With all due respect to WMU, Sparty’s season starts tonight

The Spartans led at one point in last year's MSU/Oregon game in Eugene, OR. Then...Mariota. Steve Dykes -- Getty

The Spartans led at one point in last year’s MSU/Oregon game in Eugene, OR. Then…Mariota. Steve Dykes — Getty

In the written world of sports, no competitor, no matter how skilled, should ever overlook an opponent, no matter how inept. To be fair to the 2015 Western Michigan University football team, they are not an incompetent one. Picked by the media (by one vote) to finish second in the MAC West behind Toledo, the Broncos completed their second regular season under head coach P.J. Fleck with an 8-4 record before losing to Air Force in the 2014 Famous Idaho Potato Bowl, 38-24. With 16 starters returning, among them the MAC’s reigning passing efficiency king, Zach Terrell, it wouldn’t be wise to write them off especially when playing them in Waldo Stadium in Kalamazoo, MI…even if you are the fifth-ranked team in the country, coming off of 42 wins and 4 bowl wins in the last 4 seasons.

In the unwritten world of sports, Michigan State simply wanted to escape Kalamazoo with a somewhat resounding win and healthy team so they could finally, openly narrow their focus on the seventh-ranked Oregon Ducks. The same Ducks that soundly beat them 46-27 last season up in Eugene, OR, and put an early dent in the Spartans’ national title hopes. A Ducks team that would be traveling to East Lansing, MI, for this matchup, hopefully going home with their national title dreams seemingly all but lost.

MSU’s opponent on Saturday is definitely a strong one, but not quite as strong as the Ducks team that pasted them last year. The catalyst of those Ducks, QB Marcus Mariota, is set to begin his first NFL regular season with the Tennessee Titans, and Oregon lost CB Ifo Ekpre-Olomu, DE Arik Armstead, and SS Erick Dargan among a few others to the NFL as well. Still, Sparty knows this is a matchup between two top-10 teams based on merit so to speak, and not just name.

Oregon could have certainly dealt with the loss of Mariota by promoting from within. Junior QB Jeff Lockie backed up Mariota for two years and had a clear advantage on the other returning quarterbacks before spring practice was to begin. Sophomore walk-on Taylor Alie, the team’s holder on field goal and extra-point attempts could have snuck in to win the job. Or, Oregon could take advantage of a somewhat quirky NCAA rule and scour the transfer market for a starting QB, like Eastern Washington graduate Vernon Adams, Jr.

Adams, Jr. spent the last three seasons terrorizing the Big Sky Conference to the tune of nearly 10,500 passing yards and 110 touchdown passes. Not quite the dual-threat QB Mariota was but still plenty dangerous outside of the pocket, Adams, Jr. also managed to scamper for over 1,200 yards at a 4.1 yard per carry clip. Eastern Washington did some winning with Adams, Jr. as the signal-caller, too. As a three-year starter, Adams, Jr. finished his career at EWU with a record of 34-9 and three first-place finishes in the conference.

Alas, Adams, Jr. is no Mariota. Hell, he may not even be close considering he racked up such ridiculous numbers against the likes of Cal-Poly, Idaho St., Portland St., and, sorry Spo, UC-Davis. I don’t intend to take away from what he accomplished, but rather provide context to the situation by explaining that in terms of football, the Big Sky Conference isn’t exactly a “Power 5” group.

Michigan St. head coach Mark Dantonio knows this. He also knows that Adams, Jr. is surrounded by far superior talent than what he was surrounded by during his time at EWU. There is also the issue of the MSU secondary, and whether it can recover from a rather subpar performance against WMU. Terrell completed 33 of 50 passes for 365 yards and receivers Daniel Braverman and Corey Davis both finished with over 100 yards receiving. It’s important to note that WMU was pressed into throwing the ball so many times because their run game (23 rushes, 18 yards) was basically non-existent, but it’s still worrisome that Terrell and Co. enjoyed the success they did. If the Spartan secondary had problems against WMU, it’s frightening to think of what Oregon’s QB and speedy receivers could do.

Hopefully, the game will come down to offense, which is a weird sentiment considering MSU still trots out a starting QB in Connor Cook who is seemingly afraid to complete 60% of his passes and one who didn’t even complete 50% of them against WMU’s defense. Making up for Cook’s inaccuracy is senior WR Aaron Burbridge and the two-headed monster at running back, freshman Madre London and sophomore Gerald Holmes. The three combined for 330 yards of total offense and 3 touchdowns in the season-opening win over WMU and will be counted on even more against Oregon tonight. MSU’s offensive line is still extremely stout in pass- and run-blocking situations and while Cook isn’t a surgeon in the pocket, he tends to not cost his team too many drives and scoring opportunities.

MSU won’t throw for 438 yards against Oregon the way EWU did, but Oregon also won’t run for 485 yards against a Sparty defense that for the last several years has been one of the nation’s best against the run. After sacking Terrell 7 times last week in what looked to be a pared-down defense of sorts, it could get extremely hectic very early for Adams, Jr. if MSU’s pass rush proves to be effective. And after beginning his Ducks career at home against a cupcake, Adams, Jr.’s first road game will be a nationally televised, prime-time event in the home of the nation’s fifth-ranked team.

The result of this game will obviously mean a lot for both teams, although it’s important to remember that the closer the final score, the less damage and good a loss and win would provide, respectively. A win for Sparty would immediately place them in the conversation of teams with a legitimate (albeit very early) shot at competing for a playoff spot and the national title. A loss for Sparty would…not be good. At all. So, with all due respect to Western Michigan University, a school I spent my first year as an undergraduate at and institution I still have very fond memories of…   GO GREEN. GO WHITE.

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 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 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.