Tuesday, October 20, 2020

Michigan State defense dominates in opening night win

August 30, 2019
<p>Junior cornerback Josiah Scott (22) tackles a Tulsa wide receiver at Spartan Stadium Aug. 30, 2019. The Spartans defeated the Golden Hurricane, 28-7.</p>

Junior cornerback Josiah Scott (22) tackles a Tulsa wide receiver at Spartan Stadium Aug. 30, 2019. The Spartans defeated the Golden Hurricane, 28-7.

Photo by Matt Schmucker | The State News

Tulsa quarterback Zach Smith dropped back to pass on first down. Sack by Shakur Brown. He tried again on second down, but was sacked by Jacub Panasiuk. Smith tried again on third down, only to be dragged to the grass for a two-yard gain.

Punt.

For most of Friday night, Michigan State’s best offense was its defense.

The 18th-ranked Spartans used a dominant defensive effort to defeat Tulsa 28-7 in their season opener.

"1-0, so excited about that," Michigan State coach Mark Dantonio said. "I thought, obviously our defense played outstanding.”

After a first-possession touchdown, MSU’s defense forced three first-half turnovers, blocked a punt, scored on a safety and a touchdown on a fumble recovery to storm out to a 25-0 lead. They also held the Golden Hurricane to negative 73 yards rushing, breaking a 68-year school record.

"I felt that we played very confidently on defense," Kenny Willekes said. "We had some young guys step up, a lot of guys getting pressure on the quarterback, a lot of guys creating turnovers. Those are two big areas that we emphasized in the offseason."

It was cruise-control from there.  

The Spartans navigated down the field with ease on their first possession. The nine-play, 73-yard drive culminated in a 15-yard touchdown pass from Brian Lewerke to Connor Heyward.

Lewerke finished 21 of 37 for 192 yards and one touchdown pass, while Heyward ran for 43 yards on 15 carries and added 28 yards and three catches. Lewerke also moved into sixth place in career completions in MSU history during Friday night's game.

However, that engine quickly stalled. MSU’s offense scored 12 points the rest of the night, courtesy of four field goals by Matt Coghlin. 

"Obviously, there is a lot of stuff to clean up, a little sloppy on our part," Lewerke said. "We gotta be able to finish drives when we get down there, stay penalty free and get the ball in the end zone. Other than that, we just gotta keep pushing, keep moving on and get better."

But, it was more than enough for MSU’s ferocious defense.  

The Golden Hurricane were forced to punt in its first three possessions. Then came the turnovers. First, was a bad snap that launched over Smith’s head and was recovered by Kenny Willekes. It happened again on the Golden Hurricane’s next possession, but Smith managed to kick the ball out of the back of the end zone for a safety that extended MSU’s lead to 15-0 in the second quarter. 

Willekes struck again on Tulsa's next possession when he flew around the edge and met Raequan Williams — at the quarterback who knocked the ball from Smith’s grasp — as Willekes recovered it in the end zone to put the Spartans up 22-0. Three plays later, Antjuan Simmons intercepted Smith’s pass, which led to a Coghlin field goal before the half. 

The Spartans' defense finished with six sacks and 13 tackles for loss as Tulsa gained a total of 80 yards on the night.

MSU (1-0) will be back at Spartan Stadium next week when they host Western Michigan on Sept. 7 (7:30 p.m., Big Ten Network).

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