Michigan State football’s offense more balanced, explosive after 2-0 start
Chris Solari and Graham Couch break down how Michigan State football took down Youngstown State on Saturday, Sept. 11, 2021, in East Lansing.
Chris Solari and Graham Couch, Detroit Free Press
It’s not that we thought Ohio State would never lose in Columbus again.
But 35-28? But to a Pac-12 team? To the Oregon Ducks, of all Pac-12 teams? To the symbol of college football’s Nike-ization, for better or worse? <ignores logo on more than half the other Big Ten football uniforms>
Well, we certainly didn’t see that coming.
Not only had the Buckeyes never lost a regular-season game under head coach Ryan Day, they hadn’t lost one at all since 2018 (49-20 to Purdue back when some guy named Urban Meyer was burnishing his NFL credentials). They hadn’t lost a game in Columbus since Sept. 9, 2017, when Baker Mayfield’s Oklahoma Sooners stole out of town with a 31-16 victory. (Mayfield’s reward: A likely lifetime spent in Cleveland —sometimes the punishment fits the crime.)
Since then, every Big Ten team has lost at least four games at home, with the 13 other schools combining for 132 home defeats. ( Rutgers — of course — has the most, with 18.)
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But these are the risks teams take in nonconference scheduling, especially when they go for a challenge, rather than dishing out $1.2 million for game with a team wobbling on the border of the NCAA’s “Bowl” and “Championship” subdivisions. (Get that cheddar, Idaho!) There weren’t a lot of Big Ten teams willingly inviting the misery that comes with potential Power Five losses on their schedules this early in the season.
As we noted last week, the return of nonconference games allowed for some unbalanced misery and some unbalanced joy, and so it was: Big Ten teams went 12-2. Though, to be fair, just three of those wins came against Power Five schools — we checked: Syracuse still counts —and three came against FCS schools. (Meanwhile, UConn — Purdue’s
lamb foe — is scoreless in its two games against FBS teams and only scored 28 points in its loss to Holy Cross of the FCS; are we sure about the Huskies’ credentials? Did they get a fake FBS ID or something?)
Then again, this was just Week 2. Week 3 brings Oklahoma, Miami (Fla.), Cincinnati (a soon-to-be Big 12 member), Colorado, Notre Dame, Auburn and, ahem, Duke. It also brings a lone conference game: Maryland at Illinois, on Friday night.
But until the Terps and Illini kick off, let’s run through the misery index, from least miserable to most:
14. Iowa: W, 27-17, over Iowa State
Record: 2-0. Last week: 11.
Since 2015, Kirk Ferentz’s Hawkeyes are 20-4 in trophy games — 6-0 vs. Iowa State, 6-0 vs. Minnesota, 6-0 vs. Nebraska and 2-4 vs. Wisconsin. Also of note, that six-game run against the Cyclones is the longest run for Iowa in the rivalry since winning 15 straight from 1983-97. How long ago was that? Long enough that Ferentz, the longest-tenured coach in the Big Ten, was a mere assistant coach, and two seasons from taking over in Iowa City.
13. Michigan State: W, 42-14, over Youngstown State
Record: 2-0. Last week: 13.
The Spartans are averaging 75 yards a play on their first play of the game, and a mere 6.6 yards on all others (956 yards on 145 plays). Were we Mel Tucker, we would simply call more of the 75-yard plays. (And while we’re on the subject of wins in Columbus, the Spartans are the last Big Ten team to win in Ohio Stadium, taking down the Buckeyes, 17-14, on Nov. 21, 2015.)
12. Penn State: W, 44-13, over Ball State
Record: 2-0. Last week: 14.
After picking up just one first down in the first half last week, the Nittany Lions had five on their first drive. Which, last time we checked, is what’s supposed to happen when a Big Ten team hosts a MAC school.
11. Purdue: W, 49-0, over UConn
Record: 2-0. Last week: 8.
Purdue’s last shutout against an FBS-level team before blanking the technically FBS Huskies came on Sept. 5, 2004 (51-0 over Syracuse), with 203 games between shutouts.
10. Wisconsin: W, 34-7, over Eastern Michigan
Record: 1-1. Last week: 7.
Two Milwaukee Brewers pitchers combined for a no-hitter in Cleveland on Saturday night, and considering that the Badgers’ five running backs combined for 357 yards on 54 carries, you could say they had a no-hitter of their own.
9. Rutgers: W, 17-7, over Syracuse
Record: 2-0. Last week: 10.
Was it pretty? Your standards of beauty may vary from ours, but it was 0-0 after the first half and both coach Greg Schiano and quarterback Noah Vedral using the phrase, “a grimy game,” so … no. Then again, Rutgers’ first possession began on the Orange’s 18 after a punt block and went like this: incompletion, 7-yard pass, 15-yard offensive pass interference, 9-yard sack and a botched field goal for another 8-yard loss and a turnover on downs. In another season — say, 2020 — we’d have said it was a VERY RUTGERS game and been done. But, hey, the Scarlet Knights found 17 points in the second half to go to 2-0 for the first time since 2014. They haven’t been 3-0 since 2012, so, uh, look out, Delaware.
MISERY INDEX RECAP
8. Maryland: W, 62-0, over Howard
Record: 2-0. Last week: 9.
Coach Mike Lockley’s first win as Maryland’s permanent coach was a 79-0 thrashing of the Bison in 2019, so we’re not sure this is actually progress. Next up for the Terps, who have been a Big Ten member since 2014: Their first-ever visit to Champaign, under the lights and 695 miles away! (But sure, let’s expand the conference further.)
7. Northwestern: W, 24-6, over Indiana State
Record: 1-1. Last week: 3.
We’d make more fun of Hunter Johnson’s 9-for-16 passing for 66 yards against the Sycamores (but not Bishop Sycamore), but we get it: Don’t want to give away any secrets before the big rivalry game with Duke on Saturday.
6. Michigan: W, 31-10, over Washington
Record: 2-0. Last week: 12.
For everyone who ever asked, “Why don’t they make the plane out of what they make the ‘black box’ out of?” we give you the Wolverines’ offense Saturday: All the running backs, tight ends and linemen you could hope for, and Cade McNamara to hand off. We’d say Bo Schembechler is somewhere (depending on your rooting interests) weeping with joy, but the Wolverines may have called too many passes for his taste.
5. Indiana: W, 56-14, over Idaho
Record: 1-1. Last week: 1.
Yes, the Hoosiers won, and handily, but they only put up 338 yards against an FCS foe — and not a good one. Seeing the Hoosiers offense scuffle with Michael Penix Jr., Ty Fryfogle and Peyton Hendershot still on the roster — remember the days of #9WINdiana dreams? — well, it’s like seeing someone win the lottery, and a few years later, they’re back to broke.
4. Nebraska: W, 28-3, over Buffalo
Record: 2-1. Last week: 6.
This one was a lot closer than it should have been — thanks to kicker Connor Culp going 0-for-3 on field goals, two weeks after he went 1-for-3 on extra points — but the ’Huskers powered through a rough first half on the back (and arm, and legs) of quarterback Adrian Martinez. The junior — OK, sure — accounted for 226 of the ’Huskers’ 259 yards in the first half, and, in the process, became the fifth Big Ten player with 6,000 passing yards and 2,000 rushing yards. (The others? Indiana’s Antwaan Randle El, Michigan’s Denard Robinson, Nebraska’s Taylor Martinez and Ohio State’s Braxton Miller.)
3. Minnesota: W, 31-26, over Miami (Ohio)
Record: 1-1. Last week: 5.
Minnesota has allowed 68 points in the second half to teams from Ohio over its past two games. This feels like an episode of “Scooby Doo” in which, after a Week 4 loss to Bowling Green, P.J. Fleck rips a latex mask off his defensive coordinator to reveal Old Man Don Brown — “I woulda got away with it, too, if not for you meddling kids and your lousy boat-rowing!” (Just kidding: We know the ex-U-M DC is in Arizona, mostly because his Wildcats gave up 38 to San Diego State on Saturday night.)
2. Illinois: L, 42-14, to Virginia
Record: 1-2. Last week: 2.
The Illini, who wear blue, orange and white (except when they wear a ton of gray, but that’s best saved for another time) beat a team wearing red and white (Nebraska) in their first game, then lost back-to-back to teams wearing blue, orange and white (UTSA, Virginia). Just in case Bret Bielema forgot to mention it to his players: These are not scrimmages; stop giving the ball to guys whose uniforms look familiar.
1. Ohio State: L, 35-28, to Oregon
Record: 1-1. Last week: 4.
It’s not all bad, Buckeyes. C.J. Stroud, your freshman quarterback, threw for 484 yards, just short of a school record, and he probably won’t NEED to do that the rest of the regular season. (And he’s not draft-eligible yet, so you don’t need to worry about him landing in Detroit.) Even better: You don’t have to face another Pac-12 team until the Rose Bowl, and you might even have a shot at revenge against the Ducks, if they do the usual Pac-12 thing and drop a game to a severe underdog. (Then again, knowing the Pac-12, you might end up facing a four-loss Stanford team somehow.)
— to www.freep.com