Takeaways from MSU’s win: Offense gets back on track
What went right
Michigan State’s offense was actually fairly efficient for most of the game. The Spartans scored on all three of their first-half possessions and much of that was due to the fact Central Michigan converted six of nine third downs in the first half and held the ball for more than 19 minutes. Michigan State closed the game with a pair of touchdowns from running back Gerald Holmes, who didn’t enter the game until the fourth quarter. But after not closing well the last two weeks, it was a good sign for the offense to get the job done late in the game, especially after CMU had made it a one-score game. The front seven was effective once again for the defense, which recorded four sacks, three coming in the second half. Shilique Calhoun had 2.5 sacks while Demetrius Cooper added one. Special teams had its best game as Calhoun and Cooper each had a blocked field goal, the first time MSU has had two in a game since 1989. And kicker Michael Geiger connected on a 47-yard field goal after opening the season 2-for-4 with one miss coming from 28 yards.
What went wrong
While Michigan State scored 30 points for the 12th straight game, the offensive performance was far from perfect. The Spartans ran for 181 yards, but the fact Holmes was in the game late instead of Madre London or LJ Scott says plenty and co-offensive coordinator Jim Bollman said the backs missed some cuts early in the game that could have led to bigger gains. Quarterback Connor Cook didn’t turn the ball over and avoided a sack, but in the fourth quarter as Michigan State led by just seven, Cook had thrown for only 81 yards. He finished 11-for-19 for 143 yards and threw a first-half touchdown pass to tight end Josiah Price, but he also sailed a couple of throws and missed an open receiver or two. The bigger issues for Michigan State continue to be in the secondary. Central Michigan had its share of big gains and finished the game 7-for-15 on third downs, six of those conversions coming in the first half. Chippewas quarterback Cooper Rush was 26-for-39 for 285 yards as the shuffling continued for MSU’s defensive backs. Jermaine Edmondson was replaced at cornerback in the second half by Darian Hicks while Arjen Colquhoun went most of the way on the other side. Demetrious Cox played more safety in the place of Montae Nicholson before senior RJ Williamson left the game a second time with an injury. True freshman Khari Willis also saw his first action at safety.
It appears the running back rotation isn’t set after all. Holmes was impressive in limited action in the fourth quarter, getting touchdown runs of three and six yards while also hauling in a key 17-yard reception that set up his first score. And in the secondary, Nicholson found himself on the sidelines watching more than he has at any point. Injuries are also becoming a huge factor as left tackleJack Conklin was lost to a knee injury and Price injured his ankle late in the game.
Most telling quotes
Coach Mark Dantonio: “I still feel like we have not played our best football game, and part of that is because when (everybody) comes to Spartan Stadium or they come to play Michigan State, we’re going to get everybody’s best shot. We understand that, but that’s part of the deal.”
CMU coach John Bonamego: “There were a couple times where (Shilique Calhoun) beat the tackle and put some pressure on Cooper (Rush). The guy is a great player and a freakish athlete. It comes down to players making plays.”
QB Connor Cook: “We’re all about finishing. That’s the one thing that we haven’t done well this year so far. I thought that was very encouraging by the way we handled our business in the fourth quarter, finished and were able to put some points up on the board.”
WR Macgarrett Kings Jr.: “When you’re the No. 2 team in the country, things are expected of you. I feel like no task is too big for our team. We have a bunch of resilient guys who go out and work hard every day, including myself. We deserve it. We’re not going to let anything pass us by.”
LB Riley Bullough: “We’re ranked No. 2 in the nation, we have high expectations from the outside, but we also have those expectations for ourselves. We need to show that each Saturday. We can’t come out and have a slow half, that just can’t happen.”
Michigan State opens Big Ten play with a visit from Purdue. However, the Boilermakers pushed the Spartans to the limit last season and Michigan State would be well-served to focus on putting together a more complete game. While Purdue might not be the team that can come in and pull the upset, Michigan State’s focus likely will be on getting the running game going and attempting to shore up its pass defense.