No. 12 Michigan State got an unexpected test on Friday night as they squeaked by the Furman Paladins 28-13.
There were several noteworthy headliners on Friday night. Tyler O’Connor’s impressive debut, the Spartans consistency on defense and of course, the penalties.
Here are my three biggest takeaways from the season opener:
Despite hiccups, Tyler O’Connor is able to lead the offense.
O’Connor had a nice opening performance, completing 13-of-18 passes for 190 yards, with three touchdowns and one interception.
O’Connor was extremely accurate when throwing on the run off of play action bootleg, as he often put the ball right in the receiver’s chest. The captain made solid decisions, and his ball placement was on point.
On the other hand, he was struck with anxiety when in the pocket. Even with great pass protection, the fifth-year senior would leave the pocket way too early. O’Connor also bobbled the ball on a few handoff exchanges, which led to the disruption of the play.
“There may have been some jitters across the offense,” O’Connor said. “We got to get on the same page.”
The Ohioan may not have the same skillset as Connor Cook, but he still has the ability to operate the offense with his leadership. If the offense can improve on the basic fundamentals, then everything will start to fall in line for this crew.
The Green and White were supposed to be the dominant force on the field, rather it was yellow that ruled the night.
The Spartans committed ten penalties for 120 yards with both sides of the ball being equally responsible.
“Hopefully it’s a wake up call,” co-offensive coordinator Dave Warner said. “Hopefully we can learn from it and move forward.”
There were some penalties that are inevitable, like holding and pass interference. On the other hand, personal fouls are completely preventable. Senior tight end Josiah Price was hit with two of them when he let his emotions get the best of him..
“They are very frustrating and it’s not my character,” Price said. “It hurts our team, hurts our offense and it stalled us in the first half.”
As important as it is for Michigan State to limit their penalties, it is just as equally as important for the Spartans to remain aggressive from here on out. The coaching staff first and foremost want to see their players disciplined, especially with Notre Dame right around the corner.
A developing trend of close wins
Once again, this was too close of a call for the Spartans on opening weekend.
In three of the last four season openers, the biggest margin of victory for MSU was 15 points against lesser competition (Western Michigan in 2013 and 2015, Furman in 2016).
Is it because of nerves? Rust? Complacency? Coach Mark Dantonio simply believes that this is the result of the opponent’s solid performance.
“Sometimes we let a football team hang around, and they hang around because they played well,” Dantonio said.
MSU has grown accustomed to living on the edge and prevailing in the closing minutes in utmost dramatic fashion. The Spartans won six games, four ranked games, by a touchdown or less in 2015.
How much longer can they keep pulling out these nail biting, narrow victories? Time will tell as the season progresses. But all the players care about is not how they win, but if they win.
“A win’s a win. We’re ok with it,” O’Connor said. “But there are a lot of things that we got to fix up.”
Good thing next week is a bye week for the Spartans. It will give them an extra week to prepare for a potential top 10 showdown in South Bend.
Michigan State and Notre Dame will finally resume the historic rivalry after a three year intermission, with the winner taking home the Megaphone trophy. The game is on September 17 at 7:30 pm ET on NBC.