EAST LANSING, Mich. (AP) — Michigan State played well for about 30 minutes, and that was more than enough.
The final score was closer than it could have been, though.
“It’s just disappointing for me. It’s something that we are very aware,” quarterback Brian Lewerke said. “Offensively, we just kind of got stopped a little bit, little bit of the third and fourth quarter. Probably should have put up more points.”
Lewerke ran for two touchdowns in the first half, and the 21st-ranked Spartans overcame a slow start and an underwhelming finish to beat Central Michigan 31-20 on Saturday. Michigan State led 31-3 before letting CMU rally a bit in the fourth quarter.
Connor Heyward and La’Darius Jefferson also ran for touchdowns for the Spartans. Michigan State entered with the nation’s top-ranked run defense and held CMU to 5 yards on the ground in the first half.
“We’re difficult to move the ball on, so I think everything was pretty lopsided in that regard,” Spartans coach Mark Dantonio said. “Then the fourth quarter came. It got a little bit interesting for us.”
CMU (1-4) kicked a field goal on the game’s first possession and held that lead at the end of the first quarter. Lewerke threw an interception in the end zone in the first, but the Spartans (3-1) would have plenty of chances in the red zone.
Lewerke scored on runs of 3 and 5 yards, and Michigan State led 17-3 at halftime. CMU’s Tommy Lazzaro threw two interceptions in the first half, giving the Spartans great field position.
Heyward and Jefferson scored their TDs in the third, but the Spartans didn’t close the game out very emphatically. CMU scored a touchdown, recovered an onside kick and then kicked a field goal to make it 31-13. Then the Chippewas scored on a trick play, with running back Jonathan Ward throwing a 29-yard pass to Tony Poljan with 6:44 remaining.
The Spartans were able to run out the clock after that.
“I thought we dug ourselves a hole early in the first half,” CMU coach John Bonamego said. “We didn’t come here to play a game. We came to win a game and we didn’t do that. However, I’m very proud of the fight in our football team and how they came out and played in the second half and made a game of it.”
CMU: The Chippewas kept this game close for most of the first half, but the turnovers by Lazzaro made a difficult task even harder. The late comeback made the final score respectable.
Michigan State: Mistakes like Lewerke’s interception could cause bigger problems against better competition. Still, this was a dominant defensive performance by the Spartans until the final quarter, and if that stinginess continues, Michigan State can certainly be a factor in the Big Ten.
TOUGH UP FRONT
Michigan State was allowing 32.7 yards rushing per game. That average went up after the Chippewas finished with 63, but it was still a fine performance by the Spartans’ defensive front, especially in the first half.
Michigan State’s streak of five straight games allowing under 50 yards rushing came to an end.
Lazzaro made his first career start in last weekend’s win over Maine. This opponent was clearly a step up in class.
“We knew they were going to be good against the run, and they were really good against the run. We knew we’d have to come out and throw it,” Lazzaro said. “The first drive went good. After that I was getting a little antsy back there and I kind of needed to settle down. So those first two picks were definitely on me.”
Lazzaro ended up going 19 of 34 for 153 yards and a touchdown.
Michigan State lost receiver Cody White to a broken hand during the game. The Spartans were also without running back LJ Scott for a second straight game, and receiver Jalen Nailor didn’t play either.
Regarding Nailor, Dantonio said only that it was not a disciplinary issue.
The Spartans never seemed as if they were in much danger of losing, but they didn’t rack up many style points against an opponent they were expected to beat easily.
CMU: The Chippewas host Buffalo next Saturday.
Michigan State: The Spartans go back to their Big Ten schedule with a home game against Northwestern next Saturday.