Despite elite defensive showing, offense shows flaws against Tulsa

MSU’s defense dominates with -73 rushing yards allowed, but offense disappoints in opener

Alex McRae, Football Beat Reporter

EAST LANSING, Mich. – This offseason, Mark Dantonio and new offensive coordinator Brad Salem promised changes on the offensive side of the ball, while also praising the system that had been championed by former offensive coordinator, and current quarterbacks coach Dave Warner.

Many among the Michigan State faithful were cautiously optimistic following what was the worst offensive showing by a Michigan State football team in recent memory. Originally, that offensive optimism was seemingly warranted following a successful first drive that ended in a touchdown pass from Brian Lewerke to Connor Heyward.

“We’re gonna be an up-tempo offense,” head coach Mark Dantonio said. “I thought Lewerke was sharp, thought he threw the ball with velocity, thought he scrambled out of there well and made some plays.”

Brian Lewerke/Photo: MSU Athletic Communications

As the first half dragged on, the cheers that once filled the air surrounding Spartan Stadium were replaced by boos. A combination of penalties, overthrows and poor blocking resulted in the “new look” Michigan State offense stalling out, not once, not twice, but six times tonight.

The inability to run the football has been a problem ever since LJ Scott went down with an injury at Arizona State last September. Granted, the Michigan State offensive line has been riddled with injuries since that time as well, but the blocking was unimpressive Friday night.

Nothing seemed to align on the offensive side of the ball, whenever Lewerke would throw a catchable ball, it would be dropped, whenever the receiver would catch the ball, the play would be called back on a holding call. Penalties, drops and the inability to run the football characterized the night for the Spartans’ offense. 

The culmination of the running backs only accumulating 66 yards on the ground, Lewerke only completing 56% of his passes for 192 yards, along with Michigan State gifting the Golden Hurricane 122 yards in penalties also put a damper on the offense in the opener.

“[We] just got to be able to finish drives once we get down there, stay penalty free, and put the ball in the end zone” Lewerke said.

“Just gotta keep pushing, keep moving on and getting better.”

Connor Heyward/Photo: MSU Athletic Communications

It appears that against even Tulsa, a team that went 3-9 in Conference-USA last season, not much has changed for this Michigan State team. The offense was just as hard to watch tonight as it was throughout all of 2018.

That said, this Michigan State team excelled on the other side of the ball. The defense that had kept opponents up at night last season may be even better this season. It’s hard to believe that a defense that was second in the nation in yards per carry and first in rushing yards allowed could improve, but based on the spectacle this unit put on Friday, that appears to be very possible.

The defense scored as many touchdowns as the offense today, and if that is the trend for the rest of the season, it will be a long one for Michigan State. All negatives aside, the defense truly did show out today, and essentially won the game tonight, holding Tulsa’s rushing attack to a staggering -73 yards on the ground.

Following Friday’s 28-7 victory, the Spartans will look to improve on this performance next weekend when the Western Michigan Broncos come to East Lansing on Saturday, Sept 7. 

Contact Alex McRae at [email protected]. Follow him on Twitter at @amac595