EAST LANSING, Mich. The Boise State football teams first season-opening loss in coach Chris Petersens tenure came down to the simplest form of football.
No. 13 Michigan State could run the football sometimes only a few feet at a time, but forward nonetheless.
No. 24 Boise State could not not even sporadically.
The Spartans used their huge advantage in those two areas to overcome a gritty, opportunistic effort by the Broncos defense and a three-point fourth quarter deficit for a 17-13 victory Friday night at Spartan Stadium.
The Spartans held the ball for the final 6 minutes, 32 seconds nearly all run plays after the Broncos failed to convert a fourth-and-2 pass.
Were going to have to run the ball better than that or things like that are going to happen, said Petersen, who fell to 6-1 in openers and 8-2 against BCS-conference teams as his seventh season began. Eventually, youre going to get worn out on defense. Weve got to be able to help ourselves on the other side of the ball and not let them do that to us.
Michigan State tailback LeVeon Bell handled the ball on a mind-boggling 50 of the Spartans 90 plays. He rushed 44 times for 210 yards and two touchdowns; he caught six passes for 55 yards.
The touchdowns came on the Spartans first drive and their second-to-last drive, when they took the lead. Bell also carried nine times on the final, clock-draining drive.
The Spartans outgained the Broncos 461-206 and ran 90 plays to the Broncos 56.
It was straight power offense, Boise State senior linebacker Tommy Smith said. You dont see too much of that in college football anymore.
Bells heroics overshadowed a big-play night by the Broncos defense. The group collected four turnovers three interceptions and a fumble and scored the teams only touchdown, sophomore safety Jeremy Ioanes 43-yard interception return in the second quarter.
The defense also stopped Bell on third-and-1 and fourth-and-1 plays on consecutive snaps in the first half.
But in the fourth quarter, when the Broncos offense held the ball for just 3 minutes, 36 seconds, the defense couldnt find an answer for the 6-foot-2, 244-pound tailback.
It took a big toll on us, Smith said. I feel like as a defense we played hard. Nobody quit, and thats all you can ask for.
Boise State junior quarterback Joe Southwick, making his starting debut against one of the nations most talented defenses, showed flashes of the playmaker he could become but never got into any sort of passing rhythm. He was 15-of-31 for 169 yards with an interception at the goal line that cost the Broncos points.
I thought he was OK, Petersen said. Its a good learning environment for him to be in front of that many people against a really good defense and figure out that he can do some good things. A couple times maybe he wasnt trusting his reads as much as he needs to.
Boise State failed to score an offensive touchdown for the first time in 15 years. The only drive that went farther than 35 yards came in the first half and ended with that interception. Two drives started inside Michigan State territory and resulted in disappointing field goals.
The run game produced just 37 yards.
Weve just got to find a way to finish, Southwick said. At times we moved the ball really well and then wed kind of hit a road block.
Or, in one of the games critical moments, Michigan State coach Mark Dantonio called a timeout.
The Broncos faced fourth-and-2 at the Spartans 42-yard line on the possession sandwiched between the Spartans go-ahead score and game-ending drive. Offensive coordinator Robert Prince called a quick-snap toss to tailback D.J. Harper.
At the same time, the Spartans tried to substitute two defensive linemen.
The play worked easily except it didnt count. Dantonio asked for a timeout before the snap.
We knew we were going to like that play because we hadnt shown it yet, Petersen said. We thought it would be really good.
The Broncos went to their next-best play for that situation. Southwick fired a quick hitch to wide receiver Matt Miller, who was blanketed by Darqueze Dennard.
It was great coverage, Prince said. The defender won on that one.
The Broncos never touched the ball again.
And now theyre in uncharted territory.
For the first time since 2005, they have more losses than wins.
For the first time since 2007, theyve lost a game before November.
And for the first time since September 2008, they likely wont be in the Top 25 next week.
Me and my teammates understand one loss to open the season to a very good team at their place will not sum up our season, senior left guard Joe Kellogg said. Were going to bounce back.
Chadd Cripe: 377-6398, Twitter: @IDS_BroncoBeat