Before Notre Dame came from behind against and then held off Purdue, Michigan State was busy bouncing Youngstown State 55-17 on Saturday in East Lansing. More important for the Spartans than the lopsided win over an FCS opponent, they look like they have settled on a No. 1 quarterback heading into this week's game at Notre Dame.
Incumbent QB Andrew Maxwell, who started all 13 games for the Spartans in 2012, shared time with Connor Cook and Tyler O'Connor in MSU's first two games, but Cook has emerged as Michigan State's man. Cook started a second straight game Saturday and finished with 202 yards and four touchdown passes in the win over the Penguins.
Spartan head coach Mark Dantonio was not hesitant afterward about who his quarterback will be when Michigan State visits Notre Dame Stadium this Saturday.
"Connor Cook's the number one quarterback," Dantonio said after Saturday's victory. Dantonio was also asked if there is an ongoing competition at the position. "No, (Cook is) the number one guy," he responded.
Maxwell passed for 2,606 yards with 13 touchdowns and nine interceptions as Michigan State's starter last season, but his lackluster performance left Dantonio to open the competition for the job last spring and during training camp last month. Maxwell held a narrow lead for the No. 1 spot, but Dantonio vowed to use multiple quarterbacks per game to start the season and that is what he has done.
In the season-opening 26-13 win over Western Michigan, Maxwell was 11-of-21 for 74 yards as the starter, while Cook was 6-of-16 for 42 yards. Neither QB had either a touchdown or an interception.
Cook started last week's 21-6 win over South Florida, but was just 6-of-11 for 32 yards. Maxwell passed for 40 yards in that game, while O'Connor entered the mix as well, going 2-of-4 through the air for 22 yards.
Cook does provide more mobility and running ability than Maxwell. The redshirt sophomore is Michigan State's fourth-leading rusher with 70 yards on 15 carries. His four passing touchdowns this weekend are the only ones thrown my MSU through three games. They all came in the first half of the blowout win.
Sparty Offense Sputtering
While Michigan State's convincing win over Youngstown State looks impressive, it does have to be taken with a bit of a grain of salt. The Spartans totaled just 562 yards of total offense in its wins over FBS opponents Western Michigan and USF, before compiling 547 yards against the FCS Penguins (2-1), whose wins are over Dayton and Morehead State.
Running back was MSU's other main offensive question heading into this season. Junior Jeremy Langford leads the Spartans with 200 yards and four touchdowns through three games. He ran for nearly half of that with a TD in the season-opening win over the Broncos and rushed for 68 yards and two scores against the Penguins.
Fellow junior Nick Hill is right behind Langford with 179 yards on 25 carries for a 7.2 per carry average. He netted 83 yards on nine carries with a touchdown against YSU. Fullback Riley Bullough has carried 21 times for 82 yards as well.
Michigan State receivers are averaging a pedestrian 9.4 yards per reception so far this season. Macgarrett Kings has been the top target with eight catches for 99 yards and a touchdown. Aaron Burbridge has eight receptions for 80 yards, while Bennie Fowler, Michigan State's top returning receiver, has five catches for 73 yards. The four receptions for 61 yards by King this weekend is the top game for an MSU receiver through three games.
The starting offensive line averages 304 pounds per man, with the lightest being 283-pound center Travis Jackson. The fifth-year senior has 17 starts under his belt entering this week's game, but he missed the game against Youngstown State due to injury. Jack Allen, at 297 pounds, made the start instead.
Interestingly, Dan France spent the last two seasons as the primary starting left tackle, but he has moved to right guard for his senior season. Sophomore Donavan Clark subbed for France last year and started against Michigan when France was out with a concussion. Clark has now taken over that important spot on the line from the veteran.
Doing It With 'D'
Michigan State's offense has not been spectacular, but as expected the defense has so far been stingy. The Spartans are allowing just 12 points, 50.3 rushing yards, 126.7 passing yards and 177 total yards per game so far this season.
Free safety Kurtis Drummond leads MSU with 17 tackles, with nine of those coming against USF. Tackles are distributed fairly evenly among the team's leaders. Just seven tackles separates Drummond from nose tackle Micajah Reynolds, who is seventh on the team with 10 tackles.
Linebackers Denicos Allen and Max Bullough each have 15 tackles and have combined for 5.5 of the team's 18 tackles for loss. Allen is tied with 6-foot-7, 290 pound defensive end Tyler Hoover with a team-best 2.0 sacks. Outside linebacker Taiwan Jones was knocked out of Saturday's game with an undisclosed injury. His status for this week in still not known.
The team is averaging 3.0 sacks per game and has also caused four fumbles and four interceptions to help the team to a plus-4 turnover margin (the offense's only turnovers are four fumbles). Shalique Calhoun, a 6-foot-4 defensive end has recovered three of the four fumbles.
"We can always play better," Dantonio said on Sunday when asked about his defense. "I think there's not one player out there that thinks they are hitting on all cylinders, and that's a positive, because we've been successful thus far defensively."
The two defensive ends, Calhoun and Marcus Rush, weigh 250 and 245 pounds, respectively. Interior linemen Tyler Hoover and Reynolds are a respective 290 and 307 pounds each.
Andre Sims has been Michigan State's main punt return man, but he could be replaced this week. Simms has 14 returns already for an average of 8.0 yards, but a couple of fumbles have Dantonio thinking about making a move.
"Andre has done a great job catching the football, but you can't turn it over," Dantonio said on Sunday. "We've done that the last two games, so that just can't happen. We need to send a message to our players that you need to execute."
Nick Hill and Macgarrett Kings have a punt return apiece this year and Dantonio says that position will be determined in practice this week.
Place kicker Kevin Muma is 4-for-5 on field goal tries. His longest make is from 30 yards, while his miss was from 25 yards against South Florida. Mike Sadler is averaging 41.2 yards on 20 punts with two touchbacks and 11 punts landing inside the opponent's 20-yard line.