Bell and Sims help MSU avoid upset, knock off Eastern Michigan 23-7
Junior tight end Dion Sims smiles after defeating Eastern Michigan, 23-7, on Saturday, Sept. 22, 2012, at Spartan Stadium. Sims had one touchdown during the game. Justin Wan/The State News
As he went to the locker room, with boos raining down from the stands, Dion Sims knew he had to do something.
He couldn’t afford to be the underclassman that showed occasional flashes of potential anymore.
With the No. 21 MSU football team (3-1) trailing Eastern Michigan (0-4) 7-3 at halftime, Sims hadn’t caught a pass, and the offense couldn’t find a rhythm.
But when the attention turned to Sims in the second half, the junior tight end delivered, pulling in six catches for a career-high 112 yards and a touchdown, and teaming with Le’Veon Bell to help the Spartans avoid an upset, defeating EMU 23-7.
“I felt a sense of urgency; I felt like something had to be done,” Sims said. “I just challenged myself to be great, and that’s making plays every time. That’s something I have to do.”
MSU’s offense was unable to get going in the first half, with inaccuracy from junior quarterback Andrew Maxwell and a number of dropped passes from receivers contributing to just 31 passing yards in the first half, an average of about 1.6 yards per pass attempt.
After junior receiver Bennie Fowler fumbled at the MSU 23-yard line, EMU sophomore quarterback Tyler Benz found junior receiver Donald Scott for a 23-yard touchdown pass on the ensuing play to give the Eagles the lead at halftime.
Head coach Mark Dantonio said his team was flat in the first half, and said it was surprising to see since the team was coming off a 20-3 loss to Notre Dame last week.
“You have to catch the ball. Throwing and catching. If there’s nothing wrong with the route and the ball is there you have to catch it,” Dantonio said. “I hate to lay it out there like that, but that’s just the way it is.
“We need to bring our emotion every day, and our emotion was not there in the first half and consequently we were flat. That’s what we saw. We picked it up in the second half and played better.”
It was Bell and Sims that led the charge, combining for 365 of MSU’s 428 yards of total offense, including a career-high 253 rushing yards from Bell, the sixth-highest total in MSU history.
After two third quarter field goals from senior kicker Dan Conroy gave MSU a 9-7 lead heading into the fourth quarter, the duo of Bell and Sims came alive, each scoring touchdowns to put the game out of reach.
“When they do turn to me, I’ve got to make those plays,” Bell said. “When the ball’s in my hands I’m going to do whatever it takes to score points, whether it’s … blocking or whatever it may be, I’ve got to help (Maxwell) and the receivers, and the offensive line. That’s my job.”
After struggling in the first half — completing 9-of-19 passes for 31 yards — Maxwell performed better in the second half, completing 7-of-10 passes for 128 yards and a touchdown, and said the difficulties in the passing game were more an issue of MSU’s mistakes rather than the play of EMU’s defense.
“We’re just missing opportunities when plays are there to be made,” Maxwell said. “Who’s (at) fault is irrelevant; we’re just not making the plays, and that’s something we need to do.”
Still, Maxwell said the team’s ability to battle back and close out the victory in the fourth quarter is something to build on, and he believes will help to make them better.
“We battled back and that’s the sign of a good team,” he said. “When you don’t play your best and you start slow, when you’ve got to dig down deep, and you’ve got to fight one out, it’s going to help. It doesn’t matter who the opponent is or the situation. When you’re down and you have to come together … as a team, you’re going to grow closer because of that.”