East Lansing, MI – While frustrating for Michigan State, Saturday's home-opening loss to Rutgers is reminiscent of the entire 2019 season.
The offensive line didn't provide adequate protection for Rocky Lombardi, nor did they open up enough holes so the running game could be successful.
Or as Mel Tucker puts it, for the Spartans to run the ball on their terms.
Instead, nothing went according to plan.
MSU turned the ball over seven times, putting a lot of pressure on a defense learning Scottie Hazelton's new 4-2-5 front that utilizes five defensive backs and two linebackers.
"I feel like we were in the right position with a lot of the plays going on," said senior linebacker Antjuan Simmons. "We were right there. We just gotta make the plays."
Even so, there was clearly confusion at times, as Rutgers found certain plays working in their favor and drove the ball down the field with ease to start.
After the opening drive, yielding 75-yards, the Spartan defense only surrendered four plays of 20-yards or more, forced three turnovers of their own, and held the Scarlet Knights to 276 total yards.
Meaning, after going up 7-0, Rutgers ran 61 plays for 201 yards while averaging 3.29 yards per play.
For a team learning new defensive schemes, MSU played pretty well on that side of the ball.
"I think we've embraced it well. We're playing hard. We're running everything they're sending in to us. There are no issues," Simmons said. "We don't disagree; none of that. Whatever they call or send-in, whatever they install, we're going to run it ... that's just what we're going to do."
Unfortunately, Michigan State coughed it up too often, giving the Scarlet Knights short fields to work with – like Lombardi being sacked for a loss of eight yards and fumbling near the goal line after Connor Heyward failed to pick up a blitz.
From there, Rutgers punched it in for six points, giving them a two-score lead early in the game.
Or throwing an interception towards midfield, where Rutgers defensive back Tre Avery returned it to the MSU 23-yard line.
Already near the red zone, the Scarlet Knights scored in two plays resulting in a 21-7 lead in the second quarter.
Mistakes were made early and often.
With a new coaching staff, only ten returning starters, and different schemes – Michigan State is a team that can't afford to be undisciplined.
"We got a lot of room for improvement ... we gotta clean up our play. We shot ourselves in the foot a lot today, like a lot," said Simmons. "We really have to clean up our play."
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