Michigan State followed a familiar formula on Friday night in East Lansing, Mich. — ride a dominant defense to victory.
That’s what the 18th-ranked Spartans did in the season opener, knocking off Tulsa 28-7. The Michigan State defense, which was among the best in the nation last season, held Tulsa to 80 total yards while forcing three turnovers, recording six sacks and adding a blocked punt on special teams.
It was all Michigan State needed as the offense started quickly but soon found itself experiencing many of the same problems it had in 2018. The Spartans marched down the field on the opening drive, capping things off with a 15-yard touchdown pass from fifth-year senior Brian Lewerke to junior running back Connor Heyward, who took the ball in the flat and lunged to the corner of the end zone to give Michigan State a 7-0 lead.
Things started to bog down from there as Michigan State repeatedly had to settle for field goals, getting three in the first half from junior Matt Coghlin. His 38-yarder gave Michigan State a 10-0, lead and he extended the advantage to 13-0 on a 47-yarder.
The Spartans added two points on a safety when a snap went over junior quarterback Zach Smith’s head and out of the end zone. The Michigan State defense struck again late in the second quarter when senior defensive end Kenny Willekes recovered a fumble in the end zone to put the hosts up 22-0.
Coghlin’s third field goal, from 44 yards, made it 25-0 before Tulsa closed the half with a 28-yard touchdown pass from Smith to Sam Crawford Jr.
Michigan State got a 40-yard field goal from Coghlin to take a 28-7 lead late in the third quarter and cap the scoring.
Lewerke finished 21 of 37 for 192 yards and a touchdown. Heyward ran for 43 yards on 15 carries. Senior Darrell Stewart had six receptions for 56 yards for the Spartans.
Tulsa (0-1) couldn’t find any consistency on offense as its two running backs — juniors Corey Taylor and Shamari Brooks — combined for minus-1 yard on 13 carries. Smith was 16 of 27 for 153 yards with one score and one interception, and he was under pressure the entire game.
Michigan State had 11 tackles for loss, two from sophomore Shakur Brown and 1 1/2 from junior Jacub Panasiuk.
—Field Level Media