Michigan State vs. Utah State score: What we learned as No. 11 Spartans avoid a big upset
Yes, Michigan State is 1-0, but what does its close call mean moving forward?
College football's Week 1 almost didn't make it to Saturday without an upset. After falling behind early, No. 11 Michigan State battled back and forth with Utah State until it finally secured a 38-31 win. It definitely wasn't pretty, and Michigan State comes out of the game looking much worse than its preseason ranking would have otherwise suggested. Remember, too, that this was coming into the night.
Week 1 games don't always have grand meaning. In this case, Michigan State hoped to get out of Week 1 as anonymously as possible. Instead, there are major lessons learned -- not all of them good.
1. Michigan State's blocking is troublesome: Something that looks like it will be a season-long concern for the Spartans is blocking. All of it. Running the ball was a chore but the protection that quarterback Brian Lewerke received -- or lack thereof -- should be something to worry about. Granted, not every missed assignment is always an offensive lineman's fault. Running backs have assignments and quarterbacks can stand in the pocket for too long without feeling pressure. But in this case, Utah State, hat on hat, got a lot of wins in the pressure department. Credit to them, and it showed up in a few ways. The running game couldn't punch it in from outside the goal line on two key drives that resulted in field goals. Lewerke was throwing high on multiple passes and threw a pick-six in the third quarter. This is Utah State -- not Penn State, not Ohio State, not Michigan, all of whom Sparty has yet to face.
2. So is its pass defense: Utah State scored on its first offensive drive, marching 75 yards in two minutes. That's not a huge deal for Michigan State, as opening drives can sometimes be a wake-up call. But then the Aggies drove the length of the field again in the first half to go up 14-13. They did so again in the second half. And it's not like Utah State had a balanced offense; it had a whopping 1 yard per carry on 25 attempts. Quarterback Jordan Love is going to be a ton of fun to watch this season, but Michigan State needs to figure out some answers for its pass defense.
3. Wide receiver Felton Davis III is a dude: If there's one bright spot from Friday's game for Michigan State, it's Davis. The big senior had a nice evening with three grabs for 69 yards and a score. When the Spartans needed a play, he delivered on more than one occasion. He's a big-bodied guy who can box out and fight through defenders to win those tough-to-catch balls.
4. The officiating was ___: You can fill in with your favorite, probably NSFW response, but it was definitely frustrating to say the least. An odd shovel pass-looking play by Lewerke was ruled a fumble and not reviewed. While certainly an ill-advised play by Lewerke, it was a bad look for the refs. There was also a Michigan State catch that was called back with not a ton of evidence and a Utah State touchdown that could have been ruled down. This isn't to say anyone was robbed -- there are a ton of judgement calls that go into a football game, all of which influence the outcome in some way -- but if nothing else, the officiating on Friday was choppy and inconsistent. For everyone's sake, it deserves to be better.
5. This is, sadly, a familiar tale for the Aggies: Utah State has made a career out of coming up just short against heavy favorites. Most famously, the Aggies gave Auburn, the defending national champs, everything it could handle in 2011. One year later, they blew a second-half lead against Wisconsin and missed a go-ahead field goal in the final seconds. The year after that, the Aggies lost to Utah and USC by four and three points, respectively. And now this. In all, Utah State is 5-56 against ranked opponents and 2-45 on the road. There's just something about the Aggies that pulls at the collective heartstrings of anyone not facing them in these big games. They've come so close, so often, and have routinely come up short. The silver lining is they'll still walk away with a $1.4 million check for playing the game. But laughing all the way to the bank is so much easier when a "W" accompanies you.
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