Week One: Biggies and Slappies

Welcome to a new postgame feature, which may become a weekly regular depending on the dedication and diligence of yours truly.  Here we'll evaluate the best- and worst-performing players in each week's game, in the mold of Adam Rittenberg's weekly "helmet stickers" posts.  Each week's best performers will receive the imaginary Biggie Award, named in honor of MSU's greatest coach.  The worst performers will receive a Slappy Award, named after a certain coach ranking slightly lower on that list.  Without further ado (and ignoring the slightly pornographic names of the awards), the winners:

BIGGIES

Biggie_icon_medium  Le'Veon Bell.  The easiest choice.  Bell completely validated all of his preseason hype by delivering a record-breaking performance.  He rushed for 141 yards and 2 touchdowns on only 10 carries, and showed the ability to both run inside and also to turn the corner on sweeps and off-tackle plays.  And, the burst of speed he showed on his 75-yard run (the game's defining play) was truly impressive.  Don Treadwell summed it up after the game:  "We are very excited by [Bell], and we think the sky is the limit as we keep moving forward."  Joe Rexrode is even more enthusiastic, comparing Bell to Marion Barber (!).  Larry Caper will obviously take plenty of the carries once he returns from injury, but Bell should be a major component in the offense going forward.  Let the Elton John jokes commence.

Biggie_icon_medium Edwin Baker.  And, you can't name Bell without recognizing his backfield compatriot.  Baker clearly built on his strong performances at the end of last season, as he came out looking even stronger yesterday: 19 carries for 117 yards and 2 touchdowns.  Many of those were tough inside handoffs, and Baker showed toughness and balance in spades -- on his 28 yard touchdown run, he made one Bronco defender miss, and then another simply bounced off of him.  An impressive performance from a vitally important player.

Biggie_icon_medium Keith Nichol.  Nichol's day started inauspiciously: on a 3rd-and-6, he stumbled and allowed Kirk Cousins' pass to bounce off his hands.  From that point, however, he was great: his touchdown catch was fantastic, and made Cousins' dangerous throw look good.  Nichol was equally impressive in blocking downfield; Baker's second touchdown was a direct result of Nichol's efforts, and it at least looked like Keith was really having fun playing wideout.

Biggie_icon_mediumThe offensive line.  True, Cousins was sacked twice, but one of those sacks was Cousins' fault (where he didn't throw the ball on a planned bubble screen).  Otherwise, the line looked good: Cousins had plenty of time to throw, and Baker and Bell consistently had big holes to run through.  Hey, Mark Dantonio, can you repeat my sentiments back to me, please?

Based on what I saw, I thought our protection of the quarterback was very good. I also thought we ran the ball. We ran the ball for almost three hundred yards. We're doing something right there. They played very well.

Well done.  I'm encouraged by what we saw.

Biggie_icon_medium Todd Anderson.  He was little-discussed or noticed until he was listed, surprisingly, as co-starting defensive end (along with Colin Neely) prior to the game.  Well, now we know why the coaching staff had such confidence in him: he had three tackles, a pass breakup, and a hurry, and was responsible for much of MSU's best pressure on Alex Carder.  It was no accident how many times his name was called during the broadcast.  An impressive performance, and a player to watch going forward.

Biggie_icon_mediumJohnny Adams.  Many of us were hoping that Adams could spur vastly improved play from the secondary.  So far, so good: Rexrode lists him as his "unsung hero" of yesterday's game.

The redshirt sophomore cornerback, who played as a true freshman and sat out last year in part because of a shoulder injury, was airtight in his coverage for most of the afternoon. He finished with five tackles, a pass break-up and zero notable busts.

I'll second that, as he kept close coverage on several of WMU's talented receivers and looked very good yesterday.  One gets the sense that he would have been useful last season; I'm just happy that he's around for this one.

Biggie_icon_medium Aaron Bates.  On a day with strong, swirling wind, Bates averaged 44.6 yards on 7 punts.  His efforts probably prevented WMU from taking the lead during MSU's 10-minute sleepwalk in the first/second quarters.  A very good start.

The lowlights, after the jump.

MORE SLAPPY THAN BIGGIE

Slappy_icon_medium  Keshawn Martin.  I have high hopes for Keshawn this season, but his performance yesterday is probably better forgotten.  His truly inexplicable decision to try picking up a bouncing punt led to WMU's first touchdown, and he also dropped two easy passes.  He did at least give us a glimpse of his ability with two excellent rushes which led to touchdowns -- a 12 yarder in the 2nd quarter, and a 31 yarder in the 3rd quarter -- and a great block on Bell's 75-yard run..  The talent is clearly there, but yesterday, the focus simply wasn't.

SLAPPIES

Slappy_icon_medium B.J. Cunningham.  More drops (2) than catches (1); he dropped a sure first down in the first quarter and never was able to get into the game.  He's too talented for this.

Slappy_icon_medium Tyler Hoover.  Totally anonymous against one of the weaker offensive lines MSU will see this season.  (He did recover a fumble; points for being in the right place.)  Still, at this rate, he'll be overtaken by Will Gholston sooner than we expected.

Slappy_icon_medium The whole team, for group achievement in penalties.  MSU racked up 11 penalties for 69 yards, including 2 personal fouls, 3 false starts, 2 defensive offsides, and a delay of game directly after a possession change (!).  Here's hoping that this was first-game jitters rather than pervasive indiscipline.

Seven Biggies and only three full Slappies suggests a solid team effort, and with a few exceptions, that's exactly what MSU got on Saturday.  Feel free to present your own awards in the comments.

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