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 Teams: Sparty’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.