East Lansing, Mich. — Michigan State senior wide receiver Aaron Burbridge gave the country one of the most spectacular catches so far this season, possibly the top snag of the year, as the No. 4 Michigan State Spartans soared over the Air Force Falcons 35-21 to move to 3-0 on the year.
Burbridge put up monster numbers, hauling in eight receptions for 156 yards and three touchdowns, but his athletic grab along the side of the end zone caught fire on social media.
On first and 10, senior quarterback Connor Cook stepped into the pocket and lofted a perfectly thrown ball, where only his receiver could make the play, and sure enough, Burbridge leapt through the air to make an early nominee for Catch of the Year.
“I ran my route, and saw the ball was late, so I put my hands up, and tried to get a foot down,” Burbridge said. “I noticed the referee signal incomplete pass at first, but after watching the reply, I saw my foot was in.”
“Burbridge is an outstanding receiver,” MSU head coach Mark Dantonio said. “He has made big plays in the past, and what makes him special is he makes those 50/50 catches, the difficult, acrobatic catches.”
The Spartans’ running game has been the focal point the past two weeks, but it was the assault through the air that propelled them to victory.
Cook torched the Falcons’ secondary, going 15-and-23 for 247 yards and tossing four touchdowns.
It marked the 20th time Cook has gone for 200 yards through the air, and the second time this season he has accomplished that feat.
The scoring started on the Spartans’ opening drive of the game, as Cook found junior tight end Josiah Price in the end zone for the first score. It was the fourth consecutive game Price has caught a touchdown pass, going back to last year’s Cotton Bowl against Baylor.
Also, it was Price’s 13th career touchdown catch, tying Chris Baker (1998-2001) for the MSU school record for most touchdown receptions by a tight end.
Despite the big lead, the Falcons crept back into the ball game as the triple option started to pose problems for the Spartans’ defense. On the ground, the Falcons gained 279 yards, but giving up big plays in the air was the main concern.
The Falcons cut the game to 35-21, but failed to cover the ensuing onside kick, sealing the victory for the Spartans.
Even though the Spartans’ defense gave up 428 total yards of offense, senior defensive back RJ Williamson, and junior linebacker Riley Bullough caused a tremendous amount of havoc for the Falcons all afternoon.
“Defensively we started fast,” Dantonio said. “We had some big goal-line stands, and came up with three turnovers, so I thought we played pretty well. Then we gave up some easy plays, and the two touchdowns at the end were disappointing. We’ll live with it, and move on.”
Williamson was a ball hawk, returning a fumble in the first quarter for a 64-yard score, then an interception in the fourth quarter.
“Our coaches put us in great positions to make plays, and we go out there and execute,” Williamson said.
Overall, the Spartans forced three turnovers, as freshman linebacker Andrew Dowell recovered another fumble which was a cherry on top of Williamson’s big day.
“It is a momentum swing,” Williamson said. “No matter if you’re up or you’re down, those types of plays give momentum to both sides of the ball. Also, it sparks Spartan Nation. They are big plays and big stops.”
Bullough led all players with 16 tackles on the day, but could not finish the game due to a targeting penalty in the fourth quarter.
His ejection means his absence in the first half of next week’s game versus Central Michigan.
Next week, the Spartans will play the Central Michigan Chippewas at 12 p.m. in East Lansing.