Finally recovered from the best/worst damn Cotton Bowl of my life.

Sorry, Baylor.  Rod Sanford  --  Lansing State Journal

Sorry, Baylor. Rod Sanford — Lansing State Journal

Cotton Bowl, Dallas, Texas, January 1, 2015: 5th-ranked Baylor University Bears versus 8th-ranked Michigan State Spartans. 83 points, 21 of which came in the final 12 minutes of regulation. 1,135 total yards of offense. 11 touchdowns. A “fat guy touchdown.” 18 penalties for 180 yards. 54 first downs. A blocked field goal. A “Vine”-worthy hit…by MSU WR Tony Lippett. ELATION.

Offense: Don’t be fooled by the 552 yards of total offense MSU racked up against Baylor or 258 yards amassed in the first half. After scoring touchdowns on their first two drives, Sparty’s next five possessions ended like this: Punt, turnover on downs, punt, downs, punt. To make matters worse, Baylor scored 24 points after scoring a touchdown on their first possession of the game.

Fortunately, QB Connor Cook (24-42, 314 YDS, 2 TD/2 INT) and Co. made just enough plays in the second half as the offense scored 28 points, despite Cook throwing two picks, including this beauty with MSU down 13 and in Baylor territory. With all seeming lost, the Spartans scored 21 in the final 12:09 of the game, tying the game on a 10-yard touchdown pass from Cook to WR Keith Mumphery with 17 seconds to play.

To be fair, RB Jeremy Langford (27 CAR, 162 YDS, 3 TD) was once again outstanding, notching his tenth straight 100-yard effort, running for a 1-yard score to bring his team within seven with just under five minutes in the game. Mumphery (4 REC, 87 YDS, TD) was the Spartans’ leading receiver, probably in part due to 1st-team All-Big Ten WR Tony Lippett (5 REC, 74 YDS) splitting duties as a receiver and cornerback (2 TKL, PBU). Nine different Spartans caught a pass, and TE Josiah Price caught Cook’s other touchdown pass, an 8-yarder to make the score 41-27 early in the fourth quarter. MSU finished with 238 rushing yards (131 more than Baylor allows on average) on 46 carries, and Cook was sacked only once.

Defense: While MSU ran all over what was a very good Baylor run defense (10th-best run D in nation), Baylor’s run game (29th-best in nation at 215.5 YPG) managed only 38 yards on 22 attempts against the Spartans. That’s the only area the Spartans defenders can feel good about themselves in this game, because Bears’ QB Bryce Petty (36-51, 550 YDS, 3 TD/INT) and the third-best passing offense in the country absolutely tore MSU’s secondary apart. Baylor receivers KD Cannon and Corey Coleman, a freshman and sophomore respectively, caught a combined 15 passes for 347 yards and 3 scores, and six different Bears caught a pass for 25 yards or more.

Yes, this actually happened.  Brandon Wade -- AP

Yes, this actually happened. Brandon Wade — AP

Despite the fact that Petty was able to dissect MSU for over three-and-a-half quarters, soon-to-be University of Pittsburgh football coach (and former (?) defensive coordinator) Tom Narduzzi’s guys were up to the task over the final 21:50 of the game, holding Baylor to 86 yards and zero points on their final four possessions. Petty, sacked five times, was downed twice in a row on the Bears’ final drive to start their possession. On the next play, Petty was picked off by LB Riley Bullough to seal the victory for the Spartans.

1st-team All-Big Ten CB Trae Waynes (3 TKL, PBU) and 1st-team All-Big Ten S Kurtis Drummond (7 TKL, 2 TFL) were part of a secondary that certainly endured their share of struggles during the contest, but made plays at the end when they had to. The front seven helped make Baylor’s offense one-dimensional and was able to get pressure on Petty when it counted most. DE Shilique Calhoun, also a member of the 1st-team All-Big Ten Defense, registered 1.5 sacks, and LB Ed Davis brought Petty down once.

Special TeamsIf I were into the grading thing, I would give MSU’s special teams unit an A+ just for this. And also, this.

Oh, Callahan...  Sarah Glenn -- Getty Images

Oh, Callahan… Sarah Glenn — Getty Images

Mainly, the first clip, but the second was some icing on the cake. Even though many will focus on Baylor K Chris Callahan and his blocked kick, Callahan’s 46-yard attempt hit the upright with 14:18 to play. A conversion would have given the Bears a 44-21 lead, and potentially put the game out of reach for Sparty. MSU K Michael Geiger was good on all six of his extra point attempts and the golden-legged god, P Mike Sadler punted only three times for an average of 39.7 yards per boot. There wasn’t anything out of the ordinary in the return game for either MSU or Baylor.

What’s Next: The 2015 season, and whatever that may hold. Junior QB Connor Cook is allegedly set to return, but the team will lose 17 players to graduation, including Lippett, Langford, Drummond, Mumphery, LB Taiwan Jones, and RB Nick Hill. Calhoun could return, as he is a lock to be drafted, but could probably improve his draft status with a more impressive season than the one he had in 2014. Somewhat shockingly, fellow underclassman Trae Waynes has apparently decided to leave MSU early and declare for the NFL Draft, which will definitely leave a void in the secondary should he see that plan through. Sparty is looking to build on a top-35 recruiting class, but will likely count on returning players to carry the brunt of the workload in all three phases of the game. The Spartans’ schedule in 2015 doesn’t look particularly daunting, save for their second game of the season, a tilt against Oregon in East Lansing, and a road game on November 21 to play the Ohio St. Buckeyes in Columbus. 2014’s final 11-2 mark signals the program’s fourth season in five years in which it has won 11 games or more, and “momentum” doesn’t appear to be slowing for head coach Mark Dantonio and his squad.

GO GREEN. GO WHITE.

Sparty On.  Tom Pennington -- Getty Images

Sparty On. Tom Pennington — Getty Images

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.

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.

 

 

“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.

“Homecoming”: Michigan State 42, Illinois 3; 9th #CFB weekend takeaways #MSU #Sparty

MSU QB Connor Cook fumbles the ball into the end zone near the end of the first quarter of yesterday's road 42-3 win over Illinois. It would be one of only a few mistakes Cook would make all day.  Bradley Gleeb - AP

MSU QB Connor Cook fumbles the ball into the end zone near the end of the first quarter of yesterday’s road 42-3 win over Illinois. It would be one of only a few mistakes Cook would make all day. Bradley Gleeb – AP

Generally, FBS schools from BCS conferences schedule a “cupcake” (if they can) for their homecoming football game. I still don’t quite get the concept of homecoming, because it’s not like athletic teams spend all but one game of the season on the road, but I just know that it’s a time in which students are supposed to show a disgusting amount of school spirit and the home team is supposed to kick ass.

The University of Illinois Fightin’ Illini (3-4, 0-3 Big 10) scheduled Michigan State Spartans (7-1, 4-0 Big 10) for this year’s homecoming game, and one could argue that a team of Sparty’s caliber would find that insulting. Of course, that argument would be wrong because MSU isn’t Alabama or a team that has even been to a BCS bowl in the last 25 years, but you can be sure that MSU head coach Mark Dantonio wanted his guys to give the Illini fans absolutely nothing to cheer about on homecoming.

For about the first 15 minutes of yesterday’s ballgame, it seemed as if Illinois would be able to do just enough to hang around until the end of the matchup, and then use their underdog powers to steal a victory from MSU. An Illinois field goal with less than 10 minutes left in the first quarter put Illinois ahead 3-0, but that would be all the scoring from the home team we’d see yesterday.

Before Sparty actually got on the board, QB Connor Cook (15-16, 208 YDS, 3 TD) gave away a great chance of scoring when he fumbled into the end zone on a keeper play. Illinois took over at their 20 and seemed to gain a bit of “momentum.” The play was especially frustrating because it was RB Jeremy Langford (22 CAR, 104 YDS, 2 TD) who singlehandedly got the Spartans from their 44 to the Illinois 7 by running the ball powerfully and effectively. Suddenly, with a great chance to score inside the 10, the Spartans offense decided to get cute and Cook lost 7 points on the drive, potentially.

After a 1-yard TD run by Langford in the beginning of the second quarter, it was all Sparty on both sides of the ball. Illinois opened with a 12-play, 53-yard drive that ended with those 3 points, but ran 22 plays for 75 yards the rest of the game. With the Illini getting nothing from their run game (21 CAR, 25 YDS total), the onus fell on QB Nathan Scheelhaase (13-21, 103 YDS, INT) to move his team down the field and it’s safe to say that he failed. The Illini pass for nearly 288 yards per game and average 477 yards of total offense under new offensive coordinator Bill Cubit, but did next to nothing against a hungry Sparty D. On a key early fourth down attempt, the Spartan D stifled Illinois with only one yard to make the first down, and that was the end of that chapter for the Illini offense.

While it took a bit for the offense to get going, once it did, the unit put up arguably its best performance of the season. Cook set a school record for single-game completion percentage (minimum 10 attempts) before leaving early in the fourth quarter. In four Big 10 games, Cook has put up a line of 75-116, 827 YDS, 7 TD and 2 INT…all wins. Granted, the wins have come over Iowa, Indiana, Purdue and Illinois, but it’s good to see Cook seemingly get better as the season progresses. Langford was one of three running backs to rush for at least 70 yards against the Illini and 10 different Spartans caught a pass. Sparty picked up a whopping 29 first downs, was 14-16 on third down and possessed the ball for nearly two-thirds of the game, 39:06, compared to the Illini’s 20:54 time of possession. The offense tallied 477 yards of total offense, with 269 of them coming on the ground.

This was exactly the kind of performance and win that Sparty needed before it begins a rough four-game stretch at home against Michigan, followed by two road games against Nebraska and Northwestern and then wrapping it up at home against Minnesota. Just weeks ago, it was only supposed to be a tough three games before the regular season finale at home against Minnesota, but the Gophers have beaten Northwestern and Nebraska in consecutive weeks and have clearly forgotten that they’re not supposed to do those kinds of things.

Currently, MSU leads the Legends division by a game and a half over in-state rival, Michigan. I’m not yet sure of the math, but I do believe that a MSU win over Michigan along with Nebraska losing to Northwestern and Iowa losing to Wisconsin would essentially wrap up the division for the Spartans. Michigan’s offense is better than MSU’s and if Sparty can’t contain Wolverines QB Devin Gardner, it could be a long afternoon for the Sparty defensive unit. However, Michigan’s defense is clearly the weak link and Cook and Co. must find a way to take advantage. Michigan has had an off week after last Saturday’s offensive showdown with Indiana that ended with Michigan winning, 63-47. I’m pretty sure Sparty would love to hang 47 on Michigan, albeit coming in a victory. Hell, MSU may not even score 23 on Saturday, even in East Lansing, but I still expect them to grind out a victory in what could be one of the uglier MSU-Michigan games in recent memory. Go Green. Go White.

  • Never trust Northwestern football. The good people of Chicago want a college football team to support so bad, that they’ve taken their hopes and dreams to Evanston, IL. Illinois, in Champaign, is further away, and let’s face it, they stink. The Northern Illinois Huskies may have the best collegiate football team in the state, but they play in the woeful MAC and put up a clunker in last year’s Sugar Bowl. Southern, Eastern and Western Illinois have football teams? Oh. Notre Dame doesn’t, and shouldn’t count, people. So, that basically leaves Northwestern, the elite academic institution that just so happens to have an athletics program. The football team had a great 95-96 two-year run, appearing in the Rose Bowl, then Citrus Bowl. Since, the program has been up and down. Lately, there’s been this notion, however, that NU is ready for the spotlight. They fooled people last year after starting 5-0, although those wins came against Syracuse, Vanderbilt, Boston College, South Dakota and Indiana. This year was about the same, with NU once again fooling folks after beating Cal, Syracuse, Western Michigan and Maine to begin the season. But then it came time for them to deal with Ohio St. at home and the spotlight wasn’t kind to them as they lost, 40-30. The following week, NU went to Camp Randall Stadium and got housed by Wisconsin, 35-6. A 20-17 home loss to Minnesota and 17-10 overtime road loss to Iowa later, and this Wildcats team has suddenly gone from trendy pick to reach the Rose Bowl to fighting for their bowl lives heading into Week 10. Maybe NU fans won’t allow a good start over bad teams to fool them next year. Maybe.
  • Jameis Winston for Heisman. The Florida State redshirt freshman QB is the man on one of the nation’s top teams and the Seminoles are currently undefeated and a top-3 team in the AP, coaches and BCS poll. Winston has completed a hair over 71% of his passes, has thrown for 20 TDs against just 3 INT, averages 12 yards per attempt and leads the entire country in passing efficiency. Yesterday’s 49-17 win over Maryland marked the seventh consecutive time that FSU has scored at least 41 points and sets up a showdown between the Seminoles and seventh-ranked, undefeated, in-state rival Miami Hurricanes in what could be a preview of the ACC title game. Obviously, when it comes to Heisman candidates, there are a few. Oregon QB Marcus Mariota and Texas A&M QB Johnny Manziel easily come to mind. But Mariota benefits from a very innovative offensive scheme while some just don’t want to see Manziel take home the hardware for the second year in a row. If FSU beats Miami, especially in convincing fashion, they have a schedule (save for the finale against Florida) that could enable Winston to win and put up video game numbers at the same time. A redshirt freshman (who is also an outfielder and pitcher for the baseball team, by the freakin’ way) tearing it up for a program that has returned to prominence? That’s a Heisman story.
  • Notre Dame vs Air Force. Zzzzzzzz…

“Blankin’ Out”: Michigan State 14, Purdue 0; 8th CFB weekend takeaways #MSU #Sparty

Several Spartans celebrate after yesterday's 14-0 win over Purdue in East Lansing, MI.

Several Spartans sing the alma mater after yesterday’s 14-0 win over Purdue in East Lansing, MI.

Last week: RB Jeremy Langford ran for 109 yards and scored 4 TDS, while QB Connor Cook went 22-31 for 235 yards with 2 TDS against one interception as the Michigan State Spartans outpaced the high-powered offense of the visiting Indiana Hoosiers, 42-28.

This weekAfter Sparty put up 473 yards of total offense on Indiana’s defense last week, including 235 on the ground, I assumed that their offense would have no problems whatsoever moving the ball against arguably the worst team in the Big 10, the Purdue Boilermakers. Clearly, Sparty had other plans yesterday, but were still able to leave Spartan Stadium with a grueling 14-0 win.

Michigan State came into the game as nearly 28-point favorites, and for good reason. Purdue began yesterday with a record of 1-5 overall, and 0-2 in conference. Purdue started 2013 by getting annihilated by Cincinnati, 42-7, and before Big 10 play started, were manhandled by MAC powerhouse Northern Illinois, 55-24.

Yesterday’s game was essentially full of almost nothing but offensive ineptitude and no scoring until Spartan senior DE Denicos Allen recovered Purdue freshman QB Danny Etling’s fumble and returned it 45 yards for a score and the game’s first points.

It wasn’t until the fourth quarter, when Sparty finally advanced past the Purdue 32-yard line for the first time all afternoon, that Sparty was able to put the game away. On second and goal from the Purdue 5, MSU ran what looked to be an end-around with junior WR Tony Lippett, but Lippett completed a pass to a wide open Andrew Gleichert, a junior TE, in the end zone to insert the dagger in Purdue’s heart, even though there were roughly 9 minutes left in regulation.

Senior QB Connor Cook was okay overall, but had a very rough start. At one point, he had completed 9 of 18 passes for a measly 33 yards. Fortunately for their cause, he did not turn the ball over. More fortunately, the run game was extremely effective. Spartan runners combined for 41 carries for 182 yards. Junior RB Jeremy Langford accounted for 24 of those carries, as well as 131 of those yards. It would have been nice to see this offense carve up one of the worst defenses in the country, but it just wasn’t in the cards. Despite picking up 21 first downs, the unit amassed only 294 yards of total offense against the Boilermakers.

Defensively, Sparty was stout once again, despite Purdue finding success here and there in the first half. The second half was a different story, as Purdue was completely shut down. Freshman QB finished the game 14-25 for 160 yards and was picked off once, by senior safety Isaiah Lewis. A team that started yesterday as one of the nation’s worst when running the ball (76.1 ypg, 119th) didn’t stand a chance against MSU’s run D, as Purdue finished with 66 yards on 34 carries.

Up next for Sparty is an Illinois team that honestly shouldn’t pose much more of a challenge than Purdue did, even though this one will be played in Champaign, Illinois. Illinois has an improved offense under first-year offensive coordinator Bill Cubit, but is still otherwise a below-average football team. The Fightin’ Illini have lost their first two Big 10 games to Nebraska and Wisconsin, 39-19 and 56-32, respectively. It’s entirely possible that the Illini could get their O rolling next Saturday, but against arguably the best defense in the country in Michigan State’s, that’s highly unlikely. Sparty doesn’t have the offensive firepower to simply go down to Champaign and blow Illinois away, but they should come away with a rather easy victory anyway. Go Green. Go White. 

  • Thanks for nothing, Clemson Tigers. Yesterday’s matchup between the third-ranked Clemson Tigers and fifth-ranked Florida State Seminoles was supposed to be the kind of game that would make college football fans finally recognize that the ACC is not a joke when it comes to football. Clemson, led by senior QB Tajh Boyd, began 2013 by knocking off SEC “power” Georgia, 38-35, and was beginning to look like the conference’s best shot at a national title. But, redshirt freshman FSU QB Jameis Winston and his squad had been rolling too, and he and his teammates carried their strong play into yesterday’s game as FSU pasted Clemson, 51-14…on the road. Maybe Clemson was never really this good. Maybe FSU caught Clemson on a very, very, very bad day. Maybe FSU is just this damn good. Regardless, Clemson can kiss their hopes at a national title goodbye and Winston may want to start preparing a Heisman acceptance speech. The two-sport star (RF on the baseball team) finished yesterday with a line of 22-34 for 444 yards, 3 touchdowns and just one interception. I decided to watch to see a slugfest and ended up getting a massacre.
  • Ranking? What ranking? Yesterday wasn’t a good day for several ranked teams, especially a few in the SEC. Third-ranked Clemson lost. Sixth-ranked LSU lost. Seventh-ranked Texas A&M fell (albeit to another ranked team). Ninth-ranked UCLA lost (to 13th-ranked Stanford). Eleventh-ranked South Carolina fell in Knoxville. 22nd-ranked Florida will find itself on the outside looking in after getting dominated by 14th-ranked Mizzou. 15th-ranked Georgia will be lucky to stay in the 20s after losing on the road to Vandy. Finally, 20th-ranked Washington, strong defense and all, got crushed by Arizona State on the road, 53-24. Certainly, there will be some shuffling in both the AP and coaches rankings tomorrow. The first BCS standings will be released tomorrow, as well, and a few of those losers will be wishing they had decided to put up a stinker much earlier in the season, or better yet, simply won yesterday.
  • Notre Dame vs. USC. Zzzzzzzz…