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What Spartan nation should take away after week one victory against Utah State

MSU game one take-a-ways

Michigan State as expected came out victorious against Utah State Friday night though having to dig a little bit more into the playbook than they would have liked to in preparation for their week two opponent, Arizona State University. Week one for most teams in the country is not their best football. At times Michigan State showed glimpses of how strong of a team in 2018 they can be, as well as some cause of concern that needs to be addressed heading on the road in week two and into conference play.

Offense Strengths

Quarterback Brian Lewerke played well besides one ball that was late on an inward breaking route that was intercepted and ran back for a touchdown and a middle of the field deep ball shot in the first half that was barely overthrown. Lewerke did what he does, win football games. He had great pocket awareness and used his legs when he had to. He placed the ball in places where only his receivers could make plays for a majority of the night.

Cody White also picked off right where he left off in 2017 by continuing to establishing himself as the Spartans go-to wide receiver. Great speed, strong hands and solid route running allowed him to have a big night as he had five receptions, for 70 yards and a touchdown.

Felton Davis III, showed up, too, with a clutch catch late in the fourth quarter on the drive that won the Spartans the game. His tall frame and big hands allow him to outmuscle corners and come up with tough grabs.

The Michigan State receiving core all around is a solid group. Between Cody White, Felton Davis III and senior Darrell Stewart Jr., Lewerke can trust any of these guys to make plays when it counts. They will be a dynamic trio all season for the green and white.

The screen game took flight with L.J. Scott, too, out of the backfield. Don’t be surprised if MSU incorporates more screen plays as the season goes on featuring Scott.

 

Needs to be addressed offensively

The offensive line for Michigan State had some issues last night. For most of the game, they were outpowered by a smaller defensive line from Utah State in the run game. Utah State’s game plan was to press the line of scrimmage with a lot of blitzes to fill gaps in the run game and confuse their offensive line in pass protection.

The twists and blitz packages from the front seven, in addition to the speed rushers Utah State went with, gave the tackles from MSU fits off the edge. Lewerke was sacked three times and did not have a strong pocket to throw out of consistently. That needs to improve heading into a potential trap game week two against Arizona State.

MSU also struggled with penalties in critical downs that hurt them throughout the game. Next week against a stronger opponent, those type of mistakes can’t happen if they want to come away with a victory.

Defensive Strengths

Michigan State’s defenses under Mark Dantonio have always tackled well. Last night that continued. There was not a lot of yards after contact for Utah State. No one can ever doubt MSU’s effort on defense to getting to the football.

MSU game one take-a-ways
Image courtesy of Detroit Free Press

The leader of their defense, junior, Joe Bachie Jr. was all over the field with 11 tackles. Leaders step up when a play needs to be made, and he did just that when he jumped over the blocker essentially, tipped the pass attempt and intercepted the ball to seal the victory for the Spartans. Expect nothing but stellar play from him all year.

The secondary started slow, but picked it up and was stout for the entire second half. Their press quarters concept, when executed well, is one of the best zone coverage packages in football.

Needs to be addressed defensively

The Spartans are a team that wants to keep seven men in the box as much as possible to stop the run. With that defensive philosophy, spread teams like Utah State can be tough to defend laterally with quick passing plays because linebackers have to run sideline-to-sideline to fill the underneath zones in their coverage. Utah State exploited that the most in their go-ahead drive late in the 4th quarter.

The question mark will be moving forward is if State’s outside linebackers will be able to successfully be able to fit their run gaps and cover their zones in the passing game. If not, MSU will struggle against spread teams all year long.

Mark Dantonio is one of the best coaches in the country. His team will improve immensely in week two against Arizona State. No need to stress in East Lansing.

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