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August 31, 2013EAST LANSING, MICH. - Michigan State's best offense was its defense.
Jeremy Langford's 2-yard touchdown run late in the first half broke a tie and the Spartans' defense scored two touchdowns and set up a field goal in a 26-13 win over Western Michigan on Friday night.
Michigan State (1-0) struggled when it had the ball, rotating ineffective quarterbacks Andrew Maxwell and Connor Cook, and didn't rout a team it was expected to beat easily.
"Am I totally happy?" Michigan State coach Mark Dantonio asked. "No, but I'll go home happy with a win."
Western Michigan coach P.J. Fleck, meanwhile, wasn't content with staying relatively competitive in his debut with the Mid-American Conference team.
"Moral victories don't exist in this program," Fleck said.
Jairus Jones had two interceptions, the first of which turned into a score with his lateral to Kurtis Drummond, whose 21-yard advance to the end zone was the game's first score midway through the first quarter.
The Broncos (0-1) tied the game with 6:14 left in the second quarter, but couldn't do enough on offense to keep the game closer.
Langford, who had a career-high 94 yards rushing, scored the go-ahead TD with 22 seconds left before halftime. The Spartans settled for two field goals, one after an interception gave them the ball at the Western Michigan 12 and they lost a yard, in the third quarter and Shilique Calhoun's fumble return - off a Marcus Rush sack and caused cough-up - with 9:02 left to play that made it 26-7.
Western Michigan back-up QB Zach Terrell replaced banged-up QB Tyler Van Tubbergen in the second quarter and threw for a TD on his first pass, connecting with wide-open tight end Clark Mussman for a 14-yard score to tie the game. Mussman had turned MSU inside linebackers inside out with a tricky double-move in the red zone.
Terrell was 12 of 28 for 120 yards with two TDs, including a 14-yard pass to Corey Davis with 1:51 left, also threw an interception and lost a fumble.
Van Tubbergen was 6 of 20 for 73 yards and two interceptions, and Fleck said the fifth-year senior "probably" has a concussion.
Like Michigan State, the Broncos had more success when they didn't have the ball.
"The defense did a great job," Terrell said. "They kept us in the game. We knew we had a chance, but came up short."
Maxwell started the game and was replaced by Cook after three shaky drives.
Cook, though, didn't fare much better and took turns on the sideline while Maxwell was given more chances to play.
Dantonio said he would have kept either quarterback in for the duration of the game if either had consistently moved the ball. Neither did.
Maxwell was 11 of 21 for 74 yards. Cook completed 6 of 16 passes for 42 yards and ran for 35 yards. Michigan State dropped passes from both quarterbacks, totaling six drops.
"You've got to come up with the tough catch sometimes," Dantonio said. "Quite frankly, a lot of them hit them right in the numbers. They've got to make those. Let's call it like it is."
The game was delayed for nearly an hour during the second quarter because of lightning.
Drummond was the first to score in the sluggish game - with 22 combined punts - and later made a one-handed interception, leaping to snag Van Tubbergen's pass in the first quarter.
Michigan State was in a position to lead by more than two touchdowns midway through the fourth quarter, but the Broncos recovered a Langford fumble at their 28. If Langford hadn't fumbled, he likely would have cracked the 100-yard mark, and then some. But he didn't get another carry after the fumble, as MSU instead went with third-stringer Nick Hill, who ran hard in the late going, netting 33 yards on seven carries.
The Spartans, though, were able to count on their defense to keep the score lopsided. Terrell was sacked five times. MSU had 9 tackles for losses.
Michigan State's defense was expected to be good this season while there were a lot of questions about who should take snaps, and those weren't answered in the season-opening game.
Maxwell, a fifth-year senior, narrowly won the job this summer and held off candidates such as Cook for the job. Both players are likely to get snaps in next week's game against South Florida. Dantonio said Saturday's game never became lopsided enough for third-string redshirt freshman Tyler O'Connor to get reps, but Dantonio wasn't against the idea. The student section chanted "We want Terry!," as in fourth-string true freshman Damion Terry, but there were no indications that he is any closer to getting a shot at it. But after the unsatisfying performances by Cook and Maxwell on Saturday, Terry and O'Connor certainly are not any farther from future consideration.