Welcome to week three of Biggies and Slappies, wherein we honor the best performances of the week with a Biggie Award, and dishonor the worst with a Slappy. As always, we start with the best:
Aaron Bates. Only the most obvious Biggie ever. His pass on the winning play was a gorgeous throw -- and he showed patience befitting a full-time quarterback, waiting for Gantt to come open before hitting him perfectly. And, oh, by the way, his 45.6 yard average on 8 punts had a lot to do with us being in the game in the first place.
Le'Veon Bell. We're running out of superlatives to describe his play. His two-play sequence in the third quarter--where he escaped from Manti Te'o in the backfield (a 5-star missed tackle, if you will) and ran for a first down, and then scampered for a 16-yard touchdown--was absolutely amazing. He follows his blocks incredibly well for someone with such little experience, and then has the ability to shed tackles with ease. Bell won his second Big Ten Freshman of the Week award, and I'm pretty certain it won't be his last one. Another remarkable performance for a player who is completely shattering even our most wildly optimistic expectations.
B.J. Cunningham. With apologies to Bell, I think Cunningham was our best offensive player on Saturday. Seven catches -- several of which were difficult grabs -- no drops, and 6 of his 7 catches went for first downs. (He also drew a pass interference call.) He showed great awareness getting back in bounds immediately after being forced out, so that his touchdown catch would stand. A great day from a player who may be becoming Cousins' favorite target.
Edwin Baker. He's not higher on the list because most of his rushes were for little or no gain. But, he gets the biggie for two crucial plays in the game. First, his 10-yard run to begin MSU's first touchdown drive immediately got the offense out of a tough situation following Adams' interception. The run would have gone for much more without the horse collar tackle at the end, but I'm sure the coaching staff was happy to accept the 15 extra yards. The second, of course, was his 56-yard touchdown run, where he eluded the linebackers and safeties, and then showed amazing speed to beat the ND cornerback to the endzone.
Johnny Adams and Chris L. Rucker. Yes, it's difficult awarding Biggies to the two cornerbacks when we gave up 369 yards passing. But, as Joe Rexrode said, they both "did way more good than bad." Crist's last two touchdown passes came at the expense of Robinson and Hyde, respectively, and in any event, ND has the best receivers MSU will see all season. I thought they did a good job, overall. The Biggies are awarded for the one huge play each made. Adams' interception killed off a ND drive which appeared destined for the endzone, and Rucker's crushing tackle on Kyle Rudolph in overtime prevented ND from picking up a first down, and forced them to settle for a field goal.
More, after the jump.
MORE BIGGIE THAN SLAPPY
Kirk Cousins. He doesn't get the full Biggie because 1) his first quarter interception was brutal, and 2) the illegal forward pass penalty was a truly stupid decision. But I think MSU fans, for the most part, are being unduly critical of Cousins' performance on Saturday. Yes, he was sacked four times, but on three of them the pocket collapsed in all forward directions and there wasn't much he could do. The guy went 12-for-12 in the second half, threw two fantastic touchdown passes, and looked better than he did last week (and against a better defense). He's primed to absolutely shred Northern Colorado's defense this weekend, and that's something that could give him a lot of confidence going forward.
The defensive line. A terrible, terrible day. They didn't manage a single sack of Crist, and barely hurried him at all. The lack of pressure allowed Crist to wait, and wait, and wait, and wait until his receivers finally shed coverage. I'm completely certain that this, and not the secondary, was the biggest problem with our pass defense on Saturday. And while some have written that MSU's rush defense was good on Saturday, I don't think that's exactly right. MSU only allowed 92 rushing yards, yes, but that's largely because ND abandoned the running game, not because we were stopping them. Armando Allen rushed for 5.5 yards per carry; while ND clearly was gaining chunks of yards against us through the air, it was questionable to turn away from the ground game as much as they did. In short: not good.
Trenton Robinson and Marcus Hyde. Really poor game from both of them. Struggled to contain Riddick and Floyd on deeper throws; Riddick's third quarter touchdown, in particular, was waaaay too easy. Again, their job wasn't made any easier by the lack of any pass rush for MSU, but after looking pretty decent against FAU, this was a big step back. Thankfully, MSU won't see a better passing offense all season.
Greg Jones. This is semi-unfair, because 1) Jones wasn't actively bad, and 2) he had to assume even more responsibility than usual because of Eric Gordon's injury. But aside from his one sack, this was one of the quietest games for Jones I can ever remember. He had only 9 tackles (8 of them were assisted) and wasn't in the thick of every play like he usually is. Furthermore, Jones came back to MSU to improve his pass coverage skills, and nearly every time he was matched up with Kyle Rudolph, he lost the battle. Granted, Rudolph is fantastic -- but so is Jones, and he definitely came up short.
As always, feel free to divvy out your own awards in the comments.