East Lansing, Mi
Over the course of the past few years, #11 Michigan State hasn’t been immune to early struggles in season openers, and that was the case once again on Friday night as the No. 11 ranked Spartans played host to upset-minded Utah State at Spartan Stadium in East Lansing.
After overcoming a slow start in the first half, the Spartans then saw a 13-point lead disappear by the late stages of the fourth quarter, but late game heroics from the Spartan offense and junior linebacker Joe Bachie helped seal a 38-31 win, for Michigan State’s 20th consecutive win in a home opener.
Holding a 20-14 lead coming out of halftime, Michigan State would open up the second half with a long, 10-play, 81-yard scoring drive with backup running back Connor Heyward stealing the show on a 17-yard scamper to extend the Michigan State lead to 27-14 just six minutes into the third quarter.
The Aggies responded with 10 unanswered points to close out the third quarter and cut the lead down to 27-24 when Gaje Ferguson stepped in front of Jalen Nailor, who slipped in his route, intercepting a Brian Lewerke pass and returning it 40 yards for a touchdown, giving Utah State life with 1:41 left in the third quarter.
Following Matt Coghlin’s third field goal of the day to push the Spartan lead to 30-24, Utah State used a rare time-consuming drive of its own to retake the lead, 31-30 on a 1-yard run from Darwin Thompson with just 5:05 left to play.
But the Michigan State offense would respond in a big way on the ensuing drive. The Spartans quickly drove down inside the Utah State 25-yard line with the help of a highlight reel, diving 31-yard grab by Felton Davis to put Michigan State in field goal range. Four plays later, the Spartans were back on top after Heyward took an option pitch from Lewerke and easily found his way into the end zone from 17 yards out, 38-31, following a successful two-point conversion.
While L.J. Scott led the rushing attack with 84 yards on 23 carries, Heyward made the most of his five carries on the day, rushing for 42 yards and two scores. Lewerke led the Michigan State offense with 287 yards passing and two touchdowns while completing 23 of his 33 pass attempts.
With one final chance, Utah State drove inside Michigan State territory, but Joe Bachie would tip a Jordan Love pass attempt up in the air and would come down with the interception near midfield to seal the win for the Spartans.
Bachie led Michigan State with 11 tackles in Friday night’s win, while Khari Willis contributed seven tackles and Kenny Willekes recorded five tackles and two sacks.
Despite the interception, Love proved to be a nightmare for the Michigan State defense all night on Friday as he finished the day with 319 yards on 29-of-44 passing to lead the Aggies offense.
After a sluggish first quarter for the Michigan State offense, where the Spartans settled for a pair of Coghlin field goals which included a career-high 49-yard field goal, they started to find their footing in the second quarter.
Trailing 7-6 after one frame, the Spartans took their first lead of the 2018 season after they capitalized on a Khari Willis interception and drove 42 yards in four plays for the first touchdown of the season, an 8-yard pass from Lewerke to Cody White, putting Michigan State on top 13-7 with 10:49 left before halftime.
The quick strike Utah State offense answered just a couple of minutes later when Thompson capped off a nine play, 72-yard drive that lasted just 3:48 with a 2-yard touchdown run to give the Aggies the lead right back, 14-13.
But the Spartans would close out the first half with a much more time consuming drive to regain the lead, going 75 yards in 13 plays in 6:27 as Lewerke found Felton Davis III, who made a tough catch with a defender holding the front of his uniform, for a 10 yard score, putting Michigan State on top 20-14 heading into halftime.
On the scoring drive, Lewerke was 5-of-6 for 45 yards.
Michigan State returns to action next Saturday when the Spartans hit the road to take on Arizona State at 10:45 pm.
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