Michigan State takes out frustrations on EMU

Matt Charboneau

East Lansing — Michigan State said all week it was itching to just get back on the field. It didn't matter who the opponent was.

That was an unfortunate scenario for Eastern Michigan.

It didn't take long for the Spartans to prove there would be no letdown, or any sort of mercy, in fact, blitzing Eastern Michigan in the first half before cruising to a 73-14 victory Saturday at Spartan Stadium.

"We asked our players to come game-ready today and that was our theme for this week in terms of what we needed to do," coach Mark Dantonio said. "We were sort of stuck in neutral for two weeks with where we were at and who is who. We needed to make a statement and were able to do that."

It was the first chance for No. 11 Michigan State (2-1) to play since the loss to Oregon and it responded with the third-highest single-game point total in school history. The Spartans scored 76 against Northwestern in 1989 and tallied 75 against Arizona in 1949. It also was the first time Michigan State scored more than 60 points since 2005 when it scored 61 at Illinois.

"It was important that we made a statement as an offense and as a program," running back Nick Hill said. "We're an elite program and not just a contender in the Big Ten but a contender nationally and the score of the Oregon game didn't really show what happened in that game. We needed to come out and prove we are a top-tier team and we're an elite team in this country and when we play an inferior team, we need to come out and show it and that's what we did today."

The 19-point difference in the game against Oregon might not have been a true indication of how tight that matchup was, but the numbers on Saturday accentuated what was a terribly one-sided game.

The first-half numbers, alone, were staggering for Michigan State.

The Spartans had 320 total yards to just 1 for Eastern Michigan while the Spartans recorded 16 first downs to none for the Eagles. All but two of Eastern Michigan's first-half possessions ended with punts. The two that did not were stopped by a fumble recovery and an interception.

By the end of the game, Eastern Michigan (1-3) managed to get 14 points on the board and 135 total yards of offense, taking advantage of some Spartan backups and a turnover. But the Eagles also had six turnovers, recorded just five first downs and were just 1-for-13 on third down.

"We made a statement in the first half in terms of how we came out with our focus, our execution and our enthusiasm," Dantonio said. "It was 28-0 in the first quarter and we ran and passed the ball effectively. The focus was there. After that, it was about maintaining that focus and not letting things slide and having attention to detail. Everybody is responsible to do their job out there. If a (backup) is out there not doing their job, then they need to be held accountable for that."

There weren't many cases of not getting the job done. Save for a couple of defensive lapses that led to Eastern Michigan's two scores, it went about as well as could be expected in front of a crowd of 73,846.

The Spartans had 496 total yards, including 336 yards on the ground, recorded 24 first downs and were 9-for-17 on third downs.

"When you play a really good program, it's everything," Eastern Michigan coach Chris Creighton said, when asked what was the toughest thing about facing Michigan State. "You can tell the character in pregame warmup. I'm serious about that. You just know when a team is disciplined and together, so I think the character comes out strong and then defensively, very, very physical and move well. And offensively, we knew we were going to get lots of power and some zone and had to be gap sound, and obviously the passing game is good. They're disciplined and first class."

While running back Delton Williams ran for 103 yards and three touchdowns, there was hardly enough time for the Michigan State starters to pile up any big numbers.

Quarterback Connor Cook was 5-for-6 for 83 yards and two touchdowns – both to Tony Lippett – and also had a 4-yard touchdown run. Tyler O'Connor recorded his first touchdown pass when he connected with AJ Troup for a 33-yard score in the second quarter before Williams scored on a 1-yard run and R.J. Shelton added a 5-yard scoring run.

That was all in the first half.

In the second half, Michigan State added 4-yard touchdown run from Nick Hill, a 7-yarder from Williams and a 30-yard field goal from Michael Geiger and then an 80-yard burst from Williams on a simple off-tackle run with a little more than six minutes to play.

"Obviously we started fast," offensive coordinator Dave Warner said. "We scored five touchdowns the first five possessions. We were able to run the ball effectively which was something we wanted to do this game. We obviously won the turnover battle; I think we took advantage of most of their turnovers. So I think we did a good job there."

Eastern Michigan got a pair of touchdown passes from former Penn State quarterback Rob Bolden, who was beaten up by the Michigan State defense. But he was able to hang in long enough and connected with Tyler Allen on a 43-yard strike in the third quarter before hitting tight end Tyreese Russell with a 9-yard pass in the fourth quarter.

"It was a game where our guys played really well in the first half, we came out in the second half with a couple of lapses," defensive coordinator Pat Narduzzi said. "We gave up a couple of plays in the second have we would have liked to not have given up. Just two little coverage things we need to clean up."

Michigan State insists those things will be cleaned up by next week when it hosts Wyoming.

Whether it ends up anything like Saturday's matchup remains to be seen, but like the keeping the Oregon loss from lingering, the Spartans are focused on not letting this game make them overconfident.

"We are always moving forward as a team," Dantonio said. "We will take 24 hours to enjoy this win and then move on to Wyoming. The past is in the past and you have to continue to move forward. Our focus has to be on coming out every game and playing with excitement and enthusiasm. We have to take care of our job with our mind, our heart and our legs. You play them one at a time."