2016 starts with a Friday night matchup with FCS Furman (Major props to anyone who gets the Ingle Martin reference).
Let’s take the temperature of Spartan Nation heading into the season opener...
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Football is back! It’s actually BACK!!! Words cannot describe how excited we as a people should be.
I know what you’re thinking. Football means fall. Fall means winter. Winter means sadness.
Counterpoint: Football means Football.
Honestly, is there a better way to spend a Saturday (or Friday) than grilling a hot dog, sipping a cold one and watching a Spartan victory? The answer is no, there is not.
Disagree and I’ll fight you.
Mark Dantonio’s squad faces their fair share of questions but if things go right, it looks capable of winning the Big Ten. There’s a fifth year senior at quarterback, exciting youth at the skill positions and stars lining each layer of the defense. Plus, Michigan and Ohio State have to come to East Lansing.
If everything clicks, chances are most Saturday’s will end with happy drinks instead of sad ones.
It all starts with Furman, a school you may not have known existed. WHO CARES?!? FOOTBALL IS BACK!!!
Furman Offense vs MSU Defense
- Leading Passer (‘15): QB Reese Hannon — 126-for-228 (55.3%), 1,409 yards, 6 TD/6 INT
- Leading Rusher (‘15): RB Triston Luke — 87 carries, 385 yards, 2 TD
- Leading Receiver (‘15): WR Andrej Suttles — 43 catches, 621 yards, 4 TD
- Leading Tackler (‘15): LB Riley Bullough — 106 tackles, 4 sacks, 2 INT
- Leading Sack Artist (‘15): DE Demetrius Cooper - 5 sacks
- Leading Ballhawk (‘15): S Montae Nicholson, Demetrious Cox (tie) - 3
As SpartanDan alluded to in Around the B1G, this is not a great football team.
Furman (FCS) at Michigan State (7 PM Friday, BTN)
With a bye after this, Michigan State won’t play an FBS team until visiting Notre Dame in Week 3. Furman went 4-7 last year, but one of those four wins was an upset of Central Florida. (On second thought, “upset” might be generous, as UCF went 0-12 and only one other game, against FIU, was closer than 14 points.) Hopefully this goes more like Furman’s other FBS game last year, a 42-3 loss to Virginia Tech.
The passing offense is not great but does include two of the most productive players in program history.
Senior captain Reese Hannon (who is listed as a co-starter with junior PJ Blazejowski) averaged a little over 150 yards a game and managed only six touchdowns in his eight starts but somehow ranks fourth in school history in career passing yardage with 5,274 yards.
His favorite target, senior wideout Andrej Suttles, is also fourth on the career receptions list (134) and seventh on the career yards list (1,815). Outside of those two, not a whole lot going on through the air.
On the ground, it’s not a whole lot better. Their leading rusher from a year ago graduated and their second leading rusher Triston Luke is currently third-string. That leaves true freshman Darius Morehead (#AllCFBNameTeam) and converted safety Richard Hayes III atop the depth chart. Morehead, the projected starter, ran for over 3,000 yards and was first-team all state in Tennessee last year. He also won the state title a 10.87 100-meter. The man can scoot.
Despite an almost surreal amount of turnover on the defensive line — eight players from last year’s roster are no longer on the team — MSU should be able to control the line of scrimmage. With so many new faces in the fold and a (stupid) bye in week two, the starters — with the likely exception of Malik McDowell — will probably get more burn than normal.
Most critically, this will give the secondary a chance to gain some confidence. Unlike last year’s opening opponent, Western Michigan, the Paladins do not sport a pass-happy attack.
Vayante Copeland in particular should be able to scrape off some rust against a lower tier opponent. After that Tyson Smith and The Redshirt Corner Collective (Band name? Band name) will take over and gain some valuable experience.
MSU Offense vs Furman Defense
- Leading Passer (‘15): QB Tyler O’Connor — 13-for-24 (54.2%), 133 yards, 2 TD/1 INT
- Leading Rusher (‘15): RB LJ Scott — 146 carries, 699 yards, 11 TD
- Leading Receiver (‘15): WR RJ Shelton — 43 catches, 503 yards, 4 TD
- Leading Tackler (‘15): LB Carl Rider — 105 tackles, 8 tackles for loss, 1 INT
- Leading Sack Artist (‘15): DE Brad Minter — 2.5 sacks
- Leading Ballhawk (‘15): S Trey Robinson — 4 INT
The 2016 Spartans are Tyler O’Connor’s team. He doesn’t have the same arm as Connor Cook — who, despite my blinding denial, is no longer on the team — but he does have the weapons and mastery of the playbook to be productive.
The biggest thing for the fifth year senior is getting as much experience as possible. Outside of his starring role in Columbus, TO’C (note the apostrophe) rode shotgun through the Cook era. He’ll likely get at least a half to start building a rapport with starting receivers RJ Shelton, Monty Madaris and Felton Davis, among others.
Don’t expect him to sling the ball just to sling it. MSU will focus on executing their offense and that will heavily involve the ground game. The treacherous triad of LJ Scott, Madre London and Gerald Holmes all bring different elements and figure to get extended looks.
The Paladin defense doesn’t do much of note, but their safety Trey Robinson is a big time player. Robinson led the team with four picks, including two in the “upset” of Central Florida, and is a two-time FCS All-American. He’s going to need to make a whole bunch of plays for Furman to slow down the Spartan offense.
It’s no secret that special teams were a problem area last year. Kicker Michael Geiger gave MSU fans a moment to remember with his walkoff kick against Ohio State, but overall had a rough season going 12-for-19.
Rooting for field goals might seem counterintuitive but getting Geiger off to a good start would do wonders for not only his confidence, but the confidence of the coaches. Hopefully he saved his best year for last.
Punter Jake Hartbarger had his fair share of yips but settled down in the second half. With a year of experience under his belt he could develop into a weapon, albeit one MSU hopes to use sparingly.
The return game wasn’t a whole lot better. MacGarett Kings Jr had his moments but some serious bonehead ones to match. RJ Shelton will return both kicks and punts this season, at least to start. Considering how often he’ll be called upon in the passing game other guys like Darrell Stewart will likely get a shot.
Furman Special Teams are delightfully weird. They have one man, JC Hollingsworth, who handles both kicking and punting duties. This is undoubtably awesome.
JC Hollingsworth the kicker went 9-for-12 including a 55-yarder. Not too shabby. JC Hollingsworth punter was significantly busier, punting 67 times for 2,609 yards in 11 games. That’s...a lot. No, the offense wasn’t good.
The cherry on top is that their one punt return touchdown was scored by Brian Ross, a defensive end, from 15 yards away. I don’t know even want to know why or how or if this actually happened, I just want to bathe in its beauty for eternity.
Football is a miracle.
Bottom Line and Prediction
Furman went 4-7 in the FCS. Michigan State went 12-2, won the Big Ten and made the College Football Playoff. This should not be a close game. So, why watch?
Well, first of all, it’s football. That should be enough, but in case it isn’t, Spartan fans should be excited for a few reasons.
Due to the week two bye — and a huge week three game in South Bend — the starters are likely to play more than usual against an opening week cupcake. It wouldn’t be a shock to see them play into the second half.
After they depart the fun really starts, at least for the die-hards. That’s when the freshman and sophomores come in and get the experience that proves so valuable down the road.
Scott, London and Holmes all find paydirt as MSU rolls.