Any thoughts that Jacksonville State would provide a surprising challenge for Michigan State were quickly eradicated Friday night. The Spartans dominated all facets of the game from beginning to end.
“We came out and made a statement,” Mark Dantonio said, “That’s what we wanted to do.”
As expected, it didn’t take long for the seasoned MSU offense to get into high gear. On the Spartan’s fourth play from scrimmage Connor Cook hooked up with Tony Lippett for a 64-yard touchdown pass, and shortly after that the duo connected on a 71-yard score.
Last season it took the Spartans until their fifth game of the season to record a play of 30 or more yards, which goes to show the improvement of the Spartan offense. It’s clear that this team is a far cry from last years squad, specifically on the offensive side of the ball.
Tony Lippett was the star of the show early on, setting a career high in receiving yards within the first five minutes of the game. He finished the game with 4 catches for 167 yards and two touchdowns, all of which came in the first half.
As good as Lippett was, the most impressive player of the game was undoubtedly Connor Cook. Cook was nearly perfect, finishing the first half 12-13 passing for 285 yards and 3 touchdowns. Cook sat out the second half, coming up just 47 passing yards shy of surpassing his career high set in this years Rose Bowl.
Cook was not only extremely accurate, but he also avoided making any big mistakes which will be key for him going forward this season.
“He’s [Cook] always been a little bit of a gunslinger,” Offensive coordinator Dave Warner said, “But he’s gotten to the point now where he knows when to let it fly.”
The only negative on the night for Cook was when he took a nasty late hit to his knee on the first drive of the game, resulting in him being helped off the field by two trainers. Cook said after the game that he was just “a little dinged up” and that he would be fine.
The feel-good story of the night was wide receiver A.J. Troup, a former walk-on who suffered a torn ACL prior to last season. Troup recorded his first career catch, an acrobatic jump ball in the endzone that resulted in a 17-yard touchdown. He finished the night with 3 catches for 38 yards and one score.
“It all happened so fast, I saw the ball in the air and I just tried to high-point it and get my foot down and the rest happened,” Troup said.
Defensively, the Spartans held up well against the Gamecock’s up-tempo attack, surrendering just one touchdown. Kurtis Drummond, Darian Hicks and converted running back Nick Tompkins each had interceptions and Demetrius Cooper made his presence felt with a sack and tackle for loss which nearly resulted in a safety.
The biggest plus of the night for the MSU defense was the fact that so many different players were able to get playing time. Freshmen Malik McDowell and Montez Sweat got significant playing time, the latter earning his first collegiate sack. McDowell had an opportunity at a sack of his own but failed to chase down the Gamecock quarterback, citing nerves as a possible explanation.
“I don’t know what happened, my legs just didn’t feel like my legs,” McDowell said, “It didn’t feel like I was controlling myself, I was just so excited.”
Tyler O’Connor played the entire third quarter at quarterback and Damion Terry took over in the fourth. O’Connor was 5-8 passing for 56 yards and Terry provided a spark with his legs, rushing for 26 yards on 5 carries. O’Connor also had a 3-yard touchdown run.
Although Jacksonville State isn’t the stiffest of competition, Michigan State looked like a team capable of beating anyone in the country. The offense not only looked experienced and consistent, but also explosive. The defense kept up with the Gamecocks and proved they will be able to survive the losses of the seniors from last season.
Next up is the marquee match-up with the high-flying Oregon Ducks, a game that will give everyone a much better idea exactly what type of team the Spartans are. After watching the MSU offense tonight I know one thing for sure about the game next week. There will be points scored. A lot of them.
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