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

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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.