There are a lot of things different about this Michigan State team from last year’s squad. No Cook, no Calhoun, no Conklin. Change is in the air in East Lansing.
However, as much as this team is different, there was a familiar feeling last night. The feeling that a talented Michigan State squad played down to the competition of a lesser opponent and ended up having a game that was closer that it ever should have been.
From the opening drive, it seemed that last night was going to be a different kind of affair. LJ Scott and Co. rambled down the field in less than four minutes to put Michigan State on the board and then the defense followed suit by forcing a 3 and out. Spirits were high all across Spartan Nation and some were beginning to think that this game was going to be a strong start to a 2016 campaign that is draped in questions. That feeling was short lived, however. The Spartans failed to move the ball on the next drive and Furman, led by freshman running back Darius Moorehead put an end to John Reschke’s “No First Downs” prediction. That is when things started to feel like a typical MSU opening game.
Don’t let it be misunderstood, Michigan State was never really going to lose this game. While Furman did hang around much longer than they should have, I was never sounding the upset alert. The real disappointment of this game was that while it started out looking like we would put up 40+, the Spartans limped across the finish line. Let’s dive into the highs and lows of this victory in East Lansing.
Tyler O’Connor’s stat line
In a night that could have been much better, one silver lining was seeing that Tyler O’Connor went 13/18 for 190 yards and 3 TD (he also threw 1 interception). Now, this is not exactly Heisman numbers from the fifth year senior, but it was a quality line for his second career start. There was times that he looked like the QB you want leading your team. All of his touchdown passes were well thrown balls, the first to Felton Davis III was a great over the shoulder pass that Davis adjusted well to. On the flip side there was more than one occasion that he made some poor decisions with the ball. Holding it too long, throwing into double and triple coverage, and not really looking comfortable going through his progressions. This is something that he is going to have to work on in this off week if the Spartans are going to have any chance in South Bend on the 17th.
This is very much a “every coin has two sides” point here. One one side, you had a defensive line that held a talented freshman to under 100 yards on the ground, and the D-Line held pretty strong all night. However, the secondary was not good at all. Monte Nicholson dropped an interception that led to Furman scoring, Darian Hicks picked up two of MSU’s Pass Interference calls and looking at the replays, he didn’t seem to be able to track the ball and was caught with his head facing the receiver more than one time.
This week I was talking with Chris Vannini on The Only Podcast and I went on to say I had confidence in the defense and that I believed Dantonio when he said this secondary could be as good as the #NoFLyZone was. Last night was not a good showing of that. They gave up 139 yards in the air and aside from the one interception, it was a poor night from the secondary.
This is the most frustrating part of the evening for Michigan State. The Spartans were hit with 10 penalties for a total of 120 yards last night and they were not bad calls, either. Last year, Michigan State averaged 5.5 penalties a game for 42 penalty yards last year so this 10 for 120 debacle is very uncharacteristic for Dantonio coached teams. We can only imagine the amount of running the coaches are going to make the players do to make up for these lazy penalties.
We are firmly in the LJ Scott Fan Club. The sophomore averaged 8.4 yard per carry on his TD drive and ended up carrying the ball 20 times for a total of 105 yards. Scott looked quick off the ball and ran with power and speed. Of all the player on offense, Scott shone the brightest and looks to be the back who is going to get the most carries. Madre London received 5 carries last night and there was not a single carry for Gerald Holmes.
So, this was not the major victory that Michigan State was looking for, but as we have seen in years past, the first week is not a good indicator of how good this team ACTUALLY is. The team is going into a bye week and they are going to need a lot of work if they are going to try and take a game from the Fighting Irish on the 17th. All I can say is I am glad I am not on the team because I am sure Dantonio is not happy with this performance and is going to make the whole team pay for it.