Game 9 recap: #14 OSU dashes #8 MSU’s playoff hopes in E. Lansing, 49-37

J.T. Barrett does not care about your alleged elite defense, people.

OSU QB J.T. Barrett beats MSU LB Ed Davis to the end zone during the first quarter of yesterday's OSU 49-37 win over MSU in E. Lansing.  Andrew Weber -- USA Today Sports

OSU QB J.T. Barrett beats MSU LB Ed Davis to the end zone during the first quarter of yesterday’s OSU 49-37 win over MSU in E. Lansing. Andrew Weber — USA Today Sports

Okay, so maybe that’s somewhat of a stretch. While the Ohio St. freshman has been very impressive in place of injured QB Braxton Miller, he hasn’t been gunning down top-10, top-20, or even top-50 teams every week. However, all a player can do is execute against the competition and so far, Barrett has done that and then some.

I gave the 14th-ranked Buckeyes (8-1, 5-0 Big Ten East) a bit less than a puncher’s chance to escape East Lansing with a victory, and naturally, they went into East Lansing and pretty much trounced my 8th-ranked Michigan St. Spartans (7-2, 4-1 Big Ten East), 49-37. There were 86 points and over 1,100 yards of total offense between arguably the Big Ten’s two best teams, in a nationally televised night game, no less. There are those who will call this win an upset for Ohio St., but that’s really based on ranking, only. Clearly, the gap, if there is one, is not large at all.

Offense: You’d think that if the Spartans racked up 536 yards of total offense, in any game, that they’d come away the victor. Right? The problem is that while it appears Sparty’s offense was wildly effective, it actually wasn’t. Jeremy Langford had a great day (18 CAR, 145 YDS, 3 TD), but seemingly wasn’t utilized enough, especially considering MSU was somewhat in the game until early in the fourth quarter. QB Connor Cook (25-45, 358 YDS, 2 TD) continued to struggle with his accuracy, never really getting into a solid rhythm despite posting impressive game numbers. WR Tony Lippett was injured early, and was limited to just 5 catches for 64 yards. Fellow WR Macgarett Kings, Jr. and TE Josiah Price both hauled in 5 passes for a combined 136 yards, with Price hauling in a 16-yard TD catch after the game was pretty much well in hand. The offense did not turn the ball over, but went nearly an entire quarter in the second half without scoring a point, while the Buckeyes scored 14 in that time frame. As a result, the score jumped from 28-24 to 42-24. Cook was sacked only once, but faced good pressure at times. One of the more frustrating moments of this season came late in the second quarter, after the Buckeyes lost a fumble during a kick return. Sparty recovered and three plays later, Langford had a rushing touchdown negated because of a holding penalty. Two plays later, K Michael Geiger missed a 39-yard field goal and on the first play of the ensuing OSU possession, Barrett threw a 79-yard TD pass to WR Michael Thomas to knot the score at 21. Little did I know, the game was basically over at that point.

Defense: The defense was absolutely terrible. While I knew Barrett was no slouch, I had no clue he would have the type of game he had, against this MSU D, in what I believe can be a very raucous environment (especially when Sparty is, you know, good). All Barrett did against what was believed to be one of the nation’s top defenses was pile up 408 yards of total offense and 5 touchdowns, two of them coming on the ground. Barrett completed 16 of 26 passes for 300 yards and carried the ball 14 times for 108 yards. Similar to the Oregon game, whenever MSU’s opponent needed a play to be made, it seemed they could just dial up their QB’s number and get the necessary yardage or score. Buckeyes RB Ezekiel Elliott (23 CAR, 159 YDS, 2 TD) was a problem for Sparty, too, as was one of OSU’s top receivers in school history, Devin Smith (6 REC, 129 YDS, TD). Safeties Kurtis Drummond and RJ Williamson led Sparty with 11 tackles each; it’s never a good sign when your safeties lead the team in tackling. DE Shilique Calhoun was relatively quiet, but did manage to register 1.5 TFL and half a sack. My favorite defensive series: In the beginning of the second quarter, OSU faced a daunting 3rd and 23 from its own 36. Barrett completed a 43 yard-pass to Smith. Five plays later, on fourth and goal, Barrett powered it in from one yard away for six.

Special Teams: Nothing to report here, except that maybe it’s time for a new kicker?

What’s Next: At Maryland (6-3, 3-2 Big Ten East), 8 PM ET. Big Ten newcomer Maryland is just one game behind Sparty in the divisional standings and would love to have its first signature win as a conference member this upcoming Saturday night. Senior Terps QB C.J. Brown has been mostly serviceable as a dual-threat QB of sorts and offensively, there isn’t much behind him in the way of an actual threat. Maryland’s D is not very good, but is probably gleaming after allowing only 19 points in a trip to Penn State. Then again, they did allow 52 the week before in Camp Randall, so it’s possible Maryland is prime to give up another huge offensive output to its opponent. If Sparty doesn’t show up in College Park, MD, seething mad and ready to absolutely obliterate the Terrapins, I’ll be dumbfounded. Sparty’s chances of making the playoffs are over unless something absurdly miraculous happens, but head coach Mark Dantonio will make sure his squad finishes 2014 on a strong note.

GO GREEN. GO WHITE.

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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 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.

“Little Brother,” Michigan State 29, Michigan 6 #MSU #Sparty #CFB

Several Spartans celebrate with the Paul Bunyan Trophy after yesterday's home win over rival Michigan, 29-6.

Several Spartans celebrate with the Paul Bunyan Trophy after yesterday’s home win over rival Michigan, 29-6.

While I got some joy out of beating my younger brother 24-4 in a one-on-one game of basketball, it didn’t give me the joy that I feel whenever Michigan State beats Michigan on the football field. Ever since I was a child, the belief was that Michigan had the superior football team, and it was mostly true. Besides that damn fight song of theirs, Michigan’s football program is elite, just off of reputation alone. And when the Wolverines weren’t seemingly relying on their reputation, they were actually doing some winning. They had a Heisman winner in the early 90s, a Heisman winner in the late 90s who led them to a national title, were a top-10 team for the first half of the 2000s and rebuilt themselves in the late 2000s into the solid program they are today, even one that won the Sugar Bowl over Virginia Tech in 2012.

Yesterday was a joyous one, as the Michigan State Spartans dominated their “big brother,” the Michigan Wolverines, at Spartan Stadium, 29-6. This game was for the Paul Bunyan Trophy, something the Spartans have gone home with after 5 of the last 6 games. Ignoring the usual pregame trash talk, this was a matchup that Spartan HC Mark Dantonio had his boys clearly amped up for, especially on the defensive side.

It is a bit difficult to say whether or not Sparty’s defense is the best in the land, but yesterday, DC Pat Narduzzi’s unit made a very strong argument for their case. Michigan’s offense came into the rivalry game averaging almost 50 points and 500 yards of total offense over their last three games. On the season, they had averaged a shade over 42 points and 446 yards of total offense per game. In addition to scoring a measly six points against MSU, Michigan’s O was held to a pathetic 168 yards of total offense, 2.8 yards per play, 2-13 on third downs, punted eight times, was sacked seven times, tackled for loss 11 times, fumbled three times, was intercepted once and ran for the lowest amount of rushing yards in school history: minus-48 yards, surpassing the dubious mark the 1962 team set against Minnesota. MSU linebackers Denicos Allen and Ed Davis combined for 4.5 sacks and 5.5 tackles for loss. DE Shilique Calhoun was a one-man gang, notching 2.5 sacks and 3 tackles for loss. That, my friends, is dominance.

Early on, it looked as if the Wolverines wouldn’t have too much of an issue moving the ball. On their first drive, starting at their 17, QB Devin Gardner (14-27, 210 YDS, INT) hooked up with WR Jeremy Gallon (5 REC, 67 YDS) three times for 57 yards before the Wolverines had to settle for a 49-yard field goal. That first drive was their best of the entire game and things only got worse from that point on.

When Michigan RB Fitzergald Toussaint (8 CAR, 20 YDS, one pregame insert of foot into mouth) wasn’t getting bottled up at the line of scrimmage, Gardner was running for his life. He was sacked five times in the first half and hurried probably twice as much. The Michigan offensive line was manhandled all game and we even got to see the great tackle, Taylor Lewan…commit several petty acts after the whistle had blown. Left on an island against the Michigan receivers, the Sparty secondary answered the call repeatedly, settling down after a shaky first drive and neutralizing any potential threat thereafter. All-everything CB Darqueze Dennard intercepted his third pass of the season, this one coming with Michigan in the red zone and trying to rally late.

Offensively, Sparty was good enough to not screw things up. Connor Cook (18-33, 252 YDS, TD, INT) missed a few open receivers, but made enough plays, overall. He also ran for a 1-yard TD that was the effective dagger in Michigan’s hearts, putting MSU ahead, 22-6 with 10:31 left to play. RB Jeremy Langford (26 CAR, 120 YDS, TD) continued his hot stretch, running for 100+ yards for the fourth straight week. He also has scored six times in that stretch, including a late 40-yard TD scamper late in yesterday’s ballgame that was the epitome of icing on the cake. There were a few drops from the receivers and tight ends, but nothing that cost MSU, obviously. WR Bennie Fowler (6 REC, 75 YDS, TD) and Tony Lippett (5 REC, 62 YDS) led the way, and even FB Trevon Pendleton (2 REC, 62 YDS) had a good receiving day, including a 49-yard reception on the Spartans’ first offensive play from scrimmage.

Sparty just about mauled Michigan in 2011, the last time these two teams played in East Lansing. Not only did Narduzzi’s guys absolutely embarrass former Michigan QB Denard Robinson and his teammates, but they exerted the kind of physicality that inspires most, and enrages some (who support the maize and blue, mostly). Yesterday had to have been worse for the Wolverines, because this time around, there weren’t a handful of personal foul penalties called against the Spartans. MSU simply beat the hell out of Michigan, from start to finish. DOMINANCE.

This win wasn’t a great win because I feel like I, or any of the Michigan State football players and fans/students have something to prove to anyone affiliated with Michigan. It was great because Michigan State and Michigan are true rivals, and that mentality spills over into the student and even citizen populations of East Lansing an Ann Arbor, respectively. We’re still behind in the series, by far, but feel things are changing for the better. That 29-6 show of command was a big first step. Now, Michigan isn’t this bad, offensively. Yesterday, they just ran into a buzz saw. A very physical, determined, aggressive buzz saw. Little brother. Heh.

Next.

MSU will now have a week off before traveling to Lincoln, Nebraska to face the Nebraska Cornhuskers (6-2, 3-1 Big 10 Legends). Nebraska beat Northwestern in Lincoln yesterday, 27-24, on a Hail Mary TD pass as time expired. Nebraska QB Taylor Martinez has appeared in only 4 games this season because of a foot injury, his last against Minnesota two Saturdays ago, a 34-23 loss in which he also suffered a hip pointer. He’s questionable for this Saturday’s game at Michigan, and the team will have to once again rely on leading rusher Ameer Abdullah, one of the Big 10’s best running backs. MSU-Nebraska will be big for the standings in the Big 10 Legends Division, as Nebraska sits 1.5 games behind Sparty. We should all have a better idea of what MSU will be up against after the Nebraska-Michigan game, however. Until then… Go Green. Go White.