It has taken just two games, but here we are, with BTN about to hit campus and the first game of conference play already upon us.
That means a visit from the Wisconsin Badgers and second-straight big test for the Michigan State Spartans. After dispatching Notre Dame last week, what exactly do we know about Michigan State as B1G play is upon us?
Let’s take a look at the state of the program as Saturday’s noon ET kickoff approaches.
The Good News:
Winning over Notre Dame is always nice, it is even nicer when you rip off 36 unanswered points and have put the game away before the fourth quarter even is a thought in anyone’s mind. That’s exactly what happened this past weekend and after a small scare against Furman in the opener, most of the worries of the fan base and pundits around the country were negated.
Michigan State made a statement with its win in South Bend this past weekend, especially on the ground where it racked up a crazy 260 yards thanks to a 100-yard night from Gerald Holmes and a near 100-yard night (98 yards to be exact) from LJ Scott.
Running the football has always been the trademark of good Michigan State teams under head coach Mark Dantonio. This team may be different, if only for the fact that they won’t hit you with one featured back. They’ll just maul you with three different featured backs in one game.
Good luck stopping that, coupled with a passer who is as efficient as Tyler O’Connor has been this season (72.2 completion percentage).
The Bad News:
The win over Notre Dame was all fun and games, however you can bet that the coaching staff is unhappy with all the undisciplined play from the Spartans so far this season. In just two games MSU has racked up 13 penalties.
If there is good news in that total, it is that after a bye week to correct committing 10 penalties in the opener against Furman, Michigan State only committed three this past weekend against Notre Dame.
Still, that is 6.5 penalties per game and that average is just ninth in the Big Ten. While Dantonio’s team may be talented, it has to prove it can consistently not take penalties against itself. If not, this team may have big issues against the elite of the B1G.
Let’s remember, it is also going up against a very disciplined Wisconsin team, one that committed exactly zero penalties last week against Georgia State.
Player Who Has Stepped Up: Tyler O’Connor, QB
Many people, including this writer, questioned whether or not the Spartans were going to face another Andrew Maxwell situation with O’Connor taking over as the likely starting quarterback coming in to fall camp.
We could be forgiven for thinking that after seeing O’Connor struggle to separate himself in the spring and early fall camp.
All he has done since earning the starting job has been to come out and dominate the passing game. He is completing over 70 percent of his passes to lead the Big Ten in that category, while ranking second in efficiency at 183.42 and averages a healthy 215.5 yards per game in the process.
With a running game like MSU has shown to feature early on this season, being efficient and smart with the football may be enough for the Spartans to do some serious damage in the B1G this season.
Player Who Needs to Step Up: Evan Jones, DE
Michigan State is used to cranking out NFL talent along the defensive line these days. It has that talent on the 2016 defensive line to say the least, but this is a group that needs to step its game up in the pressure department.
As a team, the Spartans have just three sacks in two games and one of those was against a FCS opponent.
One of the expected stars was fifth-year senior Evan Jones, but so far he hasn’t really shown up in a big way. He has just two total tackles and one of the three sacks.
Those certainly aren’t numbers of a budding NFL star in the making. Pressure has come from everywhere in Dantonio’s defense, but it usually starts with teams having to pay extreme respect to the defensive ends first.
Jones may be good, but he hasn’t exactly shown it on the stat sheet just yet. At least there is plenty of time for him to step up and be the star many believe he can be.