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Lansing State Journal columnist Graham Couch gives his first thoughts on the victory of the 38th-31st. Michigan State Spartans over Utah State Friday night at Spartan Stadium.
. 1 That's just not enough
Forget about the Big Ten race or the College Football playoff talk, if the Spartans just hope to finish better than fourth place in the East Division, the Friday's push through the offensive line will not make him to cut . LJ Scott had no stretcher for more than 4 yards until his 10th wearing. He was in no hurry of more than 7 yards until his 16th attempt – and for the most part he had nowhere to go.
MSU mixed his line, moving Matt Allen to the center, Tyler Higby to the left attacker, and freshman Blake Bueter to the left guard as he searched for a wave. In short running situations, MSU used Brian Lewerke more to crawl than to end the game with Scott, and in the third quarter on the goal line MSU threw the ball instead of shooting a third shot with Scott.
MSU's average in the second half of Connor Heyward and Lewerke was compounded by big runs – and until the last drive it was strange that he left Heyward. Big winners on the ground are important. It can not be everything. But even more important is the ability to consistently handle 5-, 6-, and 7-yard runs. Especially against a mountain-west opponent who, regardless of his experience on the defensive, offered less resistance than MSU against much of his big ten slate. It is these regular chunks that wear down defense mechanisms and create a demoralizing situation for adversaries, considering the more than acceptable attack of the MSU.
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MSU struggled with consistency against Bowling Green and Western Michigan a year ago to postpone the stack with consistency, pointing to a season in which the bottom game worked too often. Improvement can happen. But that was a rough start.
2. MSU's passing game will perform well – as protection improves
Brian Lewerke made mistakes. He dropped a potential touchdown pass to Cody White on MSU's first possession and opted for a 40-yard win. His pick-6 interception at the end of the third quarter made the result tricky for a long time. But the passing game of MSU is in good shape – made clear by the game and the courage on the final race.
There is a clear chemistry between Lewerke and his three wideouts – Cody White, Darrell Stewart Jr. and Felton Davis III. Each of these guys made notable games on Friday night, nothing better than White's third grip with Vise-Grip, followed by Davis's deep catch on the game-winning ride. It was not a low season for Lewerke and Co., but it was pretty effective.
This crew will become what it hopes to become when the core game gets underway and Lewerke is protected. He saw considerable pressure from Utah State, who fired him three times and hurried him at least four more.
Some of it falls on the offensive line, which also fought in the running game – Sophomore Jordan Reid was badly beaten the right edge leads to a sack. Part of it was lightning protection.
Lewerke is the franchise, even more so as MSU's bottom game does not bring much fruit. MSU protected him well last year and only allowed 1.8 sacks per game. Protection needs to be better than Friday for several reasons, including Lewke's chance to survive the season.
3. The defense of MSU found its foot and then it lost, then survived
Jordan Love of Utah State turned out to be decent QB, with agility, speed Offensive, with a veteran offensive line in front of him. This is a pain to defend. And after a hard start, MSU's defense got things under control for a while. The pressure of Jacub Panasiuk produced a Khari Willis interception, which soon brought the Spartans into the foreground.
But while Utah State could not effectively lead football in the traditional sense, he moved it. And moves it when MSU needs a stop to win the game. The defense of MSU showed flashes of a group that could be really good. But this is not the "No Fly Zone" or a crew that is currently able to demoralize an offense.
The Spartans will see speed again – at least as soon as Indiana on September 22nd. Probably more often given what happened on Friday.
That Joe Bachie's last tip and the election of Joe Bachie prevented a catastrophe – a loss that would have changed this season. There is much to gather.
Contact Graham Couch at [email protected] Follow him on Twitter @Graham_Couch