Boise State vs. Michigan State: Biggest Takeaways from the Spartans' Triumph

Tyler ConwayFeatured ColumnistSeptember 1, 2012

Aug 31, 2012; East Lansing, MI, USA; Michigan State Spartans running back Le'Veon Bell (24) gets away from Boise State Broncos cornerback Jerrell Gavins (4) to score a touchdown in the fourth quarter at Spartan Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Andrew Weber-US Presswire

By beating the 24th-ranked Boise State Broncos 17-14, head coach Mark Dantonio's No. 13 Michigan State Spartans struck early Friday night in their quest for a 2013 BCS bowl berth.

Spurred by a career night from running back Le'Veon Bell and a dominant defense, the Spartans were infinitely more dominant than the scoreboard would suggest. The team suffocated the Broncos' first-time starting quarterback Joe Southwick and swarmed against an ineffective rushing attack.

Nevertheless, there are big-time takeaways and lessons to be learned for both sides of the contest. With that in mind, let's take a look at what we learned in Friday night's matchup of Top 25 opponents. 


The Joe Southwick Era at Quarterback: Not a Great Start

By far the biggest concern for the Broncos heading into 2012 was how the junior quarterback would do replacing school legend Kellen Moore at quarterback.

A four-year starter, Moore left Boise as the NCAA's all-time leader in wins, compiling an astounding career record of 50-3 under head coach Chris Petersen. 

Though a defense of Michigan State's caliber is far from ideal for a first career start, Southwick's performance won't erase the ghost of the departed superstar anytime soon. 

Over the course of the night, Southwick looked more like a true freshman making his first start than someone with just two years of eligibility remaining. The Broncos quarterback went 15-of-31 passing for just 169 yards, throwing one interception and looking uncomfortable in the pocket the entire night.

Part of that was the fault of the offensive line, a unit that is replacing three starters and struggled early in protection. Had the protection been there, perhaps Southwick would have gotten into a rhythm early on and had a solid performance.

Regardless, the Boise State quarterback will need to improve if his team hopes to even take home the WAC title this season. 


Boise State Has a Huge Hole at Running Back

Perhaps Friday night also could have gone better for Southwick had the Broncos been able to establish any momentum in the running game. 

The team lost first-round NFL draft pick Doug Martin to graduation, and replacement D.J. Harper's performance did less than Southwick's to quell the concerns in Boise. 

Running behind the aforementioned struggling offensive line, Harper was stuffed nearly every time he touched the ball. The senior back gained just eight yards on 15 carries and had no individual run longer than four yards. 

In fact, Southwick actually led the Broncos in rushing with 18 yards on four carries.

Unlike the quarterback, however, Harper has plenty of game experience, so this performance was an unexpected disappointment. A sixth-year senior, Harper has waited a long time for his shot at the starting lineup.

What we saw against Michigan State simply won't cut it. 


Le'Veon Bell Is a Superstar

Rushing for a career-high 210 yards on a whopping 44 carries, Bell almost single-handedly brought his Spartans to victory Friday night. 

With an absolutely dominant performance, the junior running back not only embarrassed the Broncos defense but the offense as well, out-gaining the opposition's unit 265 to 206 on his own.

At 6'2" and 244 pounds, Bell is built like a linebacker and runs with overwhelming power. However, his performance against Boise showed his shiftiness and versatility, as the running back's six receptions were good for second-best on the team.

While many are (rightfully) ready to put Bell into the Heisman talks after such a scintillating performance, his 50 total touches in the opening week are unsustainable. The junior back will have to prove he can have relatively equal success with less of a workload to stay in the race for its duration.

Nevertheless, Bell's performance Friday night announced not only his but Michigan State's arrival on the national scene.