EAST LANSING — Two touchdowns, three interceptions, five sacks, 11 pass breakups and nine tackles for a loss.
Those numbers are the result of a vicious Michigan State defense having their way with a helpless Western Michigan offense in the Spartans 26-13 season opening victory at Spartan Stadium Friday night.
The defense, who didn’t score a touchdown last season, put points on the board before the MSU offense could even enter Western Michigan territory. It was the defense who came up with exciting plays. And it was the defense who gave the fans a little bit of hope for a promising season ahead.
One of those exciting plays came with 6:27 left in the first quarter when MSU linebacker Jairus Jones got his first of two interceptions on WMU’s quarterback Tyler Van Tubbergen. As he was falling, Jones proceeded to lateral the ball back to his teammate Kurtis Drummond who took the ball 22 yards for a touchdown giving the Spartans their first points of the season.
Drummond followed that touchdown with a spectacular one-handed interception with 1:35 remaining in the first quarter that had the fans, media and his coaches/teammates in complete amazement.
“If that isn’t in the top-10 in ESPN all weekend then I don’t know what is,” MSU defensive coordinator Pat Narduzzi said. “It should probably be the number one play in the country.”
However, while the Spartan defense set the tone early, the offense was not able to match the excitement or the productivity. The MSU offense punted on all four of their possession in the first quarter, and started the second quarter with much of the same.
As the Spartan offense continued to struggle, with 11:19 left in the first half, the game was delayed around 9 p.m. for nearly an hour due to lightning, and it was almost as if the Man upstairs was giving the fans a break from the excruciating sequence of possessions that both team’s had presented.
Once play resumed around 10 p.m., there was more of the same from the offense: short yardage drives and punts. It took until the final seconds of the half for the Michigan State offense to finally get on the board, as junior running back Jeremy Langford ran the ball in from two yards out — which was followed by a failed field goal attempt — making the game 13-7 going into half.
The second half wasn’t much different.
The Broncos were able to put the ball in the end zone against the Spartans second defense on their final drive, however, everything leading up to that was punts and turnovers.
Redshirt freshman quarterback Zach Terrell, who replaced an injured Van Tubbergen in the second quarter, was able to have more success, but still failed to lead any substantial drives against MSU’s first-team defense.
As for the Spartans, the offense remained sluggish while the defense continued to impress and entertain.
Shilique Calhoun recovered a fumble and scored with 9:02 left in the game after defensive end Marcus Rush hit Terrell deep in the Broncos territory which put a fork in Western’s chances.
Offensively, Michigan State’s quarterback competition between senior Andrew Maxwell and redshirt sophomore Connor Cook got absolutely nowhere in Friday’s matchup, as both quarterback’s showed why they should and shouldn’t be the starters.
The lackluster play from both men led to the crowd chanting “We want Terry!” in hopes of persuading head coach Mark Dantonio to give true freshman Damion Terry an opportunity to prove himself. Clearly, it didn’t work.
Maxwell, who started the game under center, went 5 of 5 in the opening drive, but a mix of dropped passes from the receivers/tight ends (seven to be exact) and bad throws led the returning starter to finish 11 of 21 for 74 yards. The senior quarterback showed off his accuracy early with quick, short routes to receivers, but failed to make plays down the field and with his feet when the pocket collapsed.
Cook was the opposite.
After earning an opportunity to be the Spartans starting quarterback with strong play throughout the offseason, Cook failed to separate himself from Maxwell. Cook went 6 of 16 for 42 yards, and showed shaky accuracy. However, the 6-foot-4 sophomore showed his athleticism with four rushes for 35 yards which included a 16-yard run.
Langford’s 20 carries for 94 yards and a touchdown was the lone bright spot for the Michigan State offense. Langford was able to create behind a line that was suffering from injuries, and showed the elusiveness and quickness that coach’s raved about all offseason.
The Spartans offensive line, which was already missing Jack Allen (lower-body injury) and had a limited Fou Fonoti, suffered another setback against Western when starting right guard Dan France left in the first half after suffering an ankle injury, however, he did eventually return.