Mark Dantonio compliments MSU defense, Brian Lewerke and offensive play-calling, but laments unforced errors in 28-7 win vs. Tulsa, Aug. 30, 2019. Chris Solari, Detroit Free Press
EAST LANSING — Mike Panasiuk swears the Michigan State football defense did not know it was nearing a school record. Neither did Mark Dantonio.
But with a 28-7 win almost in hand, the Spartans dialed up a late fourth-quarter cornerback blitz on third down deep in Tulsa territory. Shakur Brown dropped quarterback Zach Smith for their sixth sack of the game Friday.
That 10-yard loss allowed the Spartans to break a 69-year-old record by sending Tulsa home with a minus-73 yard rushing performance. MSU held Pitt to minus-63 yards on the ground in 1950.
“As soon as it ended and they announced it, that’s how we knew,” senior defensive tackle Panasiuk said. “We just want to keep seeing that number keep going down and down and down. And it just kept doing that.”
The Golden Hurricane managed 80 total yards of offense, the fewest allowed since the Spartans gave up just 48 to Florida Atlantic in 2011. The Spartans gave up just eight first downs against Tulsa, none of them rushing, and yielded minus-2.9 yards per carry.
All after Tulsa’s Corey Taylor II said last week that he believed the Golden Hurricane could reasonably average 200 yards a game and 5.0 per attempt this season on the ground.
“We pride ourselves on stopping the run, that’s our No. 1 goal each and every week,” said MSU senior defensive end Kenny Willekes, who got a sack and recovered the ensuing fumble for his first career TD. “So when someone says they’re gonna come into our house and rush for 200 yards, that’s something we take very personally. I think we showed today that …”
All Willekes could do was bob his head, nod and grin.
Granted, 40 of those yards came on snaps over Smith’s head, one of which went for an MSU safety. But Tulsa — which averaged more than 200 yards per game on the ground last season — ran Taylor and fellow running back Shamari Brooks a combined 13 times for minus-1 yard between them. Smith lost 39 yards on sacks and finished with minus-32 rushing yards total.
“When you let a good defense get up on you like that, they are going to pin their ears back and come after you,” Smith said. “That’s exactly what we let them do.”
Junior linebacker Antjuan Simmons got an interception in his first career start. He and defensive end Jacub Panasiuk combined for five of MSU’s 13 tackles for a loss. Brown had two sacks, while Jacub Panasiuk had 1.5. Willekes had two fumble recoveries.
“We knew their game plan inside and out from last year. It was kind of the exact same matchup with it,” senior linebacker Joe Bachie, who tied Willekes with seven tackles. “We were very confident out there, and we were calling out some plays. It helps you play faster. Once you get a couple big plays it starts to roll, and that’s what happened tonight.”
Dantonio said A.J. Arcuri, who was projected to be the starting left tackle, did not play because he was “nicked up.” Right tackle Jordan Reid said Arcuri had an ankle injury, and Dantonio said the junior could not push off enough to play. The Spartans already were without senior Cole Chewins.
“(Arcuri) was able to practice but not to push off with enough. He was nicked up,” Dantonio said. “We felt like the best lineup we had at this point in time was putting Matt Carrick at guard, and Kevin Jarvis has worked at tackle a lot for the last two weeks and he’s done a nice job.”
MSU lost long snapper Ryan Armour to an injury following a tackle on a fourth-quarter punt. The senior had to be helped to the sideline by trainers and could not put any pressure on his left leg. Freshman Jude Pedrozo handled the long-snapping duty for the final punt.
The Spartans also had a few other players leave the game but return: TE Matt Dotson and RBs La’Darius Jefferson and Elijah Collins.
MSU also was without three defensive ends. Jack Camper and Michael Fletcher, who was not in uniform. Zach Slade suffered a season-ending injury during preseason camp. Freshman RB Anthony Williams and WR Tre’Von Morgan also did not suit up.
MSU senior left tackle Cole Chewins did not play as expected with a back injury. Also not on the roster for the opener were WR Tre’Von Morgan, S Corey Pryor, TE Jonathan Brys, OL Dan VanOpstall and P Bryce Baringer.
Odds and ends
Only two true freshmen played for MSU vs. Tulsa: Pedrozo and Julian Barnett at WR and on special teams coverage units. … Jake Hartbarger, who returned for a sixth year after breaking his right leg in Game 2 at Arizona State last season, had a strong return. The senior averaged 47.4 yards on his five punts, including a 61-yarder and a 57-yarder. … Jalen Nailor totaled a team-high 73 all-purpose yards – 51 on two kickoff returns, 17 on two punt returns and 5 on three catches.