Michigan State Football: Spartans Fall Flat in Season Opener

Jim JonesContributor IIISeptember 4, 2011

EAST LANSING, MI - SEPTEMBER 02: Mike Sadler #3 of the Michigan State Spartans is leg tackled by Josh Garner #1 of the Youngstown State Penguins during an NCAA football game at Spartan Stadium on September 2, 2011 in East Lansing, Michigan. The Spartans won 28-6  (Photo by Dave Reginek/Getty Images)
Dave Reginek/Getty Images

Months of waiting finally came to an end today when Michigan State kicked off against Young’s Town State. After an off-season filled with Rose Bowl and National Championship dreams, how did the Spartans perform? They fell flat. 

Don’t let the 28-6 score fool you. Youngstown State is a respectable team and has a lot of history at the FCS level, but this isn’t the FCS level, is it? Further, the Penguins are coming off a 3-8 season and are in rebuilding mode. This isn’t an Appalachian State that won a championship a year before and returned a lot of that talent, and thus ended up upsetting Michigan. This is a team in rebuild mode.  

There were moments of brilliance. Every time the Penguins drove down into the Michigan State territory, the defense suddenly remembered what their job was and came out and performed. With that effort, they held a potent offense to one touchdown.

Kirk Cousin’s game, meanwhile, was nothing short of spectacular, throwing for 222 yards and completing an astounding 81.8 percent of his passes (18/22). With a few more games like this, Cousins might even find himself being mentioned as a Heisman Candidate (admittedly a long shot, given MSU’s run first philosophy). 

The running back corps of Baker, Bell, Caper all put up respectable yardage with Baker leading the way with 86 yards on 15 touches for a respectable 5.7 yards per carry. Bell only netted 36 yards on nine carries for an average of four yards apiece, but he did score two touch downs. Meanwhile Caper had a touchdown, but only four touches for 21 yards, yet when you add in his three receptions for 37 yards he had a good day. Are these the types of numbers Spartans want to see from what is arguably the deepest running back corps in the conference, if not the country? No. 

B.J. Cunninghams performance also helped him make the case that he is Michigan State’s new go-to man. With 9 receptions for 130 yards, B.J. Cunningham racked up an impressive 14.3 yards per grab and a touchdown. All of this came without a single fumble. 

On the other side of the ball, Max Ballough racked up a career high 14 tackles. To put that into perspective, that’s the same career high as two-time All-American Greg Jones. If this is a sign of things to come, perhaps the loss of Jones will not be all too detrimental to The Spartans’ defense. 

Despite these individual performances, the Spartans fell miserably short of the spread of 34 points. In the eyes of odd makers the Spartans didn’t just lose, twelve points shellacked them. This game goes down as a win only in the win column. Yeah, that’s the best place to have a win, but if we play like this against Florida Atlantic we might be in for a nasty surprise. And if we play like this against Notre Dame we will be in for an embarrassment. 

There has been a problem that has constantly plagued some Michigan State athletic programs. Players like to dream big, the talent is often there, and yet the win-loss column ends up containing a lot of “L’s.” Is it because players looking ahead? Arrogance? Poor preparation? Most likely it’s a combination of all of these factors and more. And these factors need to be addressed quickly 

Listen, I hate being negative. I hate being a sourpuss. Really I do. And a big part of me is hoping that this games was just a case of players being a little overly exciting and jittery. But like many other Spartan fans I am sick of the “Same Ole Spartans.” I want to see Michigan State teams that consistently play at their best level. Even if we lose, I’ll rest easy knowing that the Green and White gave it their all. 

There is a silver lining, that despite a full half of atrocious play and another half of mediocre play, the Spartans still overwhelmed Youngstown State 28-6. If the Spartans right the ship quickly, the potential remains for a great team and a great season. Players need to come into each game focused and prepared to give their all, and any player not giving their all should be shown to the bench. 

And a message to the Players: 

Spartans, buckle down and focus on the next game. Forget about the Rose Bowl, and the BCS National Championship. Don’t worry about Wisconsin and Nebraska. Worry about the Florida Atlantic Owls 10 hours a day for the next week. And after you worry about the Owls for 10 hours a day, take a few hours to worry about Notre Dame. 

With the schedule your team faces this season, if you don’t focus on the games ahead and instead are thinking about post-season dreams, the only post-season you will be having is a cold one in East Lansing or at home with your family.