Michigan State remains in search of a vein of consistency on offense.
Before the Spartans (3-1, 0-0 Big Ten) took last week off, they left off with a gut-punch of a 17-13 loss at Notre Dame. This game featured a wide receiver option pass on a first down at MSU’s 47 with the score tied 10-10 in the third quarter. Yes, the pass was intercepted.
It featured a quarterback switch with 2:11 left in the game and MSU needing a TD. Sophomore Connor Cook was pulled after completing 16 of 32 passes for 135 yards in favor of fifth-year senior Andrew Maxwell.
“I was a little disappointed, you know?” Cook said after the game. “I don’t know why they pulled me. They said I was a little inaccurate, but I would have wished that the coaches had faith in me to keep me in there in a critical situation like that.”
Cook will start when Michigan State travels to Iowa (4-1, 1-0 Big Ten) for its Big Ten opener.
The Spartans haven’t settled on a running back, with Jeremy Langford leading the way with 268 yards and four TDs. Michigan State receivers came away from the Notre Dame game with several dropped passes, an ongoing problem. Michigan State is No. 122 in the nation with a 4.8 yards per attempt. That’s a number that tells you if it’s worth throwing the ball.
The Spartans’ O-line has given them a base of operations. Guards Blake Treadwell and Dan France and center Jack Allen give the run game, that doesn’t have a 250-pounder capable of 300-plus carries, some gumption.
You’ve got to stay balanced, otherwise you’re just going to become one dimensional,” MSU coach Mark Dantonio said. “We have to do things for the long haul. We said we were going to Notre Dame with the idea of getting better as a football team and also allowing ourselves to grow. Well, you can’t grow if you just become one dimensional. You have to put people out there and allow them those opportunities.”
By the numbers, Michigan State has the best defense in the country. The Spartans allow just 188.8 yards a game, the best number in the nation. Led by senior middle linebacker Max Bullough, this might be the best defense Dantonio has had in seven years at MSU and that’s saying something.
Michigan State’s defense and Iowa’s running game are the backdrop for what should be a three-hour arm wrestling match.
“Run the ball, zone scheme, inside zone, outside zone, play-action pass — they do what they do, and they do it really well,” Bullough told MLive.com. “Their offensive line has been doing it since they were 18-years-old, coming into the program, running the same plays, same two, three, four running plays, and they are big guys up front and in the backfield this year.
“I think Iowa is a team that wants to try to out-physical you, and we’re a defense that wants to out-physical you, so it’s always a good battle between us and Iowa, and I think they would admit that too.”
The Big Ten world knew the Spartans would have its struggles on offense and a championship-caliber defense. MSU also had the favorable scheduling draw with Leaders Division cross-overs this season. It dropped Ohio State and Wisconsin for Indiana and Illinois. Expectations, quarterback controversy or no quarterback controversy, come with that.
“When you go under in the Big Ten season, you’re going to take a deep breath and you’re going to dive under the water pretty deep,” Dantonio said.
The deep dive for the Legends Division begins this weekend. If Iowa wants to stamp itself a contender, it needs to win league games at Kinnick Stadium (11 a.m. on ESPN2 this week). The Hawkeyes have lost four of its last five Big Ten home games, including a 1-3 record last season.
Since 2007, Iowa and MSU have played two double-overtime games, three games decided by three or fewer points and two relative no-contests.
“We better get used to it [games being close in the fourth quarter],” Iowa coach Kirk Ferentz said. “That’s how it’s going to be for the next however many games we have here. That’s good college football. When we’re not in tight games, it’s probably a surprise, so we better get used to that.”
Michigan State has the Hawkeyes and then it goes to the Big Ten lightweight division with games against Indiana, Purdue and at Illinois.
“What has to happen now? We’ve got to get over it and get into the Big Ten season,” Bullough said. “Everything we’re worried about is still in front of us. Winning or losing to Notre Dame is purely a pride thing, it has nothing to do with where we want to go at the end of the year.”
|Passing Yards:||C. Cook||411|
|Passing TDs:||C. Cook||5|
|Rushing Yards:||J. Langford||268|
|Rushing TDs:||J. Langford||4|
|Receiving Yards:||M. Kings||136|
|Receiving TDs:||M. Kings||2|
|Offense (FBS Rank)|
|Passing Yards:||615 (105)|
|Rushing Yards:||748 (61)|
|Points per game:||28.8 (68)|
|Yards per game:||340.8 (96)|
|Field Goals:||6 (24)|
|Defense (FBS Rank)|
|Passing Yards:||522 (1)|
|Rushing Yards:||238 (2)|
|Points per game:||13.3 (9)|
|Yards per game:||190.0 (1)|
|Field Goals:||4 (51)|
|Passing Yards:||J. Rudock||961|
|Passing TDs:||J. Rudock||6|
|Rushing Yards:||M. Weisman||615|
|Rushing TDs:||J. Rudock||5|
|Receiving Yards:||K. Martin-Manley||225|
|Receiving TDs:||J. Hillyer||2|
|Offense (FBS Rank)|
|Passing Yards:||1015 (60)|
|Rushing Yards:||1222 (8)|
|Points per game:||32.8 (49)|
|Yards per game:||447.4 (44)|
|Field Goals:||8 (8)|
|Defense (FBS Rank)|
|Passing Yards:||932 (47)|
|Rushing Yards:||396 (10)|
|Points per game:||15.0 (17)|
|Yards per game:||265.6 (5)|
|Field Goals:||4 (50)|
|4 Ohio State||1-0||5-0|
|Date||Opponent||Result / Time|
|8/31||vs. Northern Illinois||L 27 – 30|
|9/7||vs. Missouri State||W 28 – 14|
|9/14||at Iowa State||W 27 – 21|
|9/21||vs. Western Michigan||W 59 – 3|
|9/28||at Minnesota||W 23 – 7|
|10/5||vs. Michigan State||12:00 ET|
|10/19||at 4 Ohio State||3:30 ET|
|10/26||vs. 16 Northwestern||TBA|
|11/23||vs. 19 Michigan||TBA|
|11/29||at Nebraska||12:00 ET|