The No. 18 Michigan State Spartans open their 2019 campaign with a home game against the Tulsa Golden Hurricane on Friday night. Michigan State is looking to bounce back from a disappointing 7-6 campaign of a year ago that was marred by numerous injuries to the offense. Tulsa will look to improve on its 3-9 mark from 2018.
The Spartans struggled offensively throughout 2018, but their defense kept them in most games. Michigan State ranked No. 1 in the country in run defense, allowing just 77.9 yards per contest, and coach Mark Dantonio has most of his defensive front back this season. The Golden Hurricane had a solid ground attack that they will rely on in his one, even against MSU’s great defense, as coach Philip Montgomery has yet to name a starter under center.
Michigan State is a 23.5-point favorite over Tulsa in this contest, with the over/under set at 48.5.
Ground and Pound
Tulsa has two solid backs in the backfield to be able to hand the ball off to, but who will be handing it off? Sophomore Seth Boomer was the starter for eight games in 2018, but he’s battling Baylor transfer Zach Smith for the starting nod. Smith started 10 times over two years while with the Bears. Montgomery is looking for any edge he can get by not naming the starter until game time.
Shamari Brooks (967 yards, seven TDs) and Corey Taylor II (846 yards, 11 TDs) are both back to tote the ball for the Hurricane this season. Taylor even talked of the two combining for 200 yards in the matchup with the Spartans’ defense, which might provide some bulletin-board material for MSU but shows the confidence Tulsa has. If they can’t get the run game established, though, it will put pressure on whoever starts at quarterback to make some plays early.
Michigan State coach Mark Dantonio had a tough decision in the offseason after his offense struggled mightily even when the team’s best players weren’t injured. After averaging just 18.7 points, including a total of 32 points over their last four contests, the Spartans needed changes on offense. So Dantonio simply moved coaches around rather than letting any of them go, putting Brad Salem as offensive coordinator to take over for Dave Warner, who moved to quarterbacks coach.
Salem will have some talent to work with, especially senior quarterback Brian Lewerke, who threw for 2,040 yards and eight touchdowns despite playing just 11 games due to injuries. But the most talent is on the defensive side of the ball, where All-American candidates Joe Bachie (102 tackles, 8.5 tackles for loss) and Kenny Willekes (78 tackles, 20.5 tackles for loss, 8.5 sacks) lead a ferocious unit.
Spartans Win And Cover
Michigan State has to have a change in offensive philosophy if it’s going to take advantage of its sterling defense. Look for the Spartans to try to go to the air more in this one to establish their change in identity. Tulsa will struggle to get yards on the ground, which will make it tough for it to keep up on the scoreboard. I’m taking Michigan State -23.5 to win its opener.