent quarterback play, shaky line protection and more dropped passes. Senior Andrew Maxwell started his 14th consecutive game for MSU under center, but he and sophomore Connor Cook split time managing the offense with mixed results.
Maxwell completed 11-of-21 passes for 74 yards, while Cook went 6-for-16 for 42 yards and ran four times for 35 yards.
“Basically I can just say, very disappointing for myself and us as an offensive football team,” said Dave Warner, co-offensive coordinator and running backs coach.
“I think that’s pretty obvious. Just for the fact that we put a big emphasis going all the way back to spring practice on not making mistakes as far as penalties. We wanted to catch the ball with a high percentage, which we didn’t do, and creating big plays, which we didn’t do. Those were probably the big three things that stand out in my mind.”
As high as the expectations are on this year’s defense, the coaching staff desperately wanted to improve the number of big plays such as sacks, turnovers and touchdowns compared to last season. MSU head coach Mark Dantonio was pleased with the defenders for the most part, who recorded five sacks and held Western Michigan to just 11 yards on 27 carries.
Junior safety Kurtis Drummond provided the explosive plays early, scoring MSU’s first touchdown of the season on a ball lateraled to him as senior safety-turned-linebacker Jairus Jones was being tackled after his interception.
Two possessions later, Drummond made an outstanding leaping one-handed interception that was later the No. 1 play on ESPN’s “SportsCenter.”
“If that (play) isn’t in the ‘Top 10’ all weekend, I don’t know what is,” defensive coordinator Pat Narduzzi said.
To start the second quarter the dark clouds rolled in to pour water on the fans and strike lightning close by. The severe weather caused an hour-long delay and an evacuation of the stadium.
Shortly after play resumed with 11:31 remaining in the second quarter following the delay, the Broncos were able to get the ball rolling for the first time.
Drummond appeared to botch the coverage on a deep pass which resulted in a 45-yard gain for Western Michigan. Backup quarterback Zach Terrell filled in for an injured Van Tubbergen for the rest of the game, and tied it at 7-7 with a 14-yard touchdown pass to Clark Mussman.
MSU’s offense was late to the party, finding pay dirt for the first time with 22 ticks until halftime by way of a two-yard run from junior running back Jeremy Langford to go ahead 13-7 after a failed kick attempt. The Spartans’ ground attack wasn’t overly potent, notching 181 yards, but Langford had the best individual game with 101 yards on 20 carries.
Dantonio said there was no scripted plan for how the quarterbacks split the possessions, rather he allowed whichever moved the ball more effectively at the time to stick with it.
Neither passer led MSU to more than a field goal in the third quarter, as Kevin Muma connected on kicks of 20 and 30 yards and widened the margin to 19-7.
“We have to deal with current situations and we have to deal with the present,” Dantonio said. “What I see in the present is we caught the ball all summer long very, very well and, for whatever reason, tonight we didn’t catch the ball as cleanly. We had too many drops.
“I didn’t think our quarterback play was bad. You know, there’s going to be plays you want back as a quarterback but I thought, you know, the ball was on the money and you have to make the catch. It’s pretty simple. You’ve got to have more explosive plays.”
With 9:02 left in the game, the Spartans’ defense earned its second assisted touchdown as junior defensive end Marcus Rush stripped Terrell as fellow end Shilique Calhoun, a sophomore, scooped it 16 yards to the end zone to give MSU a 26-7 lead.
The Broncos managed a final desperation score with 1:51 remaining on a 14-yard touchdown pass against MSU’s backup defenders.
Dantonio didn’t specifically address whether whether both Cook and Maxwell will rotate again next weekend against South Florida. Judging from the way the offense moved the ball today — or didn’t, rather — it’s hard to imagine this quarterback situation settling soon.
“Certainly when you alternate series or you’re getting switched in and out, it is hard to find a rhythm,” Maxwell said. “But that’s coach (Dantonio’s) call and some of that we have to adjust with. It’s certainly not an excuse to stall out. It’s not an excuse to not perform well, so as we go forward that’s something we’re going to have to adjust to and get better because of it.”