FINAL: No. 11 Michigan State barely survives Utah State
No. 11 Michigan State has won its home opener 19-straight times since 1999 and is 11-1 in season-openers in coach Mark Dantonio’s 12 years in East Lansing.
And on Friday night against Utah State, the Spartans barely kept that streak alive as they were able to hold off the Aggies late, 38-31.
"I feel like it was a pretty sloppy game," redshirt junior quarterback Brian Lewerke said postgame after. "Could've done a lot of things better, obviously. But I'm glad to get the win."
Utah State started off as the aggressors, as redshirt sophomore quarterback Jordan Love had a 1-yard touchdown run to finish off a seven play, 75-yard drive which lasted the first 2:02 of the game.
For the remainder of the quarter, the Spartans would only put up six points, thanks to a 49-yard and 32-yard field goal by redshirt sophomore kicker Matt Coghlin. The 49-yard field goal was a career-high for Coghlin.
Lewerke started off the second quarter fumbling on his own 40-yard line, but nothing came of it as the defense forced Utah State to punt.
After redshirt senior Jake Hartbarger’s first punt of the evening, senior safety Khari Willis intercepted Love to give MSU the ball on the Aggies’ 37-yard line.
"I think I just went to the ball — it was a tipped ball," Willis said. "Credit to up front. We had great pressure and it kind of came right to me."
Lewerke then took the Spartans the remainder of the way, capping the drive with a 8-yard pass to sophomore wide receiver Cody White. White ended with five receptions, 70 receiving yards and one touchdown.
Utah State junior running back Darwin Thompson answered back, however, running it in from the 2-yard line to give the Aggies the 14-13 lead with 6:55 left in the first half.
Lewerke and the offense then chewed 6:24 off the clock, and resulted in Lewerke tossing a 10-yard pass to senior Felton Davis III and giving the Spartans a 20-14 lead going into halftime.
Coming out of the half, MSU picked up where they left off, as their first possession of the second half ended in a 17-yard touchdown run by sophomore Connor Heyward, which was his first career rushing touchdown.
But Lewerke kept things close, as a pass intended for freshman wide receiver Jalen Nailor was intercepted for a touchdown by Utah State redshirt senior safety Gaje Ferguson to make it 27-24 MSU.
After the Ferguson pick-six, MSU marched down the field and had an opportunity to get back up double-digits, as Lewerke hit White in the end zone for a second time. However, MSU was penalized for illegal formation which resulted in a 24-yard field goal by Coghlin and a 30-24 Spartan lead.
The Aggies wouldn't back down, as they drove the ball 75 yards ending in Thompson's second touchdown of the day from 1-yard out, to give Utah State the 31-30 lead.
""They got the ball to the people they needed to get to," Dantonio said. "I thought they had good play selection. And (Love) found the guy, he found the open guy and run after catch a little bit. So there's always going to be challenges with the Utah State team. From last season on, when you watch No. 10, you feel very, very good ball and he's a force in the pocket."
Lewerke then drove the ball for eight plays, handing Heyward the ball on the ninth play for a 13-yard touchdown run, Heyward's second of the night. Heyward finished with five rushes for 42 yards, along with 63 return yards from kickoffs, while Lewerke finished completing 23 of 33 passes for 287 yards, two touchdowns and the lone interception to Ferguson.
"I don't think it was just a point for me, but everybody wanted to start of the season on the right foot," Hewyard said. "But I wasn't expecting this, it just came. You can't be satisfied with this. You have to go back Monday and prepare like this didn't happen."
Love would then have his pass tipped and intercepted by junior Joe Bachie on the next possession, giving MSU the 38-31 victory.
And for defensive coordinator and linebackers coach Mike Tressel, a play that was "big time."
"It felt like after he got up in the air and tipped that thing, that ball was up there for days," Tressel said. "I saw all of our defensive linemen, two (line)backers blitzing — I felt like they were spinning around, looking in the air forever. And he came down with that, as well as tipping it. But those are the type of plays that Joe can make."
Willis and Dantonio both said they don't believe they lucked out in winning against Utah State, but, according to Willis, the Aggies "came to play."
"Sometimes, they're close," Willis said. "We know there's a lot of things to do to get better, and that's exciting. So we're looking forward to going to week two."
Stay with The State News for postgame coverage.