The 2014-15 Chicago Bulls

From left: Forward Pau Gasol, guard Derrick Rose and center Joakim Noah will be counted on to lead the 2014-15 Chicago Bulls to the promised land.  Charles Rex Arbogast -- AP Photo

From left: Forward Pau Gasol, guard Derrick Rose and center Joakim Noah will be counted on to lead the 2014-15 Chicago Bulls to the promised land.  Charles Rex Arbogast — AP Photo

Tomorrow night, the Chicago Bulls will begin their 2014-15 campaign against the New York Knicks. All eyes will initially be on every move of point guard Derrick Rose, who is looking to play his first full, healthy season since his 2010-11 MVP year. When he crashes to the floor, makes a cut, takes a bump, or simply glances at one of his knees, there will be looks of worry on the faces of many fans of both the Bulls and NBA. After the feelings of unease subside, we will be able to see a Bulls team that arguably did more to improve its roster than any other NBA team this offseason except the Cleveland Cavaliers, who signed all-everything LeBron James in free agency and traded away players and picks to the Minnesota Timberwolves for forward Kevin Love.

After the Bulls were ousted in the first round of the playoffs by an upstart Washington Wizards squad while playing without Rose and Luol Deng (traded to the Cavs), it was clearer than ever that the Bulls were going to need to add players with offensive firepower. Defensively, the Bulls were and are are the league’s best, but when it was time for a bucket and Rose was unavailable, the Bulls were practically lost as all hell. During this past offseason, it was assumed that forward Carmelo Anthony would sign with the Bulls as a free agent, giving them the scoring punch they desperately needed. “Melo” decided to re-sign with the Knicks (thank God), and the Bulls turned their attention elsewhere.

AdditionsPau Gasol, Aaron Brooks, Doug McDermott, Cameron Baristow, Nikola Mirotic, E’Twaun Moore (statistics are from 13-14 season)

C/PF Pau Gasol (17.4 PPG, 9.7 TRB, 3.4 APG, 1.5 BLK, .480 FG%,.286 3P%, .736 FT%, 102 ORtg, 108 DRtg, .522 TS%, .482 eFG%). The 34 year-old Spaniard signed with the Bulls this offseason after six and a half mostly successful seasons with the Los Angeles Lakers. A key part of two Lakers’ title teams, Gasol’s addition to the Bulls gives them a legitimate 7-footer who can score inside and out, as well as pass the ball proficiently from the low or high post. Gasol represents a significant upgrade over the departed Carlos Boozer, so expect fans to cheer for him just because of that fact.

PG Aaron Brooks (9 PPG, 1.9 TRB, 3.2 APG, .7 STL, .401 FG%, .387 3P%, .874 FT%, 105 ORtg, 110 DRtg, .518 TS%, .484 eFG%). Brooks, a former first-round pick of the Houston Rockets, spent 13-14 as a member of both the Rockets and Denver Nuggets, the latter of which he was traded to for forward Jordan Hamilton. The 6′, 160-lb point guard has played most of his career as a backup and will fill that very role for the Bulls. Brooks will have problems on the defensive end, but if he can offensively provide close to what he did for the Nuggets (11.9 PPG, 5.2 APG in 29 minutes per game), the signing will have been a very good one.

G/F Doug McDermott (For Creighton: 26.7 PPG, 7 TRB, 1.6 APG, .2 STL, .526 FG%, .449 3P%, .864 FT%, 127.4 ORtg, 106 DRtg, .644 TS%, .603 eFG%) Even though those numbers are from McDermott’s senior season at Creighton, they’re still wildly impressive. He won’t come close to matching them in the NBA, but with an added emphasis on the three-point shot over the years, players like McDermott will almost always have a spot on a roster. If he can use his “sneaky athleticism” to score easy buckets, he could become a viable offensive weapon for the Bulls.

Cameron Bairstow (For New Mexico: 20.4 PPG, 7.4 TRB, 1.6 APG, 1.5 BLK, .556 FG%, .333 FG%, .735 FT%, 122.9 ORtg, 99.6 DRtg, .611 TS%, .558 eFG%) It took three years for Bairstow to become a force at the University of New Mexico, and his senior season put him on the college basketball map. Although he is a bit undersized at 6’9″, 240, Bairstow is a very tough scrapper who will likely need to show defensive prowess to crack Bulls head coach Tom Thibodeau’s rotation.

Nikola Mirotic (For Real Madrid: 12.4 PPG, 4.6 TRB, 1.2 APG, 1.1 STL, .508 FG%, .461 3P%, .811 FT%) Mirotic has created a buzz since his draft rights were traded from the Minnesota Timberwolves to the Bulls on the draft night of 2011. Widely regarded as one of the best players outside of the NBA before signing with the Bulls, Mirotic has developed into a legitimate “stretch four,” more than capable of putting the ball on the floor and driving to the basket. Mirotic showed some positive flashes this preseason (posted team’s second-highest DRtg at 94.3), but will need to add bulk and become a more competent defender in order to reach “Toni Kukoc status.”

G E’Twaun Moore (6.3 PPG, 1.7 TRB, 1.4 APG, .8 STL, .428 FG%, .354 3P%, .765 FT%, 102 ORtg, 109 DRtg, .513 TS%, .490 eFG%) The Purdue product was signed to give the team guard depth, but hopefully, he won’t be counted on, as that would mean that Rose, Hinrich, and Brooks are out of the mix.

Returning: Derrick Rose, Joakim Noah, Taj Gibson, Mike Dunleavy, Kirk Hinrich, Jimmy Butler, Tony Snell, Nazr Mohammed

Derrick Rose (15.9 PPG, 3.2 TRB, 4.3 APG, .5 STL, .354 FG%, .340 3P%, .844 FT%, 88 ORtg, 105 DRtg, .446 TS%, .402 eFG%) DERRICK ROSE IS BACK!!! Seriously, he is. After tearing the meniscus in his right knee last season, Rose sat out the team’s final 71 games, electing to let the injury heal as close to completely as possible. He returned this summer to play for Team USA in the FIBA World Cup, where he backed up Kyrie Irving. The US won gold, but Rose did not shoot the ball even remotely well. However, he did seem to play very much under control, showed the burst that made him the league’s most explosive point guard at one time, and most importantly (to me), was an absolute hound on defense. In addition, he dealt with an incredibly grueling schedule without showing signs of wear and tear. With more offensive weaponry to play with, Rose won’t have to offensively bail the Bulls out nearly as much as he did in 10-11, and he should be a much better player for it.

C/PF Joakim Noah (12.6 PPG, 11.3 TRB, 5.4 APG, 1.5 BPG, 1.2 STL, .475 FG%, .737 FT%, 111 ORtg, 96 DRtg, .531 TS%, .475 eFG%) Last year’s Defensive Player of the Year (and first-time 1st-team All-NBA member) will have a new starting frontcourt mate in Gasol, which should make his life a hell of a lot easier. Noah put up very good numbers (10.4 PPG, 12.8 TRB, 4.6 APG, .536 TS%) against the Wizards in last year’s playoffs, but on the other end, C Nene Hilario had his way with him. With Noah guarding him most, Hilario went for (points/rebounds/assists) 17.8/6.5/3.25 while shooting 55% from the field as the Wizards won the series in five games. Noah likely won’t match his numbers from last year, but expect him to be a better player on both ends of the floor.

PF Taj Gibson (13 PPG, 6.8 TRB, 1.1 APG, 1.4 BPG, .479 FG%, .751 FT%, 102 ORtg, 100 DRtg, .524 TS%, .479 eFG%) Before Gasol signed with the Bulls, it seemed as if Taj would begin the 14-15 season as the team’s starting power forward. Things have changed with the Gasol signing, but Gibson will still be a huge piece to the puzzle. Easily one of the league’s better defenders since he entered the league in 2009, Gibson has also worked to improve his low post and mid-range game. Many of his buckets will come from putbacks and alley-oops, but he is slowly becoming a solid threat from 10-16 feet and his ability to run the floor as a big is unmatched by most.

G/F Mike Dunleavy (11.3 PPG, 4.2 TRB, 2.3 APG, .8 STL, .430 FG%, .380 3P%, .854 FT%, 108 ORtg, 102 DRtg, .549 TS%, .510 eFG%) There are certainly Bulls fans who feel McDermott should be starting over Dunleavy at the 3, and for all we know, Thibs may actually start McD over Mike. I’m guessing it won’t happen though, mainly because Dunleavy, while not a good defender, is much more familiar with what Thibs wants on that end of the floor. And what Thibs wants on defense, he gets, or you ride the pine. Although he isn’t a good defender, Dunleavy is a serviceable one, and he is offensively skilled enough to keep even a good defense honest.

G Kirk Hinrich (9.1 PPG, 2.6 TRB, 3.9 APG, 1.1 STL, .393 FG%, .351 3P%, .768 FT%, 100 ORtg, 102 DRtg, .494 TS%, .461 eFG%) Hinrich isn’t a bad guy. I don’t dislike him. I’m pretty sure he’s well-respected among his family, friends, and peers. But, damn, there wasn’t another backup guard available? Does Hinrich have incriminating photos of Gar Forman or John Paxson? Both? There was a time when Hinrich was an above-average player, but those days are long gone. Let’s just hope that Hinrich gets in the way of opposing ball-handlers and shoots at least 40% from the floor.

G/F Jimmy Butler (13.1 PPG, 4.9 TRB, 2.6 APG, 1.9 STL, .397 FG%, .280 3P%, .769 FT%, 108 ORtg, 100 DRtg, .522 TS%, .446 eFG%) Make no mistake about it: Butler couldn’t hit a shot to save his life during the 13-14 season. With Rose out due to injury, more of the onus to score fell on Butler’s shoulders than should have, and the result was a paltry 39.7% from the floor and sub-30% from deep. Despite his shooting woes, Butler still made the NBA’s All-Defense Second Team and for the second straight postseason, averaged more than 17 points per game. If Butler becomes even a league-average shooter from the floor and three, the Bulls’ offense will be even more potent.

G Tony Snell (4.5 PPG, 1.6 TRB, .9 APG, .384 FG%, .320 3P%, .756 FT%, 97 ORtg, 104 DRtg, .489 TS%, .469 eFG%) Snell had a great summer and must be looking to carry that play over into the regular season, because he shot the ball terribly this preseason. At 16 minutes per game, Snell played more as a rookie than I predicted, and if given the same playing time, could prove to be a very effective scorer. He and McDermott will make the reserves a good offensive unit if they’re knocking down shots and slashing to the basket. Also, Snell has the length and athleticism to be a good defender in the Bulls’ system, provided he realizes that when on the defensive end, one’s focus should be on defense.

C/F Nazr Mohammed (1.6 PPG, 2.2 TRB, .3 APG. .4 BPG, .429 FG%, .533 FT%, 90 ORtg, 97 DRtg, .445 TS%, .429 eFG%) Chicago Public Schools (Kenwood Academy) product Nazr Mohammed returns for his 17th NBA season. At the age of 36, he will be counted on to give Jo, Pau and Taj breathers whenever necessary. Nazr can’t be counted on to do too much, but he is long and an adequate rim defender.

Outlook: Despite the fact that many “pundits” and “experts” are picking the new-look Cavaliers to win the Central Division and Eastern Conference, I firmly believe the Bulls will come away with those titles. While the Cavs look impressive on paper, Kyrie Irving and Kevin Love still seem allergic to defense and outside of LeBron, Shawn Marion, and Anderson Varejao, there doesn’t seem to be a player on the roster who is even an okay defender. The Bulls team that reached the 2011 Eastern Conference Finals was one that had only one real offensive threat, and that was Derrick Rose. This Bulls team has Rose, Gasol, McDermott, Mirotic, Brooks, and don’t forget Noah, a big capable of dishing out five assists a night. All of those players are at least fairly capable of creating for themselves, and all of them except McDermott are more than equipped to create for others. Combine the newfound offense with a staunch defensive mentality and I believe we have a Bulls team that could prove itself better than the Cavs when all is said and done. Obviously, the games must be played, but it shouldn’t take long to figure out that when healthy, this Bulls team should be considered one of the favorites to win it all.

Game 8 recap: #8 Michigan St. embarrasses “big brother” again; Ohio St. Buckeyes on deck

MSU's Jeremy Langford attempts to manuever past Michigan's Jourdan Lewis (26) and Jeremy Clark (34) during the fourth quarter of yesterday's 35-11 MSU win. Better luck next year, Wolverines.  Al Goldis -- AP Photo

MSU’s Jeremy Langford attempts to manuever past Michigan’s Jourdan Lewis (26) and Jeremy Clark (34) during the fourth quarter of yesterday’s 35-11 MSU win. Better luck next year, Wolverines. Al Goldis — AP Photo

On the banks of the Red Cedar…

Yesterday in East Lansing, for the sixth time in seven games, 8th-ranked Michigan State (7-1, 4-0 Big Ten East) beat Michigan (3-5, 1-3 Big Ten East), only the second time the Spartans have accomplished this feat since the series began way back in 1898. Winners of 14 straight Big Ten games, Sparty is looking like a team aiming for a playoff berth, and also one that is slowly establishing itself as a legitimate national championship contender.

Offense: MSU racked up 446 yards of total offense, 219 of them coming on the ground. RB Jeremy Langford (35 CAR, 183 YDS, 3 TD, LG 27) was an absolute workhorse, running for two touchdowns in the first half before running for a third late in the fourth quarter that cemented the final score. Of course, hurt Michigan fans claimed that MSU was running up the score, which humors me. On the previous drive, Michigan ran their offense through and through, scoring a touchdown and to cap it off, actually attempting a two-point conversion, which was successful. The final drive for MSU was the Jeremy Langford Show, as Langford was the only Spartan to touch the ball, running the ball 7 times for 48 yards and that touchdown which hurt the feelings of so many dedicated Wolverines fans. QB Connor Cook (12-22, 227 YDS, TD) was pretty good (not that he needed to be great against this Michigan team) and WR Tony Lippett caught 3 passes for 103 yards, including a 70-yard TD catch in the third quarter. Sparty picked up 22 first downs and converted half of their third down opportunities, but committed two turnovers, which led to 11 Michigan points.

Defense: For a while, a 48-yard field goal by Michigan K Matt Wile looked like it would be it for the Wolverines

Sparty Bunyan

Sparty Bunyan

in terms of scoring. Michigan couldn’t pass. Michigan couldn’t run. Michigan couldn’t block. I’m also pretty sure there were a few times when Michigan’s coaches couldn’t properly signal a call to their QB. Wolverines QB Devin Gardner and the rest of the offense were downright pitiful in the first half, amassing only 37 yards of total offense, all of them coming through the air. WR/TE Devin Funchess was a non-factor despite a respectable 5 catches for 64 yards and the Wolverines’ top two backs combined to run 20 times for only 74 yards. Michigan was able to score points in part because of MSU turnovers, but besides that, was no match for the Spartans’ defense. The Wolverines finished with a scant 186 yards of total offense while committing three turnovers. Michigan didn’t put together a drive of more than 25 yards until more than midway through the third quarter and never got into anything resembling a rhythm. Spartans LB Taiwan Jones (8 TKL, 2TFL, SK, INT, PBU) was in another world all game long, even managing to avoid being ejected in the third quarter for a targeting penalty that was later withdrawn. DE Shilique Calhoun (3 TKL, TFL, SK) registered his sixth sack of the season and LB Darien Harris had another strong game, finishing with 7 tackles, one for loss.

Special Teams: Spartans K Michael Geiger missed a 36-yard attempt in the first quarter, another ode to the greatness that is college kickers. P Mike Sadler punted 4 times, landing one inside the 20. There wasn’t much going on in the return game for any of the men deep for MSU. Somehow, Michigan’s Matt Wile made a 48-yard field goal. If only he would have hit another 8, our “big brothers” would have won.

What’s Next: Ohio State (6-1, 3-0 Big Ten East), in East Lansing, November 8 @ 8 ET. Ohio St. beat Penn St. (4-3, 1-3 Big Ten East) 31-24 in double overtime yesterday after blowing a first-half 17-point lead. Buckeyes QB J.T. Barrett was 12-19 for just 74 yards and two interceptions. He hadn’t performed that badly as a passer since OSU’s loss to Virginia Tech, but he did manage to run for 75 yards and 2 TD, including the go-ahead TD in the second extra period. Penn St. came into yesterday’s game a top-10 team in the country in total defense, and held OSU to just 290 yards of offense, a number Sparty should certainly aim for.

The Buckeyes are a half game behind the Spartans in the division standings and a win would virtually guarantee them a berth in the conference championship game, provided they don’t falter later in the season. Trust that Spartans HC Mark Dantonio has stressed to his team that this rematch of last year’s conference championship game is important, not just for division and conference standing, but national standing as well. A prime-time win over a top-15 Buckeyes team (albeit one without injured star QB Braxton Miller and a still-improving offensive line) would really help their chances for a playoff berth, especially since they’ll finish with relative cupcakes in Maryland and Rutgers before Penn St., and then the Big Ten title game.

It appears that whatever ailed MSU in their wins over Purdue and Nebraska has been fixed, at least for the time being. This is definitely trouble for an OSU squad that will play a night home game this Saturday against an Illinois group that didn’t quit in a 10-point road loss to Wisconsin two weeks ago and just yesterday beat Minnesota, handing the Golden Gophers their first conference loss and knocking them out of first place in the West Division standings. If Miller were healthy and playing, I would give the Buckeyes a puncher’s chance to beat the Spartans, in East Lansing, at that. Without him, the offense won’t be able to overcome a Spartans defense that hasn’t had problems stopping anyone outside of Oregon and briefly, Purdue (yes, that Purdue). We’ll have the pizza ready for you, Urban.

GO GREEN. GO WHITE.

 

 

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.