First-half observations: MSU running on all cylinders in best opening of the season

Matt Charboneau
The Detroit News

Backfield barging

The running attack, which has been a non-factor all season, has been Michigan State’s best option on offense through one half against the Wildcats. The Spartans have already gained 134 yards on 27 carries, the most they’ve gained in any game all season, and it’s only halftime.

Connor Heyward has done most of the work, gaining 71 yards on 12 carries for an average of 5.9 yards. And with freshman Jordon Simmons out, Elijah Collins has gotten some work as well, picking up 20 yards while quarterback Rocky Lombardi has run for 43 yards, including a 21-yarder on third-and-15. If the Spartans continue to move the ball on the ground, they’ve got a good shot to pull off the upset.

Defensive wall

The Michigan State defense, after some early chunk plays, has been solid. The Spartans got two fourth-downs stops in the first quarter, including one on Northwestern’s first drive that had reached the MSU 20. Michigan State almost had another fourth-down stop in the second quarter but an offsides call led to a manageable pickup on fourth-and-2 for the Wildcats.

Shakur Brown continued to play well, intercepting his fourth pass of the season in the first quarter and returning it 54 yards to set up a Michigan State field goal. Defense has been the one bright spot all season for the Spartans and they have been good again, at least for a half, as they’ve kept the Wildcats out of the end zone and limited them to 167 total yards.

Fantastic curtain raiser

Just when it looked like there wouldn’t be much left to get excited about this season, the Spartans have turned in one of their best halves of football this season. It was far from perfect – special teams struggled with an 11-yard punt and a missed field goal -- but the fact Michigan State leads the best team from the West says a little something about its fight.

We’ll see how it plays out in the second half, but for 30 minutes, at least, the Spartans looked much more like the team that won in Ann Arbor early in the season.