Michigan State’s first game of the season ended in a comfortable 38-14 win against in-state opponent Western Michigan, but the final score really doesn’t tell the whole story.
The Spartans—a team full of vigor and enthusiasm for months before the season even started—came out flat and seemingly uninspired. Blame it on a lack of continuity in terms of not playing together against real opponents, or blame it on the long lay-off since last season concluded. As Mark Dantonio said after the game to reporters, he wants a more “crisp” performance.
To be fair, it was the first game of the season and many teams in the nation are sluggish in their first outing. As for the Spartans, let’s assess what went right and what went wrong.
First, let’s start with the good; or, more specifically, the running game.
With tailback Larry Caper—who is listed as the No. 1 back on the Spartans’ depth chart—nursing a broken bone in his hand, fellow sophomore Edwin Baker and freshman LeVeon Bell were in control of the running attack.
Saying each player took advantage of every carry is quite the understatement.
Both ran for over 100 yards and scored touchdowns. Baker scored on a 30-plus yard run on his second carry, although Bell was the one who stole the show.
Showing a great amount of patience in his first collegiate game, Bell found the holes and hit them hard with his tall frame. He infused the team and the jam-packed stadium with his skill set. He may be that diamond in the rough Michigan State fans have looked for since Javon Ringer graduated.
Quarterback Kirk Cousins admitted to being nervous when the game began, and it showed.
Cousins almost threw an interception early and missed some open receivers, yet he did end up with almost 200 yards passing and a touchdown. He should be a lot more comfortable in the team’s next game against Florida Atlantic.
The receiving corps also had butter fingers, dropping six passes and fumbling one time (Charlie Gantt). The bright side was Keith Nichol, seeing his first action at the wide receiver position since transferring to East Lansing.
Nichol made the most of it, leaping up and snagging a Cousins ball thrown into double coverage. He also blocked very well, shoring up a lane for Bell on a 75-yard run.
Then there was the defense.
A much-maligned unit in 2009 after allowing 32 passing touchdowns (third worst in FBS) and not being able to make stops when they mattered most, Pat Narduzzi’s unit still showed some signs of weakness.
The secondary struggled to keep up with receivers—especially on patterns that were thrown towards the sidelines. It is still a major area of concern, but improvement is showing.
Greg Jones was up to his usual self, garnering nine tackles and forcing a fumble. He almost had his first career interception but he couldn’t snag the ball in the end zone.
One player who many thought would make an appearance was freshman phenom William Gholston, although he played when the Spartans were up big. He was rushing the opposing quarterback and showing lots of promise. Gholston starting may be in the team’s best interest.
All in all, it was a good performance by the entire team. There were signs of possibility for the offense, defense, and special teams, and there are still some areas of concern. We saw some glimpses of the future in Bell and Gholston, while seeing what experience can do to help a tentative team.
The kinks will have to continue to be worked out before the big games on the schedule arrive.