EAST LANSING, Mich. — Oh how the tables have turned.
It seems like yesterday the Michigan State Spartans’ offense was criticized, laughable and lackluster. Failing to score passing touchdowns vs. the likes of Western Michigan and South Florida, the MSU offense seemed to be in a bottomless pit with no escape route in sight.
Today, however, with the multiple-quarterback situation in the past and receivers finally living up to their “they make the plays in practice” gossip, the Spartans’ offense seems to be blossoming right before our eyes.
A career-high 277 passing yards from sophomore quarterback Connor Cook against Iowa on Oct. 5 helped lead the Spartans (5-1, 2-0) to their first Big Ten victory of the season. 186 of Cook’s yards were spread between receivers Bennie Fowler and Macgarrett Kings Jr. who combined for 14 catches and two touchdowns.
But what was most important in the victory was the fact that they were able to create explosive plays — a 37-yard touchdown catch by Fowler and a 46-yard touchdown catch Kings — something that Michigan State head coach Mark Dantonio stated was missing from his offense up to that point in the season.
The Michigan State offense followed the Iowa victory with an even more imposing performance in a 42-28 victory over Indiana this past weekend. The Spartans’ offense combined for 473 yards and six touchdowns, four of which (three rushing, one receiving) came from junior running back Jeremy Langford.
Langford — the current Big Ten Offensive Player of the Week — rushed for a career-high 109 yards and had a career-high 120 all-purpose yards to go along with his four touchdowns. True freshman running back Delton Williams added a career-high 92 yards, and along with true freshman wide receiver R.J. Shelton, who had a 34-yard touchdown run early in the fourth quarter, the two have been great addition to an offense that many jokingly thought wouldn’t be able to outscore its defense.
“It’s been great,” Cook said about the recent emergence of the MSU offense. “Tony (Lippett) has really emerged… ever since Iowa. He made some big plays in that game, made some big plays in this one against Indiana. R.J. is coming around, he had that great run. Macgarrett’s coming out. I can go down the line.
“Especially Delton, too. Delton ran exceptionally hard. He’s a physical back that we need. He reminds me of Le’Veon Bell a little bit. It takes more than one guy to tackle him. Not the fastest guy, but he can put some moves on you and break some tackles. It’s been fun to see them emerge as players.”
The recent success of the offense may be surprising to those not personally involved with the program, especially if they saw the one-touchdown stinker they put together in the team’s 17-13 loss to Notre Dame on Sept. 21, but since the Spartans’ bye week, which followed their lone defeat on the season, they’ve seemed to find an identity and determination offensively, two things that some fans and media pundits, such as myself, didn’t know if they would develop this season.
“Coach (Dave) Warner brought that up in our team meeting on Sunday,” Cook said. “The same people that are giving us praise now are the same people that were criticizing us all the way back when. We took it upon ourselves, we made it personal. We really knew that we needed to get things going, and we knew once we got things going it was going to be a total… we’d really feel it.”
Well, that feeling that Cook is describing is something that Michigan State players have sensed all season in practice, and despite the constant criticism — mostly deserved — they had faith that the hard work would come to fruition.
“We knew since camp that it was going to click and we’d be a balanced offense,” Langford said. “That’s what we’re working on. Staying positive in the running back room, on the offensive side of the ball, just staying positive in one another, and we knew one day it was going to be positive.”
Junior wide receiver Tony Lippett said that “with the strides we were making in practice” that it felt like the offense would be knocking on the door of success at any moment, but even though they’ve finally got a taste of what it’s like to produce consistently, they aren’t going to settle for anything less.
“Coach D put it in our heads a while ago,” Lippett said. “He said, ‘Once the offense gets rolling, it’s going to get rolling.’ We feel like everyday we’re just trying to strive to get this offense rolling. It’s not even rolling right now, like we’re still trying to make little tweaks and little changes to keep elevating our game, which there is always room for improvement, so we just feel like there is always room to improve our game.”
MSU football will host Purdue this Saturday at noon (Big Ten Network).