It has been nearly eight months since Kyler Elsworth made the stop on fourth-and-one. Since Andrew Maxwell, after losing the starting quarterback position, came out to take the final kneel down for Michigan State in the Rose Bowl.
Friday night, the Spartans finally got to play again.
“First off, I thought we made a statement,” head coach Mark Dantonio said to the press after Michigan State’s 45-7 win over Jacksonville State.
It was exactly what he wanted to happen in the Spartans’ first game of the 2014 season.
In his weekly press conference Tuesday, he made it clear that this was a “statement game”, and that the No. 8 Spartans were not overlooking Jacksonville State for No. 3 Oregon.
During the 2013 season opener, Michigan State needed to score a defensive touchdown to solidify a win against Western Michigan. This year, the offense came out on fire, while their defense looked sloppy out of the gate.
Darian Hicks got beat on a post route on the first play from scrimmage, resulting in a 32-yard completion from Eli Jenkins to Josh Barge. MSU’s defense recovered after the slip-up and forced a punt.
That is when the fireworks occurred.
On Connor Cook’s fourth snap of the game, he rolled to his right and found Tony Lippett, who converted the 71-yard catch and run for a touchdown. There was a flag on the play, a roughing the passer call on Jacksonville State cornerback Folo Johnson. Cook had to be assisted off the field, and the replay showed a gruesome low hit to his left leg.
Cook returned to the field during the next drive, and found Lippett again, this time for a 64-yard score. He later connected with A.J. Troup for a 17-yard touchdown.
Cook started out the season completing 10 of 10 passes, the first MSU quarterback to do that since Brian Hoyer in 2007. He finished the first half completing 12 out of 13 passes for 285 yards and 3 touchdowns.
After the offensive explosion, the defense began to follow suit.
Just over the halfway mark of the first quarter, Kurtis Drummond intercepted a pass that appeared to be telegraphed to him from Jenkins. Near the end of the quarter, Hicks, on a play that looked identical to JSU’s first play from scrimmage, grabbed an interception of his own.
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Hicks on first play from scrimmage and interception:
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Senior running back Nick Hill ran for two touchdowns in the second quarter, and Michael Geiger added a 35-yard field goal to make it 38-0 at halftime.
Cook, Jeremy Langford and the majority of the first team defense sat out for the second half. Tyler O’Connor and Damion Terry split time under center for the Spartans.
Max Shortell came in at quarterback to start the third quarter for the Gamecocks, and lead them on a nine-play, 54-yard touchdown drive which would be JSU’s only score of the game.
The final scoring play of the game came from O’Connor, who rushed into the endzone from the three-yard-line.
Besides the lopsided score, the storyline of the day for MSU was injuries.
While the Cook injury scare turned out to be just that, a scare, there were other Spartans who were not as lucky. Offensive lineman Travis Jackson and wide receiver Macgarrett Kings both had to be helped off the field during the game and did not return.
Dantonio did not reveal anything specific about either Jackson or Kings, but said Brian Allen would be likely to fill in for Jackson if he is unable to return.
When asked about Kings, Dantonio replied, “I think he’ll be fine.”
The Spartans are now 1-0 on the year gearing up for the highly anticipated trip across the country to Eugene, Ore.
The Spartans clearly were not thinking about Oregon like many predicted they would. Cook, Drummond and Lippett even politely declined to answer any questions about Oregon in the post-game press conference.
“Not until we watch film,” Cook said in regard to being ready to answer questions about Oregon.
Dantonio was happy with the team’s performance overall, but he did see some areas that needed improvement, including the running game.
“You always want to play a perfect game. To me we weren’t perfect. There were some things that I didn’t want to see happen,” Dantonio said. “There were some structure issues that need to get changed and we did do that, especially on the defensive side of the ball. Personally, I think we need to run the ball better. We protected the quarterback pretty well and Connor threw the ball very effectively. We had no turnovers and few penalties, so all-in-all, we did what we wanted to do. We had energy on the sideline and didn’t come out flat.”
Bradley Allen is a multimedia reporter for Impact Sports
Photo: David Defever/Impact Sports