Unless you noticed the different uniforms, stadium and names, you could have flipped on tonight’s game between No. 13 Michigan State and No. 24 Boise State and thought, even if only briefly, that you were watching a replay of Thursday’s game between South Carolina and Vanderbilt.
Down to the 17-13 final score, tonight’s season opener in East Lansing shared a few qualities from the SEC’s weeknight introduction: turnovers, huge momentum swings, but little in the way of effective passing games. But, my oh my, can Spartans running back Le’Veon Bell carry the rock. Fourty-four times, in fact, for 210 yards — four more yards than Boise State had all night.
Which leads me to the real difference in tonight’s game: Michigan State’s defense. It was everything as advertised. Sparty kept Boise State to just 37 yards rushing, less than 50 percent completion percentage and no offensive touchdowns. The only time the Broncos found the end zone all night was on a Jeremy Ioane interception returned 43 yards for a touchdown. It was one of three picks made by Boise on the night.
So, yes, Andrew Maxwell struggled mightily at times in his first start replacing Kirk Cousins. That’s where Bell came in to save the day, but that needs to change eventually. Even at nearly 250 pounds, Bell can’t realistically average 40 carries a game. No one can.
Sure, Maxwell needs to improve, but he needs help too. Sparty’s O-line underachieved against an unproven Broncos D-line, and the passing game needs a new name outside of Bell (six catches for 55 yards) and tight end Dion Sims (seven grabs for 65 yards).
The turnover at quarterback and receiver was a concern heading into tonight, and it was certainly validated, but it’s impossible to know just where Michigan State stacks up in the Big Ten Legends division. Not tonight, anyway. For one, no one else in the Big Ten has played yet, but like we mentioned in the Wazzu-BYU post game report, opening week games are terrible gauges for the rest of the season.
All anyone really knows about Michigan State is the defense is much farther along than the offense — but that was expected. What wasn’t so much was how close Boise State kept the score. Again, that’s a tribute to Chris Petersen. Simply put, the guy is one of the best damn coaches in the country.
Think about it. Boise State lost 17 starters from a group that won 50 games together — though it should be pointed out that many on the field tonight played a role in those wins — and (again) somehow managed* to hang with a supposedly superior opponent without a single offensive touchdown.
(*Something about Michigan State turning the ball over four times.)
But I digress…
Michigan State’s defense is good enough by itself to give Mark Dantonio‘s team a shot at a Big Ten title. The focus for the Spartans now centralizes on making a young offense more cohesive.
That simply comes with time. When you have a defense like Michigan State does, that’s a luxury you actually do possess.