For Whom The Bell Tolls
Led by a 210-yard, two touchdown effort by running back Le'Veon Bell, MSU downs Boise State under the lights
Junior running back Le’Veon Bell smiles as he walks toward the center of the field after defeating Boise State 17-13. Bell rushed for a net total of 210 yards in the victorious home opener. Matt Hallowell/The State News
A juke. A spin. A leap. A push.
Le’Veon Bell showcased every trick in his magic bag Friday night — and the Spartans needed every single one.
The junior running back powered the No. 13 MSU football team to a 17-13 victory over No. 24 Boise State, finishing with 44 carries for 210 yards and two touchdowns — both career highs — in a smashmouth game that wasn’t easy on the eyes.
As junior quarterback Andrew Maxwell struggled to find his footing in his first career start, Bell and a determined defense led the way, helping the Spartans to a come-from-behind victory in front of a raucous crowd of 78,709.
The Spartan defense gave junior quarterback Joe Southwick a rude awakening in his first career start, forcing a three and out on the game’s opening possession with pressure that remained constant throughout the night.
Although the start was rocky for Maxwell, he looked sharp on the game’s opening possession, completing 4-of-4 passes for 25 yards, smoothly moving the offense down the field with Bell, who carried eight times for 35 yards, before finishing off the drive with a one-yard touchdown run.
Dion Sims proved to be a reliable target for Maxwell, totalling seven catches for 65 yards, but it didn’t take long for Maxwell to begin looking shaky.
He followed the opening drive by completing just seven of his next 18 passes, including three interceptions, one of which was returned 43 yards by sophomore safety Jeremy Ioane for a touchdown that tied the game at 10 with 8:53 to go in the first half.
The Broncos would tack on a 19-yard field goal and head into the locker room with a 13-10 lead at the half.
Maxwell finished the game completing 22-of-38 passes for 248 yards with three interceptions and said the first half mistakes were disappointing, but ultimately made him stronger.
“(It’s) not exactly how you dream the first half to go, but you have to play for the next play,” he said. “Mistakes are going to happen, those are growing pains. … There’s a character to our team to bring me back from those mistakes and just keep battling, sustain drives when we needed and … get the win.”
The offense’s struggles continued through the third quarter, but a dominant performance by the Spartan defense kept Boise State at bay.
The Broncos were held scoreless in the second half and were limited to 35 yards in the third quarter, before finishing with 206 yards.
It’s the first time since 1997 that Boise State has been held without an offensive touchdown and five years since the Broncos were held below 16 points, prompting head coach Mark Dantonio to describe the defensive performance as “outstanding.”
“(Defensive coordinator Pat) Narduzzi and the staff did a great job, and our guys responded very well,” Dantonio said. “They played near shutout ball against a team who averages over 40 points a game traditionally. … We knew this would be a tough game, but the thing that impressed me was that our players responded.”
The most definitive response came from Bell, who pounded the ball to score the game-winning touchdown on a five-yard run with 8:12 to go in the game, before running out the clock after junior cornerback Darqueze Dennard broke up a critical fourth down pass with 6:32 to go.
Yet, despite the hard fought win, senior cornerback Johnny Adams said there’s a lot of work left to be done.
“A lot of guys feel like we played subpar, including myself,” Adams said. “We definitely want to go out there and work on improvements. … We’ve got a lot of adjustments that we’ve got to make.”