B.J. Cunningham just didn't hit the A button hard enough.
I'll be up front. Due to bachelor party shenanigans happening on a cruise ship somewhere off the Bahamas on Friday, I missed the MSU opener. We received the score of the game sometime Friday night, and could not ascertain whether my subconscious invented that score to reign in my optimism, or if 28-6 was the game score. It turns out the latter was correct.
Needless to say, there were a few grumbles within the bachelor party of how MSU couldn't have looked dominant like they did against their 1-AA opponent last year, Northern Colorado. What follows is a breakdown of each unit's stats, and using some of your comments from the game thread and others' opinions throughout the internet, we'll see if can synthesize something useful.
That quote came from MSU's last series in the first half; all three penalties happened on one set of downs. Even though this didn't doom the Spartans (Edwin Baker had a 23 yard run to secure the first down after the hold), I'll admit to feeling a bit concerned after reading this sequence. The good news? MSU only had one other false start in the first quarter, and the offensive line had a clean sheet in the second half. I'd call three false starts and a holding penalty an average performance -- not good, not bad, merely average.
MSU blog A Beatiful Day for Football (ABDfF) sounds like it really, really wants Dan France to start in place of Jared McGaha:
McGaha looked completely overwhelmed at LT. The rule of thumb applies, if you can't beat YSU at LT, you will not beat OSU...France looked raw and had his own issues, but I think given that he is a RS-Soph I'd rather have him in at LT even if McGaha is like 6 percent better.
At this point if they're about even (judging from what I've read), you give France and McGaha the FAU game next week to sort it out, and if it's still even, remove the "OR" from the depth chart and give France the nod at LT. McGaha does spot duty at LT and at RG (where he's started before), and have Travis Jackson and Blake Treadwell at center. The good news? ABDfF is bullish on the two other new OL starters in right tackle Skyler Burkland and Treadwell.
Lastly, I'd be remiss if I didn't say how awesome it was that Arthur Ray Jr. got the start in this game, and how equally awesome it was that Joel Foreman asked Mark Dantonio to let Ray start, snapping Foreman's 22-game starting streak in the process. Ray is up for the Courage in Sports award, and currently trails his opponent by 34%. Vote, then vote as often as you can.
Kirk Cousins: 18-22, 222 yards, 1 TD, 1 sack (formal stat, should be 2)
Andrew Maxwell: 1-1,15 yards
I only counted 1 back-foot throw for Cousins, and it was his worst pass of the night, and was lucky it wasn’t picked. Other than that, he looked great.
Welcome back! This is the type of super-efficient performance we've come to expect from Kirk -- 81.8% completion rate, over 10 yards per passing attempt, and if you're looking for another metric of offensive line performance, two sacks taken for the night is, once again, average. I could use another 250 words to tell you "Kirk Cousins is good", but we know that. So let's move on.
I wish Maxwell would've had a chance to see more playing time, but I'd much rather have the Spartans secure the win then give YSU a chance to get back into the game.
Edwin Baker: 15 carries, 91 yards
Le'Veon Bell: 9 carries, 40 yards, 2 touchdowns
Larry Caper: 4 carries, 22 yards, 1 touchdown; 3 receptions, 37 yards
Nick Hill: 2 carries, 7 yards
Todd Anderson: 1 reception, 2 yards
. Was fantastic to see Bell crushing people again, missed that towards the end of last year.
As a whole, the running backs averaged a little over 5.3 yards a carry, which is pretty darn nice considering the offensive line is still in a state of flux. If you break down each player's carries into percentages, it looks like: Baker, 50%; Bell, 30%; Caper, 13%; and Hill, 7%. Those numbers don't include Caper's receptions, so he got a few other chances to produce as well. If I had to venture a guess, I'd say the percentages don't vary too far from this split the rest of the season, barring injuries.
WIDE RECEIVERS AND TIGHT ENDS:
B.J. Cunningham: 9 receptions, 130 yards, 1 touchdown
Keshawn Martin: 2 receptions, 28 yards; 2 carries, 11 yards
Brian Linthicum: 2 receptions, 11 yards
Tony Lippett: 1 reception, 15 yards
Keith Nichol: 1 reception, 14 yards
given that he (Cunningham only now had 3 100-yard games… Not hating on Cunningham cause I like him as a receiver — but that is a poor state for your career reception leader.
I thought that Cunningham would need at least two games to tie Matt Trannon's receptions record. He only needed one, as he collected half of Cousins's passes for over one hundred yards for only the third time in his career. I was surprised to hear he's only had three games of over one hundred receiving yards too, but like SpartanDan says, possession receivers like Cunningham tend to run more intermediate routes, cutting down on their yards.
As for the other receivers, there's not near enough of a data set to derive anything useful. It doesn't sound like there were too many drops, and given that there were six in last year's opener against Western Michigan, I'd consider that a small victory.
William Gholston: 6 tackles, 2 tackles for a loss (TFL)
Marcus Rush: 4 tackles, 0.5 TFL, 2 quarterback hurries
Denzel Drone: 2 tackles, 2 hurries
Jerel Worthy: 2 tackles, 0.5 TFL, 1 blocked pass, 1 hurry
Anthony Rashad White: 2 tackles, 0.5 TFL
Tyler Hoover: 1 pass breakup
D-Line was the most disappointing part of the defense to me
The most glaring stat of the defensive line is the one that's not listed above -- zero sacks. From what I've read it sounds like the defense blitzed sparingly (and I understand the reasoning behind that -- hide the good stuff for the Big Ten season), but still...that's a bit disconcerting, especially against a team starting three new offensive linemen. The good news? Marcus Rush looks every bit like he belongs on the offensive line, so yay depth? I've also heard explanations that YSU was running a dink-and-dunk offense, with quarterback Kurt Hess getting rid of the ball as soon as possible in many cases. I'm not sure how plausible that explanation is without watching the game, but I'm willing to accept it.
Max Bullough: 15 tackles, 1 TFL
Denicos Allen: 9 tackles, 1.5 TFL
Chris Norman: 6 tackles
Sorry, no good comments to post here. Take a look at Bullough's tackles though -- 15! That is a number that is bigger than other numbers. I don't really have a lot to say about this -- it didn't sound like the linebackers blitzed often, and I didn't read many complaints.
Johnny Adams: 7 tackles, 2 pass breakups
Darqueze Dennard: 6 tackles, 1 pass breakup
Trenton Robinson: 4 tackles
Isaiah Lewis: 3 tackles, 1 interception
Mitchell White’s pass interference penalties were infuriating. I wish guys would learn to look up at the football while attempting to maul the receiver. That would mitigate many stupid PI calls.
Johnny Adams impressed me at several moments. He’s not Greg Jones but few are. I’m looking forward to a nice season from him.
The numbers agree with the assessment on Adams. I didn't read Mitchell White's name in the stat sheet where the defensive players' numbers are listed, which I assume means he didn't have a tackle but had multiple pass intereference penalties. White's a back-up corner, and if the penalties are an anomaly, great. If not, start hoping that no one gets injured in the back four, that Tony Lippett's learning curve at cornerback is short, and that Jairus Jones can heal from his ACL injury faster than expected to provide depth.
Dan Conroy: 0-1 field goals, missed 27 yards (not his fault)
Mike Sadler: 3 punts, 38.3 yard average
Keshawn Martin: 2 punt returns for 5 yards, 1 fumble
Nick Hill: 2 kick returns for 41 yards
I’m a bit concerned about the snapping & special teams issues, these are things that against tougher opponents absolutely can mean the difference between a win & a loss. I think having such steady play over the last few seasons, especially last year, in these areas, makes mistakes tonight seem that much more glaring.
Michigan State had two big mistakes on special teams Friday night. The first mistake came when Keshawn Martin muffed a punt that not only led to Youngstown State's only touchdown, but Michigan State would've had excellent field position on the Penguins' 41-yard line. Assuming MSU gets a field goal there, that's at least a 9-point swing, if not a 13-point one. Muffed punts are frustrating, but I'm not advising Martin gets pulled for someone else. He's still one of the best punt returners in the NCAA, and hopefully he's had his fumble for the season.
The second came on a gimme field goal, where snapper Brad Sonntag left the laces out for Dan Conroy, and thus Conroy missed a 27-yard field goal. After last season no reason whatsoever exists to doubt Conroy, and I trust the coaching staff in naming Sonntag the holder. There's a theme to this recap, and that is "hope everything was an aberration".
From Football Study Hall:
More sleep-walking, at least for a bit. Michigan State led Youngstown State just 7-6 with six minutes left in the first half, then scored just enough to win with comfort (28-6). On a per-play average, they nearly doubled up YSU (6.8 to 3.7), though, so I won't be too harsh.
The per-play average is yards gained per play, and the median for 1-A teams last season was 5.5. This implies that the defense played a bit better than previously thought, if not a bit frustrating at times. The offense, at 6.8 yards per play, would've been in the top 10 in the NCAA last season, albeit against weaker competition.
There are things still to be done. The offensive line needs to get on the same page, and hopefully after the FAU game a starter will be named at left tackle. The defensive line needs to get sacks, and not just pressure. The special teams miscues need to end. A win's a win however, no matter how cliched that may be, and I'm happy that MSU's 1-0 with 11 more games to go to fix what needs to be fixed.