Tale of two teams
Defense impresses, offense falters in soggy Western Michigan victory
MSU football coaches and players reflect on their 26-13 win over Western Michigan on Friday to begin the 2013 season. The Spartans excelled defensively against the Broncos while the offense underwhelmed, reminding many of the struggles of 2012.
One side produced a pair of touchdowns, a No. 1 play on “SportsCenter’s” top plays and nearly every celebratory cheer from the crowd of 71,214.
The other managed one touchdown, less than 300 total yards and a handful of boos.
Since the end of last year, football head coach Mark Dantonio has spoken countless times about “finding the inches” this fall to avoid the narrow losses and slips that defined the Spartans’ 2012 season.
In Friday night’s 26-13 win against Western Michigan, the evident gap between MSU’s (1-0 overall) offense and defense seemed like miles.
“Obviously when you look at the things and you look at our defense, our defense played outstanding,” Dantonio said during his Sunday conference call after reviewing film against the Broncos.
“When you look at our offense, obviously, I felt like we had missed opportunities. We need to be more consistent throwing the ball and, I think, running the football. I think we can play better and what I saw were a couple guys dropping the ball where they had not dropped them earlier this fall camp.”
Busting the Broncos
After nearly picking off Western Michigan’s first pass of the game, junior safety Kurtis Drummond suddenly found the ball in his hands on the Broncos’ next possession.
In his first game at linebacker, senior Jairus Jones snagged an interception before quickly pitching to a trailing Drummond, who dashed 21 yards halfway through the first quarter for MSU’s first touchdown of the season.
Once play resumed following a weather delay of almost an hour, Western Michigan backup quarterback Zach Terrell came in and threw a 14-yard touchdown on the first pass of his collegiate career. The game then was tied with 6:14 left in the second quarter with starter Tyler Van Tubbergen sidelined because of an injury.
The Spartan offense reached the end zone for the first and only time of the night 22 seconds away from halftime by way of a 2-yard dive from junior running back Jeremy Langford. The good feelings quickly washed away, though, when a botched snap ruined the extra point kick, giving MSU just a 13-7 lead.
MSU’s advantage grew to 12 with a pair of field goals in the third quarter off the foot of senior kicker Kevin Muma.
The margin got even more comfortable six minutes into the fourth quarter when sophomore defensive end Shilique Calhoun returned a fumble forced by junior defensive end Marcus Rush 16 yards to the house for the second defensive touchdown of the night.
“Sacks and turnovers were two things we emphasized. I thought we came up with them,” Dantonio said after the game. “We played very, very well defensively.”
The big picture
Dantonio turned heads a week ago when he revealed a depth chart listing four quarterbacks as co-starters heading into the tilt with Western Michigan.
As it turned out, only senior Andrew Maxwell and sophomore Connor Cook saw game action, combining for an underwhelming 17-of-37 passing and 116 yards against the Broncos. Maxwell led the offense’s lone touchdown drive, although neither reached the end zone through the air.
Immediately following the game, Dantonio said he didn’t think the quarterback play was bad, rather acknowledging other inhibitors such as broken protections and dropped balls.
On Sunday, he was a bit more critical of the offensive execution.
“Nevertheless, you look at that aspect of the game and I feel like it has to be improved,” Dantonio said. “We need more explosive plays. We need to be able to throw the ball down the field with more success.”
MSU’s 11 punts illustrated the offensive struggles, and more troubling was that many of the problems that plagued the 2012 Spartans repeatedly popped up.
Dropped passes were among the familiar flaws on display against the Broncos, with MSU receivers dropping an unofficial tally of six balls.
“I don’t know what the number is, but I’m surprised,” said Dave Warner, co-offensive coordinator and running backs coach. “Because I think I said throughout the last couple weeks that I thought we’ve done a good job through camp and our receivers were catching the ball well and being very effective.”
Some second-half drives ended with boos, and at one point, a “We want Terry” chant crescendoed from the student section, in reference to true freshman quarterback Damion Terry.
“It’s understandable, you know, as an offense when you seem to be stalling out and you get the ball in good field position and you can’t seem to capitalize,” Maxwell said in response to the fan reaction.
“I can understand how there’s a little unrest, how there’s a little bit of anxiousness by the crowd to want to see the offense move. … (We) can’t let that affect us, can’t let that affect me personally. “
Warner opened up his post-game interview by calling the first game “very disappointing,” and minutes later, without explicitly saying it, Dantonio, brow furrowed with a scowl on his face, seemed to say the same.
After reviewing the film on Sunday, the seventh-year coach shot down a question about shuffling the quarterback situation.
“First of all, those decisions are made in-house and will be shared with the players involved as we move forward,” he said. “I’m not prepared to answer that question at this point in time.”
It’s unknown whether Terry or redshirt freshman Tyler O’Connor will get a serious look from the coaching staff at QB.
Terry still has potential to see the field early this season and remain eligible for a medical redshirt. Cornerback Darian Hicks is the only true freshman to earn game action.
MSU will be heavily favored for the second consecutive week as it welcomes South Florida (0-1) on Saturday to Spartan Stadium. Last week, the Bulls lost to 53-21 to McNeese State, a member of the NCAA Football Championship Subdivision.
“All in all, we count it as a win. They all count one,” Dantonio said. “(We) have to play better as we move forward, and we look for improvement this second game.”