East Lansing— Michigan State’s receivers were consistently making receptions on third down passes to help the Spartans win their Big Ten home opener, 42-28 over Indiana Saturday afternoon at Spartan Stadium.
Instead of dropped ball after dropped ball which took place at a steady pace last season … even earlier this year, Tony Lippett was making grabs on third down, and so was Bennie Fowler, tight end Josiah Price, and running backs Jeremy Langford and Trevon Pendleton.
Well, you get the picture. They were all getting in on the act. Sophomore quarterback Connor Cook completed 22 of 31 passes for 235 yards and spread the ball around, finding 11 different receivers.
Lippett, a 6-foot-3 junior, was at his best at the end of the first quarter and during the second. He finished with six receptions for 64 yards and is building chemistry with Cook.
After the ball sailed through the hands of Fowler, Lippett hauled in a 17-yard pass from Cook on a third-and-10 to the Indiana 14, setting up Cook’s 11-yard TD pass to Langford, which also came on third down, to pull the Spartans even at 7 early in the second.
Lippett had a chat with MSU head coach Mark Dantonio a couple of weeks ago, leading to his strong play.
“He wanted me to play bigger, wanted me to play 6-3 and that’s probably one thing I got away from a little bit,” Lippett said of the talk with Dantonio. “He wanted me to play my size and extend my arms. We try to extend our hands in practice and snatch it out of the air. We (MSU receivers) always thought it was easier to catch it with our body.”
And, how is Lippett’s relationship with Cook?
“We talk to Connor a lot,” Lippett said of MSU receivers and Cook. “We talk back and forth to each other, back and forth on what we see, what we feel like is open, where we want the ball to be and where he wants us to be. We do that every day in practice.”
Fowler made up for his early miscue when he hauled in a Cook pass on third-and-11 from the Indiana 39, broke two tackles and scored to give MSU a 14-7 lead.
Then, Cook found Price open for a 39-yard reception to set up a third-quarter TD on third-and-11 from the Indiana 44.
“It’s a great feeling to finally be out there and be able to make some plays,” said Price, a 6-4, 243-pound redshirt freshman. “Third downs are huge, especially against an offense like Indiana’s offense which is so fast-paced, and that was a big key, to have long drives.
“Pound Green Pound was a little motto we have, a theme coming into this game. At one point we were 10-of-12 on third downs. We were 100 percent (3-for-3) on getting touchdowns in the red zone and that was a point of emphasis for us.”
Yes, the Spartans kept the ball away from Indiana’s no-huddle, fast paced offense with big, third down receptions, leaving MSU’s defense thrilled and energized for its turn to take the field.