The first defensive stand by the Spartans against Boise State on Friday night was impressive, as was the first offensive drive by Michigan State and Le'Veon Bell played out of his mind, but there were glaring problems throughout the team that could have easily cost them the game.
To start, quarterback Andrew Maxwell performed as expected. He didn't wow anyone, but he didn't completely implode in his first start. Maxwell showed that he has excellent arm strength and that he isn't afraid to stay in the pocket under pressure, but he consistently made poor choices all night.
His three interceptions jump off the stats page, but examining each of them shows that only the last of the three was truly Maxwell's fault. The first was in his receivers hands and somehow Tony Lippett was unable to make the catch. A couple of tips lead to the second INT that was intended for Larry Caper. It was the third pick that Maxwell made a mistake, he threw behind his receiver and right into the arms of a Boise defender.
Offensive coordinator Dan Roushar tried to get Maxwell's confidence up by having him dump the ball short to tight end Dion Sims and to running back Bell. Those easy passes that were able to get yards-after-the-catch, buoyed Maxwell's confidence and he played a bit better in the second half.
Maxwell would have been able to play much better though, if he wasn't on the run every time the ball is hiked. The Spartan offensive line, touted in the preseason as being "seasoned", looked anything but. Boise defenders were in the backfield and rushing Maxwell or blowing up running plays with regularity.
Most of the blame should be heaped on the shoulders of walk-on sophomore TE Andrew Gleichert, who was unable to block pretty much anybody on his side of the line. This weakness on the line forced an inexperienced QB to make rushed decisions and could have cost Michigan State the game.
The offensive line was also unable to get any push whatsoever in the running game. Give Bell credit as he salvaged many rushing plays by hurdling players, spinning off tackles and even reversing field. If it wasn't for the brilliance of Bell on Friday things would have been much worse.
Bell cannot, and will not, perform like his did every game, it's not possible. And because of that the offensive line needs to push up front so that they can give their running back the holes he needs and not have to put the entire team on his back.
The wide receivers were also less than stellar last night, but again, that was to be expected as they are inexperienced. But the absence of B.J. Cunningham on Friday night was noticeable. Lippett misplayed pass after pass allowing the defender to get the inside lane on him and when the ball was catchable, he found a way to either make it look difficult or missed it entirely.
There was a pass up the middle intended for Bennie Fowler, who made every effort to get to the ball, but simply was unable to elevate himself enough to reel it in. Part of the blame for that miss lies with Maxwell, who put the ball a little too high, but Spartan fans are used to Cunningham catching anything remotely close to him, and Cunningham, Fowler is not.
A win is a win, but the game that the Spartans played on Friday was one that may not have deserved a "W." The offensive line needs to step up their game and the real success will follow.