If there’s anybody who probably doesn’t mind winning ugly, it’s Mark Dantonio. Of course, that doesn’t mean he will like it after the fact.
No. 11 Michigan State looked rusty on both sides of the ball and nowhere near the kind of team their ranking suggested during their season-opener against Utah State on Friday night, needing a few key plays down the stretch to hold on for a 38-31 win. It was surprising to see given how many starters returned from last year’s 10-3 squad but also had quite a bit to do with how pesky the Aggies were on the big stage too.
Though he was unable to pull off the upset and trailed off after halftime, USU quarterback Jordan Love was impressive given the environment and wound up throwing for 281 yards (one interception) and was just about the lone rushing threat too with a touchdown on the ground. Utah State mounted a trio of 70+ yard touchdown drives in the game — including the game’s opener that proved the team was more than ready to play. Five different receivers had more than 20 yards through the air and tailback Darwin Thompson did find the end zone twice despite the run game being pretty much bottled up.
Perhaps just as impressive was Matt Wells’ defense on the night. In addition to creating quite a bit of pressure, Gaje Ferguson hauled in a pick-six in the second half that led to a 10-point swing in just 14 seconds on the clock. In the end though, it just wasn’t quite enough as Utah State nearly pulled off the top 25 upset on the road they’ve threatened to win several times the past decade.
As for the Spartans, there were a few bright spots on defense like Joe Bachie (11 tackles) grabbing game-sealing interception and Khari Willis coming down with another pick in the first half. It was still not quite enough to be encouraged if you were Dantonio or a member of the MSU faithful, especially given the number of veterans in action on the night and the fact that they just recorded just one sack against a Group of Five opponent.
Quarterback Brian Lewerke was far from sharp despite being labeled by many as a dark horse Heisman candidate entering 2018. Though his numbers were solid with 287 yards and two scores through the air, the pick-six came on an awful decision and he never could quite find a rhythm. If anything, he was bailed out quite a bit by his receivers — particularly Felton Davis with 69 yards and a touchdown.
Running back LJ Scott rushed for 84 yards and contributed quite a bit in the passing game as well but never could quite bust out the big run.
You’ll hear quite a bit of ‘A win is a win’ coming out of the Michigan State locker room this week but the bottom line is that the team very much escaped a close call on Friday. If the Spartans are to truly challenge Ohio State, Michigan and Penn State in their division and work their way into Playoff contention, then a much better effort is needed going forward.
It looked as though Air Force (2-1, 0-1 Mountain West) was going to be giving No. 20 Boise State (4-0, 1-0 Mountain West) some absolute fits Friday night in Boise, Idaho, but the Broncos pulled away from the Falcons with a strong second half in a 30-19 win. Hank Bachmeier passed for 263 yards and a pair of touchdowns in the win as Boise State opened up conference play on the right foot at home.
Air Force lost some potential to spring an upset of the Broncos with an injury to quarterback Donald Hammond. Without Hammond on the field, Air Force’s option offense lost its ability to pick up some key yards when it needed it the most, but credit should also be given to the Boise State defense. Once again, the Broncos took firm control of a game after halftime, just as they have all season.
The win gives Boise State an early lead in the Mountain Division of the Mountain West Conference. Boise State certainly has the look of the best all-around team in the conference so far too, and few teams appear to be the kind of second-half team Boise State has become. The offense comes alive in the second half and the defense continues to keep opponents down after the half. Air Force managed to pick up a touchdown in the fourth quarter, but the game was well out of reach at that point.
Air Force did rack up 242 yards on the ground, which is to be expected given their offensive style, but Boise State held firm on fourth down attempts by the Falcons (0-for-2 on fourth down). Boise State was also only called for three penalties in the game and went without a turnover. It was a pretty clean game for the Broncos.
Boise State will get a week off before playing again. The Broncos will be on the road on Oct. 5 to play UNLV and return to the blue turf a week later against Hawaii.
Air Force will play next week with a home game against San Jose State.
Playing with a third-strong quarterback, USC is looking to make a statement at home against No. 10 Utah. The Pac-12 contest has been heated from the start with some chippiness and personal foul penalties, and a couple of notable injuries. At the halftime break in the Los Angeles Coliseum, USC leads Utah 14-10.
Utah blew a chance to trim the lead a little bit more or take the lead just before halftime, but a botched handoff by Tyler Huntley led to a fumble recovery by USC in the final 20 seconds of the half from inside the USC five-yard line.
On the second play of the game, USC quarterback Kedon Slovis was removed from the game and examined for a possible head injury. Matt Fink entered the game and led USC to two touchdown drives in the first quarter. Already with over 200 passing yards, Fink and the USC offense ran into a bit of a wall for the rest of the half. USC went three-and-out on their first possession after taking a 14-7 lead. A fumble by Stephen Carr after a 16-yard gain gave Utah possession at their 20-yard line. USC then went three-and-out on their next possession, after the Utes chipped away at the deficit with a field goal.
Later in the half, Utah wide receiver Zack Moss left the game and was being checked for a possible shoulder injury.
Penalties also became a major factor in the second quarter with a handful of questionable roughing the passer and unsportsmanlike conduct penalties. Utah has already committed nine penalties for 75 yards, while USC has done their part to have laundry thrown on the field with six penalties for 70 yards. The officials have certainly earned their paycheck tonight so far.
A matchup of undefeated Mountain West Conference teams has been everything it was supposed to be. Air Force is giving Boise State a good battle on the strength of their running game. The two teams are tied 10-10 at the break.
After a scoreless first quarter, Air Force and Boise State exchanged touchdown drives in the second quarter. The Falcons opened the scoring with Donald Hammond III running eight yards for a score. Boise State answered with Hank Bachmeier tossing a 36-yard pass to CT Thomas for a score.
After forcing Air Force to punt on the ensuing possession, the Broncos took their first lead of the game minutes later. Eric Sachse booted a 40-yard field goal to give the home team a 10-7 lead.
As expected, Air Force has thrived by chewing up yards on the ground, but a pass completion from Hammond III to Ben Peterson late in the second quarter moved the football to the Boise State 13-yard line and a first down. That late drive ended with a field goal by Jake Koehnke to send the teams to the locker rooms all squared up.
We should have a good finish coming up on the blue turf in the second half.
USC quarterback Kedon Slovis started Friday night’s game against Utah, but he may have been knocked out of the game after just two plays. Matt Fink has replaced Slovis, at least for now, after Slovis headed to the USC locker room early in the first quarter. According to a sideline report on the telecast, Slovis was being treated for a possible head injury.
Utah defensive tackle Leki Fatu came charging at Slovis on a 2nd-and-1 play on the second snap of the game. After Fink got the ball away, Fatu finished off a clean play in the college game (FS1 analyst Brock Huard correctly noted the follow-through to take the quarterback to the ground would be flagged in the NFL). Slovis struggled to get back on his feet as he attempted to get off the ground.
Fink, USC’s third-string quarterback behind Slovis and J.T. Daniels (who was injured and out for the year after the season opener), got right to work to finish off the opening drive. Fink missed on his first throw but then connected on his next three attempts, including a 29-yard pass to Tyler Vaughns for the early lead. Utah cruised down the field on the ensuing possession to tie it up.
This post will be updated with more information on Slovis once it becomes available.