Game 7 recap: #8 Sparty scores 42 unanswered points to put IU away; Meechigan next

MSU WR Macgarrett Kings, Jr. (85) leaps over an IU defender to score a touchdown in yesterday's MSU 56-17 win in Bloomington, IN.  Sam Riche - AP

MSU WR Macgarrett Kings, Jr. (85) leaps over an IU defender to score a touchdown in yesterday’s MSU 56-17 win in Bloomington, IN. Sam Riche – AP

Last week, it took a pick-six from Michigan St. (6-1, 3-0 Big Ten East) linebacker Darien Harris with under two minutes to play to seal a 45-31 road win over Purdue (3-5, 1-3 Big Ten West). Luckily, I was able to only watch the second half of the game and came away less than encouraged, especially with the decent Hoosiers of Indiana University (3-4, 0-3 Big Ten West) on deck for a matchup in Bloomington. Praise Jeebus, for the 8th-ranked Spartans answered the proverbial bell yesterday as they dominated Indiana, 56-17.

Offense: From jump, the offense was clicking on all cylinders. RB Jeremy Langford (21 CAR, 109 YDS, 3 TD) scored the game’s first points on a 32-yard TD run. After an IU field goal, TE Josiah Price (3 REC, 83 YDS, TD) caught a 10-yard TD pass from QB Connor Cook (24-32, 332 YDS, 3 TD, INT). Not long after IU scored their second touchdown of the second quarter to take a 17-14 lead, Langford scored again, this time on an 8-yard TD run. To close out the first half, WR Macgarrett Kings, Jr. (6 REC, 59 YDS, TD) finished off a 14-yard scoring pass play by diving into the end zone over a member of Indiana’s secondary.

There was more of the same in the second half as the Spartans again scored 28 points, while racking up 321 yards of offense on 39 plays. RB R.J. Shelton (CAR, 5 YDS, 3 REC, 19 YDS, TD) caught a 4-yard TD pass from Cook to push the lead to 35-17 and Langford scored his third touchdown of the day on a 12-yard run to extend the lead to 42-17 early in the fourth quarter. A 22-yard TD run by RB Delton Williams (5 CAR, 55 YDS, TD) and late 76-yard TD run by RB Nick Hill (16 CAR, 178 YDS, TD) capped the scoring. This was as proficient as I’ve ever seen MSU’s offense, arguably speaking. Although their opponent was Indiana, they still rung up 662 yards of total offense; 330 coming on the ground (6.5 yards per carry) and 332 through the air. Sparty picked up 30 first downs and was 10-16 on third down. On top of scoring 42 unanswered points to end Indiana’s dreams of an upset, MSU also possessed the ball for close to 40 minutes.

DefenseAdmittedly, I was worried right after Indiana QB Zander Diamont ran for a 9-yard touchdown in the second quarter to give IU a 17-14 lead. MSU’s offense looked like it was up to the challenge at the time, but I feared the defense wasn’t. Although Indiana started that drive with very favorable field position at MSU’s 39, the 30-yard run by stud Hoosiers RB Tevin Coleman that set up Diamont’s scoring run almost looked like an early back-breaker. After struggling at times to stop Nebraska and Purdue in their last two tilts, I didn’t want to think of what could happen if Sparty couldn’t contain Coleman and Co. Fortunately for their playoff hopes, Sparty figured out a way to get stops, especially in the second half as Sparty began to run away with the game.

Coleman ran for 132 yards on 15 carries, including a long of 65, but managed to run for only 14 yards on 5 carries in the second half. Top IU WR Shane Wynn ripped off an incredible 75-yard TD run on a reverse play, but was held without a catch for the first time all season as IU could only muster 11 passing yards for the entire game. The Hoosiers were able to run for 213 yards (6.5 yards per carry), but most of that damage came in the first half. Diamont completed only 5 of 15 passes, was sacked 4 times, and looked generally lost throughout the game. After a fairly impressive offensive display in the first half, IU ran 23 plays and picked up only 27 yards of offense in the second. IU had 6 possessions in the second half and punted 5 times, while fumbling the ball away on their last.

For the Spartans, DE Shilique Calhoun (4 TK, 2.5 TFL, SK) and LB Taiwan Jones (5 TK, 1.5 TFL, SK) led the way. CB Trae Waynes (2 TK, 2 TFL, PBU, SK) also chipped in for a MSU secondary that was stout the entire game.

Special Teams: K Michael Geiger missed a 42-yard field goal attempt in the first quarter, but made all 8 of his extra-point attempts. P Mike Sadler punted 4 times for an average of 45.5 yards per punt with a long of 53. There wasn’t much action in the punt and kick return game.

What’s Next: MEECHIGAN!!! In East Lansing. Today is officially the beginning of “Beat Michigan” week and of course, I am ecstatic. Last week, Michigan (3-4, 1-2 Big Ten East) pulled out an ugly 18-13 home win over Penn St. Wolverines QB Devin Gardner was effective and TE/WR Devin Funchess was a matchup problem for the Penn St. Nittany Lions. Last year, the Spartans dominated the Wolverines in East Lansing, 29-6. With the Wolverines football program a bit of a mess and Sparty seemingly finding another gear after their early loss to Oregon, expect more of the same this year.

GO GREEN. GO WHITE.

Game 5 recap: #10 MSU holds off #19 Nebraska, 27-22; East Lansing exhales

MSU WR Tony Lippett (14) celebrates a first-quarter touchdown catch with teammate and OL Donavon Clark (17) during MSU's 27-22 home win over Nebraska.  Gregory Shamus -- Getty

MSU WR Tony Lippett (14) celebrates a first-quarter touchdown catch with teammate and OL Donavon Clark (17) during yesterday’s 27-22 home win over Nebraska. Gregory Shamus — Getty

Thank goodness that’s over. I’m pretty sure I finally exhaled, as last night, Sparty football did almost everything they could to give a game away. Fortunately, the Associated Press’s 19th-ranked Nebraska Cornhuskers (5-1, 1-1 Big 10 West) fell just short, losing 27-22 despite a furious rally that saw them score 19 unanswered points to threaten 10th-ranked Michigan State’s (4-1, 1-0 Big 10 East) lead.

Offense: Sparty’s offense was better than average in the first half, and basically sputtered in the second. While the unit struggled on third down (1-7), both the run and pass game were effective. MSU amassed 257 yards of total offense in the first thirty minutes of play, 172 of which came through the air. QB Connor Cook (11-29, 234 YDS, TD, INT) missed a few open receivers and threw one of the worst interceptions I’ve seen in a while, attempting to evade pressure by dumping the ball to a back, which was promptly picked off by standout Nebraska DE Randy Gregory.  Game conditions weren’t ideal, which I’m sure contributed to some Cook misfires, but there were also times when he tried to force the issue and others when he simply didn’t make a good decision. RB Jeremy Langford was a horse, carrying the ball 29 times for 111 yards, including a great 31-yard rushing score in the second quarter that put Sparty ahead, 14-0. WR Tony Lippett had a very good outing, catching 3 passes for 104 yards and a score, and also scoring on a 32-yard reverse play in the third quarter that extended the Spartans’ lead to 27-3. Langford lost a fumble in the second quarter, one of the three turnovers Sparty committed last night, but they still managed to pile up 422 yards of total offense and win the time of possession battle.

Defense: Both defenses actually got off to strong starts, forcing eight punts and picking off two passes in just the first quarter. Lippett’s 52-yard TD catch wasn’t quite the product of broken coverage, but it was also about the only defensive hiccup in the period. In spite of Sparty turning the ball over three times in its own territory, the defense more than answered the bell and prevented the Cornhuskers from putting any points on the board. On two occasions, Nebraska took over at Michigan State’s 30-, and 24-yard line. Still, nothing. Nebraska RB Ameer Abdullah wasn’t able to accomplish much of anything all game along, finishing with 24 carries for a measly 45 yards, with a long of 9. Abdullah did, however, run for two touchdowns as Nebraska began to mount a rally in the second half. Huskers QB Taylor Armstrong, Jr. was under duress all night long and finished 20-43 for 273 yards and two picks. He was also sacked five times and hit eight. MSU LB Taiwan Jones was arguably the best defensive player for either side, picking up 10 tackles, 3 for loss, and a sack. DEs Shilique Calhoun and Marcus Rush each registered a sack, tackle for loss, and quarterback hit. Rush also forced a fumble, which Calhoun recovered and returned 38 yards. CB Trae Waynes picked off two passes, including one that sealed the win for MSU with 30 seconds left to play and Nebraska driving deep in MSU territory. S Kurtis Drummond finished the game with 9 tackles, including one for loss, and a pass breakup as part of a secondary that started very strong, but faded a bit late as they gave up a few big plays through the air to Nebraska, most notably Huskers WR Jordan Westerkamp, who finished with 9 catches for 158 yards.

Special Teams: K Michael Geiger connected on 2 of 3 field goals, missing a late 36-yard attempt that would have given MSU an 8-point lead. P Mike Sadler punted 9 times for a decent average of 38.4 yards per punt, but shanked a few and was victimized by a De’Mornay Pierson-El 62-yard punt return for score that made the score 27-22, in favor of Sparty. WR Macgarrett Kings, Jr. didn’t have much success in the return game, even losing a fumble in the second quarter.

What’s Next: Purdue, in West Lafayette. Purdue (2-3, 0-1 Big 10 West) lost at home to Iowa yesterday, 24-10. Boilermakers QB Danny Etling will attempt to lead his team to victory against Michigan St., with some hopeful help from RB Raheem Mostert.  In addition, Purdue is a bad football team. A very, very, very bad football team. MSU should have absolutely no problems dispatching of Purdue and if they do, I’ll name my first-born “Michigan Wolverines.”

GO GREEN. GO WHITE.

Game 4 recap: Sparty hangs 56 on Wyoming; conference play up next

Michigan State's R.J. Shelton returns a kickoff against Stuart Williams of the Wyoming Cowboys during the first quarter at Spartan Stadium on September 27, 2014, in East Lansing, MI.  -- Duane Burleson/Getty

Michigan State’s R.J. Shelton returns a kickoff against Stuart Williams of the Wyoming Cowboys during the first quarter at Spartan Stadium on September 27, 2014, in East Lansing, MI. — Duane Burleson/Getty

Michigan State football’s non-conference schedule is now over, after yesterday’s 56-14 pasting of the Wyoming Cowboys (3-2, 0-0 Mountain West Mountain) in East Lansing, MI. Sparty finished with a record of 3-1, with their only loss coming on the road to Oregon, 46-27. MSU has outscored their opponents, 201-81, while also outplaying them for all but one half, which would be that dreaded second half against the Oregon Ducks. Sparty will now begin conference play, taking on the Nebraska Cornhuskers in Spartan Stadium this upcoming Saturday. First, they had to dispatch of the MWC’s Wyoming Cowboys, which they easily did yesterday.

Offense: For the second consecutive game in a row, MSU’s offense looked dominant against an “inferior” opponent. Whatever Sparty wanted to do, it was able to against a Wyoming D that simply couldn’t do enough to merely slow down the Spartans’ offensive attack. Five different Spartans scored a touchdown in the first half as MSU built a 42-14 going into the break. QB Connor Cook (8-12, 126 YDS, 2 TD) scored on a keeper to start the scoring, before throwing touchdown passes to WR Tony Lippett (4 CAT, 76 YDS, TD) and TE Josiah Price (CAT, 19 YDS, TD). WR Keith Mumphery (3 CAR, 46 YDS, TD, CAT, 6 YDS, TD) ran for a 33-yard score at the end of the first quarter and caught a 6-yard TD pass from backup QB Tyler O’Connor (2-2, 13 YDS, TD) in the second. RB Jeremy Langford (16 CAR, 137 YDS, TD) had a big day, averaging over 8.5 yards per carry, and his backup, Nick Hill (10 CAR, 71 YDS) averaged over 7 yards per carry. Sparty finished the day with 533 yards of total offense, 338 of them coming on the ground. The unit also picked up 25 first downs, went 7-12 on third down, and didn’t commit a turnover or allow a sack.

Defense: Admittedly, there were times when Sparty’s D didn’t look great, or even very good. Fortunately, this wasn’t the case very often. After MSU pulled ahead 14-0, Wyoming RB Shaun Wick ripped off a 57-yard scoring run to cut the deficit in half. I doubt anyone pulling for MSU was seriously worried, but it was a bit of a shock to see Wick scamper into the end zone without much resistance. With the Cowboys behind 42-7, Cowboys QB Colby Kirkegaard hooked up with WR Jalen Claiborne on a 52-yard passing play to move Wyoming to MSU’s 4-yard line. On the very next play, Kirkegaard completed a 4-yard TD pass to TE J.D. Krill to score the final points for Wyoming on the day. Wyoming managed to pile up 207 yards of total offense in the first half as they enjoyed occasional success, but finished the game with only 289. Kirkegaard was picked off by S Kurtis Drummond (6 TKL) and sacked six times, as MSU DEs Marcus Rush (3 TKL, SK) and Shilique Calhoun (TKL, SK) continued their impressive play on the defensive line to start the 2014 season. Spartan LBs Darien Harris and Taiwan Jones also recovered Wyoming fumbles.

Special Teams: Kicker Matt Geiger was 7-7 on extra-point attempts. Mike Sadler punted once for 43 yards. WR R.J. Shelton returned three kicks for 88 yards, including a long of 38. Wyoming kicker Stuart Williams had a 42-yard field goal blocked in the early part of the second quarter. That is all.

What’s Next: Nebraska, in East Lansing. Nebraska (5-0, 1-0 Big 10 West) is coming off of a drubbing of Illinois yesterday, 45-14. Huskers RB Ameer Abdullah is arguably the best back in the entire nation and has already had three games in which he’s run for at least 208 yards. Outside of a poorly played game against McNeese State (a 31-24 win for Nebraska), “Big Red” have looked fairly impressive, averaging 47 points over their last three contests. Huskers head coach Bo Pelini will lean on Abdullah against MSU, as QB Tommy Armstrong, Jr. has not exactly played like a quarterback who is capable of propelling his team to a win with his play, even though his numbers are favorable. Nebraska probably won’t do much damage with their defensive line, but their linebacker corps is more than solid. However, their secondary is a bit spotty and I wouldn’t be surprised to see Sparty attack that part of Nebraska’s D early and often. Nebraska has been a thorn in MSU’s side of late, but hopefully a big win the week before and a home game to begin conference play will be the difference this year.

GO GREEN. GO WHITE.

Game 3 recap: #11 Michigan St. obliterates Eastern Michigan, 73-14

Michigan St. QB Connor Cook (left) and WR Tony Lippett celebrate Lippett’s first half TD catch during yesterday’s MSU 73-14 win over Eastern Michigan in East Lansing, MI.  Al Goldis — AP

Before Michigan State was set to take on Eastern Michigan yesterday afternoon in East Lansing, MI, I figured that Sparty was still sore after their 46-27 road loss to Oregon over two weeks ago. In that game, Michigan State lost a 9-point lead in the second half as Oregon QB and Heisman hopeful Marcus Mariota led his team to a comeback victory in Eugene, OR. With that loss, Sparty effectively saw their chances of participating in FBS’ inaugural playoff go down the drain. Obviously, the season didn’t end, but to lose such a pivotal game so early in the season hurt. Bad.

No worries were in my system as the Associated Press’s 11th-ranked Spartans of Michigan St. (2-1, 0-0 Big Ten East) and the Eagles of Eastern Michigan (1-3, 0-0 MAC West) squared off on the gridiron yesterday. The only thing that slightly concerned me was the potential for injury to one of Sparty’s key players. Fortunately, there were no serious injuries as MSU routed EMU, 73-14.

Offense: Well, the offense was great. Then again, they were going up against an EMU D that doesn’t exactly scare anyone, even in the Mid-American Conference. Sparty got off to a hot start in the first quarter, racing out to a 28-0 lead behind a pair of touchdown passes from Connor Cook (5-6, 83 YDS, 2 TD) to Tony Lippett (3 CAT, 45 YDS, 2 TD) that followed a 4-yard TD run by Cook to open up the scoring and 21-yard TD run by RB Jeremy Langford (9 CAR, 60 YDS, TD) that gave the Spartans a 14-0 lead with 8:03 left in the first quarter.

WR AJ Troup (2 CAT, 43 YDS, TD) made a great play to finish off a 33-yard scoring reception that opened up the scoring in the second quarter, and rushing TDs by RBs Delton Williams (10 CAR, 103 YDS, 3 TD) and R.J. Shelton (3 CAR, 9 YDS, TD) gave Sparty a 49-0 lead by halftime. By that point, MSU piled up 320 yards of total offense.

The O slowed a bit in the second half, but that was largely attributed to MSU head coach Mark Dantonio giving his backups the majority of playing time. Backup QBs Tyler O’Connor and Damion Terry saw the field–they also saw some PT in the first half, as well–and Williams added two more rushing TDs in the fourth quarter, including an 80-yard run that cemented the score at 73-14. MSU’s offense racked up 496 total yards, with 336 of them coming on the ground. Ten different Spartans carried the ball and nine different Spartans were credited with a catch, while seven different Spartans scored a touchdown. The unit also picked up 24 first downs and committed only one turnover. To cap it off, the 73 points scored were the third-most in Spartans history, behind a 76-point showing against Northwestern in 1989 and 75-point offering against Arizona in 1949.

Defense: In the first half, EMU didn’t pick up a first down. Not. A. Single. One. As if that’s not atrocious enough, the Eagles were in possession of the ball for a mere 8 1/2 minutes and managed to total just one yard of offense. Just. One. Eagles QB Rob Bolden (10-29, 115 YDS, 2 TD, INT), in his first start for EMU, didn’t inflict any serious damage until the game was well out of reach and of six Eagles who registered a carry, only one averaged more than 1.5 yards per carry, backup QB Reginald Bell, Jr. Fifty-two of EMU’s 135 yards of total offense came on two late scoring plays, including a 43-yard TD pass that was largely the result of blown coverage by MSU. I’m not even sure if the defense broke a sweat during the game, as EMU didn’t threaten until the game was basically over.

Special Teams: Kicker Matt Geiger was good on a 30-yard field goal try and converted all ten of his extra-point attempts. Punter Mike Sadler punted 5 times for an average of 43.4 yards a boot, including a 55-yard punt that did nothing but add to his golden-legged legacy. Shelton returned a kick for 39 yards and LB/FB Riley Bullough even returned two kicks for 23 yards. Macgarrett Kings, Jr. returned two punts for 54 yards, including a long of 43 that had Spartan Stadium rocking early.

What’s Next: Wyoming, in East Lansing. The Wyoming Cowboys (3-1, 0-0 MWC Mountain), of the Mountain West Conference’s Mountain Division, slipped by Florida Atlantic yesterday at home, 20-19. A Stuart Williams 18-yard field goal with 15 seconds left gave the Cowboys the final edge. The week before, they were routed 48-14 by Oregon in Eugene. Until yesterday, Wyoming starting QB Colby Kirkegaard had been solid, even looking serviceable against the Ducks. For the Cowboys to have any chance against Sparty, however, RBs Shaun Wick and D.J. May will have to not only be effective, but proficient. On defense, Wyoming has a group of four linebackers and defensive ends–DEs Sonny Puletasi and Eddie Yarbrough, and LBs Jordan Stanton and Mark Nzeocha–that will look to create havoc, especially with some key members of the Cowboys secondary who have departed due to graduation. This will be the last game for Sparty before conference play begins at home against Nebraska next Saturday. Look for Dantonio’s guys to iron out the kinks and coast to a huge victory.

GO GREEN. GO WHITE.

Game 2 recap: #7 Oregon withstands #3 Sparty’s punches; dominates in second half.

Michigan St. QB Connor Cook throws downfield under pressure from Oregon DL Tony Washington. Oregon beat MSU in Eugene, OR, 46-29.  Associated Press

Michigan St. QB Connor Cook throws downfield under pressure from Oregon DL Tony Washington. Oregon beat MSU in Eugene, OR, 46-27. Associated Press

Mama said there’d be days like this. Well, she really didn’t, but I’m sure if given the chance, my mother would have told me that eventually, Michigan State football would get shellacked by 19 on the road in one of the most important games in school history, 46-27.

The Spartans of Michigan State University took on the Ducks of the University of Oregon yesterday in Autzen Stadium, in Eugene, OR. Easily the most highly anticipated early matchup of the regular season, many held on to the “Something’s gotta give” belief, regarding MSU’s stout defense versus Oregon’s lightning-fast offense. Some felt that after beating Stanford–a team that has had recent success against Oregon–the Spartans would carry over some of that proficiency to a tilt against the Ducks. Others figured that while Sparty “out-physicalled” Stanford, the D lost a few key players to graduation and the NFL Draft, and that Oregon and star QB Marcus Mariota would ultimately prove to be too much for the Big Ten’s reigning champion.

For about a half, it looked as if Sparty would “upset” the Ducks and do a little more to establish themselves as a legitimate national title contender, this in the first year of the College Football Playoff. And then the second half started.

Offense: If you told me before the game that MSU would amass over 460 yards of total offense, 340 yards passing, commit only 5 penalties, and hold onto the ball seven minutes longer than the Ducks, I would have basically guaranteed a MSU win, especially noticing that very first number. QB Connor Cook (29-47, 343 YDS, 2 TD, 2 INT), outside of a pass under duress that was intercepted, was great in the first half, finishing 17-25 for 217 yards and 2 touchdowns against that lone pick. RB Jeremy Langford (24 CAR, 86 YDS, TD) ran the ball 15 times for 72 yards and a 16-yard touchdown in the first half, as well. It took Sparty’s offense a little time to get going, but when it did, it scored 24 points in 11 minutes in the second quarter to go into the half with a 24-18 lead. MSU’s O racked up 303 total yards in the first half, as well as 14 first downs, managing to run 16 more plays than Oregon, in addition. WR Tony Lippett, despite a drop or two, was great all game long, finishing with 11 catches for 133 yards and a score. TE Josiah Price (5 CAT, 51 YDS, TD) also hauled in a touchdown pass, and nine different Spartans caught a ball from Cook.

And then the second half started. A Michael Geiger 42-yard field goal put them up 27-18, and that was about it for the offense until the game was essentially out of reach. Cook was under more pressure in the second half, as he was sacked three times. Langford was certainly bottled up, running the ball 9 times for only 14 yards. Seeing Oregon stuff the run in the second half was easily the most surprising part of the game, for me. Down 39-27 early in the fourth quarter, MSU faced 4th and 2 at Oregon’s 24. Rather than kick a field goal and still find themselves in a two-possession game, MSU attempted to run for the first down and came up a little over a yard short. Ballgame.

Defense. To be honest, I didn’t think Sparty had a chance of stopping Oregon. At best, I figured they would contain Mariota and take away big plays from the Ducks that tend to blow games wide open. Unfortunately, Mariota is simply too good of a quarterback, and now I’m wondering how at all Stanford managed to limit him just enough to beat the Ducks a few times. Mariota was very good in the first half (9-15, 185 YDS, TD), but ran 5 times for negative -5 yards. Ducks sophomore RB Thomas Tyner ran 8 times for only 12 yards, and besides Devon Allen’s 70-yard touchdown catch and a 64-yard reception by fellow WR Darren Carrington, Sparty’s D didn’t really allow all that much in the first half. It was in the second half when Mariota took over, and his teammates followed suit. Time and time again, Mariota seemed to make the right play, whether keeping the ball and running for a first down, evading pass rushers to complete a pass downfield, or putting on a show, like the play in which he avoided a sack twice before offering a backhanded flip to a teammate, who then ran for a first down to do away with a third-and-long situation. I chuckled to myself as Sparty converted third-and-long several times in the first half, largely because I assumed Sparty’s D would never allow Oregon to convert in such a situation.

But, Oregon has Mariota. Period. Mariota finished 17-28 for 318 yards and 3 touchdowns, not to mention 42 rushing yards on 9 carries, which would mean that he ran 4 times for 47 yards in the second half. Mariota may have very well won the Heisman with this performance, (it’s still incredibly early to state this, I know) especially with what he produced in the second half when his team needed him most.

Special Teams. Geiger made both of his field goal attempts and punter Mike Sadler punted 6 times for an average of nearly 43 yards a punt. Sparty wasn’t wildly successful in either the kick or punt return game, but it didn’t hurt them.

What’s Next: The Spartans will play the Eastern Michigan Eagles two Saturdays from now in Spartan Stadium. The Eagles traveled to Gainesville, FL, yesterday and were soundly beaten by the Florida Gators, 65-0, and they will travel to Old Dominion this upcoming Saturday. EMU beat Morgan State at home by 3, so I think it’s safe to assume that MSU won’t have any problems putting away Eastern. A week off after this loss will be good for Sparty, but not so much for EMU, as you’d better believe that MSU head coach Mark Dantonio will have his guys more than ready for the Eagles.

GO GREEN. GO WHITE.

Game 1 recap: #8 Sparty embarrasses Jacksonville St, 45-7. That is all.

Michigan St. QB Connor Cook eludes Jacksonville St. DE LaMichael Fanning in the first half of yesterday's 2014 season opener at Spartan Stadium. MSU would go on to win, 45-7.  Mike Carter - USA Today

Michigan St. QB Connor Cook eludes Jacksonville St. DE LaMichael Fanning in the first half of yesterday’s 2014 season opener at Spartan Stadium. MSU would go on to win, 45-7. Mike Carter – USA Today

Yesterday evening was great, and not just because my 8th-ranked Michigan State Spartans began their 2014 football season against the Ohio Valley Conference’s Jacksonville State Gamecocks in East Lansing’s Spartan Stadium. It was delectable because I knew I was watching the defending Big Ten Legends Division Champions. The defending Big Ten Champions. And most importantly, the defending Rose Bowl Champions. MSU won 42 games from 2010-13 and I knew that unlike in 2011, 2012, or 2013, this team entered the season with a huge target on its back. It feels beyond awesome to be a fan of the hunted, rather than of the hunter.

Sparty came into yesterday’s game returning 13 starters–7 offensive, 4 defensive, and 1 special teams–from last year’s squad, but against a foe like JSU, they probably could have started all redshirt freshmen and seen somewhere around the same final result.

Offense: MSU (1-0, 0-0 Big Ten) fans got a scare early as QB Connor Cook (12-13, 285 YDS, 3 TD) took a late hit to his left leg after making a great throw on the run to WR Tony Lippett (4 REC, 167 YDS, 2 TD), who completed the 64-yard scoring play. Cook returned to the game, completing his first 9 passes for 257 yards, before sitting out the entire second half as the Spartans had already built a 38-0 first half lead. Eleven different Spartans finished with a reception, and outside of Cook and the other two quarterbacks who played, seven different Spartans notched a carry. Lead backs Jeremy Langford and Nick Hill combined for 99 yards on 24 carries, with Hill scoring two touchdowns. Junior WR AJ Troup (3 REC, 38 YDS, TD) also hauled in a touchdown pass, the first of his college career.

Defense: Really, MSU’s defense didn’t have to do much, despite some offseason worrying about their loss of personnel to either graduation or the NFL Draft. JSU (0-1, 0-0 Ohio Valley Conference) tallied only 89 yards of total offense in the first half and finished with a scant 244. Gamecocks senior RB DaMarcus James, who ran for nearly 1,500 yards and scored 29 touchdowns last year, finished the game with 17 yards on 3 carries. JSU ran out three quarterbacks and none of them fared all that well, although Minnesota transfer Max Shortell (10-18, 117 YDS, TD) helped JSU score its only points of the contest. Safety Kurtis Drummond and cornerbacks Darian Hicks and Nick Tompkins, the latter a converted running back, each picked off a pass.

Special TeamsSparty’s punt return unit was pretty busy, as JSU punter Hamish MacInnes punted seven times. Spartan WR Macgarrett Kings, Jr. returned two of them for only 11 yards. MSU’s Mike Sadler, the best damn punter in the land, punted four times for a gross average of 32.8 yards per punt. Sophomore kicker Michael Geiger, in his first year on the job, connected on just one of two field goal attempts.

What’s Next: 9/6. OREGON. AT Oregon. AT night. The third-ranked Oregon Ducks will begin their 2014 season tonight against the South Dakota Coyotes in Eugene, OR. Look for them to aim to get far ahead of SD early so they can rest their starters in the second half. Ducks head coach Mark Helfrich has to be aware that his team will play a Spartan unit that physically dominated a very tough Stanford Cardinal team in the 2014 Rose Bowl, and will want all hands on deck for next week’s matchup. Oregon QB Marcus Mariota is arguably the country’s best and most exciting player, and I guarantee Helfrich will do everything in his power to keep him out of harm’s way.

GO GREEN. GO WHITE.

Quickly, now: Melo stays in NY; Pau meditates, joins Bulls

Melo Max Power.

I really didn’t want Carmelo Anthony to sign with the Bulls in free agency. Now, I’d long anticipated that he’d end up re-signing with the Knicks, but I was also aware that besides Houston and potentially Miami, Chicago was a suitor that offered him a great chance to win more than lose, and do so much sooner than later. Granted, signing elsewhere would result in Melo losing a substantial amount of money, but I figured that if he was really willing to take a pay cut in order to have a better shot at winning a championship, playing for the Bulls would be his best option. I already posted my disinterest in seeing Melo become a Bull. While his decision to re-sign with the Knicks disappoints some Bulls fans, I’m fine with his decision. LeBron coming back to the Central Division certainly presents another hurdle for the Bulls, but I feel a rotation of Rose, Butler, Snell, Mirotic and DJ Augustin (soon, hopefully), Taj, Pau Gasol (read below), McDermott, and Noah will be strong enough to come out of the East, so long as health isn’t an issue. Melo will go back to more familiar surroundings and hope that the summer of 2015 brings him some much-needed help. The Bulls are still lacking a scoring wing, but they won’t be hamstrung by a contract for a player that would not have surely gotten them over the proverbial hump.  This makes me happy. I’m still stuck with McDermott and the uncertainty of Derrick Rose’s health for the rest of the offseason, but no Melo makes me happy.

It’s not 2008 Pau, but it’s something.

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Remember when the Bulls wanted to trade for power forward Pau Gasol back in 2006-08, but were unwilling to gut their roster in order to do so? I wasn’t opposed to the Bulls’ strategy; I simply didn’t feel Gasol was worth multiple young players and picks, and Gasol was in his prime then. However, I was tired of watching Ben Wallace not live up to his gaudy contract and wanted to see a semblance of a post presence for a change. Well, the Bulls acquired a post presence, Carlos Boozer, in the summer of 2010 and let’s just say that didn’t work out as intended. Now, after a failed attempt by the Bulls to lure Carmelo Anthony away from the bum ass Knicks, it appears that after some meditation (and probably a brief, cold phone call from Kobe), Gasol has decided to join them.

Gasol, 34, is coming off of a 13-14 season in which he averaged almost 17.5 points per game while pulling down nearly 10 rebounds per contest. After seeing his FG%, TS%, and eFG% drop for four consecutive seasons, Gasol had a bounce-back season of sorts last year, also averaging 3.4 assists per game as the Lakers had to navigate through most of the campaign without Kobe Bryant.

Pau is no longer the offensive threat he once was, but he and a healthy Rose could still work wonders in the pick-and-pop game. Likely to start next to Noah, the two will immediately become the best passing big man duo in the NBA. Taj Gibson will go back to a reserve role, which he is probably best suited for on a title-contending team, and Nikola Mirotic, who should be an official Chicago Bull any day now, could be a mentee to Gasol. Clearly, Gasol is not the uber-scoring wing the Bulls went into offseason in need of. A silver lining, though, is we won’t have to watch Boozer anymore, as he will either be traded or amnestied very soon. That much, is great.