First Quarter Grades
The college football season is nothing short of a grind. Days run into weeks and weeks eventually run into months. In order to break up the monotony, coaches have begun breaking down the season into four quarters, in the same sense that each game is broken down into four quarters. Michigan State played its third game of the season last weekend and closed out its first quarter of the season. It’s time to grade out the three phases of Spartan football and see what all we’ve learned from Michigan State football after three games.
Through three games against a variety of opponents, we still do not know much about Michigan State’s offense. In the season opener against Furman, the Spartans looked average at best on offense. Newly announced starting quarterback Tyler O’Connor struggled to get the offense into any type of rhythm. Michigan State was able to muster up enough of an offensive rhythm to score 29 points, but it left fans and analysts wondering if the Spartans would be able to put up points against superior teams. In week two, Michigan State looked like an offensive juggernaut against the Notre Dame Fighting Irish. LJ Scott and Gerald Holmes looked like they couldn’t be tackled behind a Michigan State offensive line that bullied the Irish up and down the field for 60 minutes. Tyler O’Connor was also able to find a rhythm in the passing game, finally giving the Spartans the aerial assault they needed. O’Connor was able to get veteran tight end Josiah Price involved in the offense, as well as spark the emergence of one of top freshmen in the Big Ten, Donnie Corley. Week three against Wisconsin is when all the good feelings of the Spartan offense came crashing down. O’Connor struggled mightily to find the open receivers and turned the ball over far too many times with three interceptions. The worst being when the Spartans were trying to mount a comeback, and O’Connor threw into double coverage and completely missed the wide open Corley in the end zone.
The Spartan troubles on offense weren’t limited to O’Connor; the Michigan State offensive line never got much of a run game going as the Spartans ran for an uncharacteristically low 75 yards on 27 carries for under three yards per carry average. LJ Scott had a costly turnover when he fumbled the ball away allowing Leo Musso to recover the ball and take it 66 yards for a Wisconsin Badgers touchdown.
Going forward the Spartans will need to regain that offensive rhythm they found against the Irish.
The Spartan defense has been the Michigan State defense of old; they have solidified their secondary woes from last year with a healthy Darian Hicks and veteran Demetrious Cox playing at a high level. The Spartans remain, from top to bottom, one of the best defenses in not only the Big Ten, but the entire country. Michigan State boasts a headline player at every level of their defense. The defensive line is spearheaded by Malik McDowell, who is one of the more versatile players in the country with the ability to play on the interior and exterior of the defensive line. At linebacker, the Spartan’s return Riley Bullough and Chris Frey to veteran playmakers who can run and hit. The Spartan defense did their part in all three games. The numbers against Wisconsin did not look great, but it must be kept in mind that they were put in beyond tough situations. As the season continues, Spartan fans can continue to expect more great play on defense.
The Spartan special teams have done their part for the most part. They have been solid in the coverage units and serviceable in the return units. Veteran kicker Michael Geiger is off to a good start and is proving to be a weapon for the Spartan offense. However, there is an old saying that the only time we learn the name of a specialist is when something bad happens. On Saturday against Wisconsin, that happened when punter Jake Hartbarger mistakenly dropped the snap, and Wisconsin took over on the Spartan five-yard line. If Michigan State struggles in games on offense they certainly cannot afford to give any points away on special teams.
Michigan State still remains in control of their own destiny as Wisconsin plays in the Big Ten West, not the East like the Spartans do. Wisconsin was able to expose some potential weaknesses for the Spartans that if they are not corrected going forward could present a problem. The Spartans will need to use the upcoming game against Indiana, a team that is struggling in their own right to find their identity to get back on track.