It wasn’t an apology, but rather, a confession. Michigan State wide receiver Cody White did not play the greatest stretch of football of his career Friday night.
“I played probably the worst half of football I've ever played in my life,” White said.
He committed a few drops. So did Darrell Stewart Jr. And Elijah Collins. And Matt Dotson. And La’Darius Jefferson.
Michigan State’s offense had penalties too. A lot of them. So did the defense and special teams.
Fourteen of them for 122 yards to be exact.
Drops and penalties didn’t stop No. 18 Michigan State from defeating Tulsa 28-7 Friday night in its season opener, but it kept the game from getting out of hand. And nobody on the roster is happy about it.
“I was sitting on the sideline and Kenny looked at me and asked, ‘What was wrong?'” Michigan State linebacker Joe Bachie said. “I was like, ‘We are way too sloppy tonight.’ Offensively we were sloppy. Special teams, I think we had two or three penalties. ... that will kill your drive.”
Friday night’s win had the looks of a blowout victory for MSU. It probably should have been. MSU’s defense gave it a chance to be. Penalties kept it from being one.
"We gotta execute," White said. "We can’t jump offsides, we can’t hold, we can’t do things of that nature just to put us back. ... We were hurting ourselves tonight."
In many cases, the Spartans left a lot of points off the scoreboard.
MSU led 10-0 when a botched snap sent the ball over Tulsa’s quarterback Zach Smith’s head. The Spartans recovered it at the Golden Hurricane’s 21-yard line. An unsportsmanlike conduct penalty pushed MSU back. On that same drive, a holding call negated a 15-yard run by Brian Lewerke.
The Spartans could've scored a touchdown. They ended up with a field goal instead.
In the third quarter, a touchdown run by Elijah Collins was brought back by a holding call.
“What I was disappointed in is, we got the opportunities on a short field, we gotta make them,” Mark Dantonio said. “We got some dropped balls. ... I thought the play calling was pretty good. But you got to execute. When it goes from third-and-two to third-and-12, (there) comes problems sometimes.”
After an opening drive touchdown, MSU’s offense struggled to find the end zone. A lot of that was due to execution. It seemed like any chance the Spartans had to take a step forward, they took many steps back in the form of a holding call. Or a false start. And as good as the Spartan defense played, it too was plagued by self-inflicted mistakes.
The Golden Hurricane’s lone scoring drive was extended after a third-down roughing the passer called on Kenny Willekes.
“We always talk about how we can’t shoot ourselves in the foot defensively,” Bachie said. “Without that penalty, they don’t go down and score. That's what's going to kill us.”
The Spartans didn’t hurt themselves to the point where it cost them a win Friday night. But Lewerke said it is something that they will look to correct going forward.
“I think that was a big thing with penalties,” Lewerke said. “We were killing ourselves. We just have to eliminate those. Probably a couple throws that I could have made that would have made a difference. So, we just gotta to figure those out.”
Offensive line shuffle fails to help rushing attack
Kevin Jarvis hadn’t played left tackle in his college career. But when A.J. Arcuri — who was filling in for injured Cole Chewins — went down in practice, he was unexpectedly thrown into the role.
MSU used many offensive line combinations during its win against Tulsa. But, none of them fit the listed combination on MSU's depth chart.
The Spartans’ depth chart had Arcuri listed at left tackle with Tyler Higby at left guard, Matt Allen or Blake Bueter at center, Jarvis at right guard and Jordan Reid at right tackle.
But, With Jarvis sliding in at left tackle, that meant Matt Carrick moved into his spot at right guard.
“A.J. was nicked up and he was able to practice but not be able to push off with enough — you know we he was nicked up,” Dantonio said. “We felt like the best lineup we had at this point in time was putting Matt Carrick at guard and Kevin Jarvis had worked at tackle a lot for the past two weeks and has done a nice job.”
MSU chose to solidify its tackle positions, with Jarvis on the left and Jordan Reid at right tackle, and consistently shifted the interior of their offensive line looking for a solid combination. Luke Campbell and Bueter each saw time at left guard. Bueter also shared snaps with Matt Allen at center And Carrick split time with Higby at right guard.
To the Spartans' dismay, none of the combinations could get a solid push against the Golden Hurricane defense. The Spartans ran for only 108 yards, averaging just 2.7 yards per carry, with Connor Heyward leading the way rushing for 43 yards on 15 carries.
“Sometimes there’s leverage issues sometimes it's not getting the job done,” Dantonio said. “We will look at the film and evaluate what went wrong."