EAST LANSING, Mich. (AP) – By its own admission, Michigan State earned few style points in its season-opening win last week.
Michigan State’s pass rush wasn’t much of a factor against Youngstown State. The Spartans didn’t have any sacks, and their defense was on the field for nearly 20 minutes in the first half. Youngstown State hung around until well after halftime before losing 28-6.
Of course, Spartans coach Mark Dantonio seldom worries too much about margin of victory.
“I’m sure everybody would have liked to see a 40-6 shot and everybody could be happy, but we are where we’re at,” Dantonio said. “That’s always been the M.O. here — no easy games out there. Just serves as another indicator what wherever you go, I don’t care who you’re watching, whether you’re watching another football team or you’re watching your own team, everybody is going to be ready to play, everybody has players, and everybody does their very best to compete.”
The 17th-ranked Spartans host another heavy underdog Saturday when they take on Florida Atlantic. Michigan State is favored by more than 30 points, but the Spartans didn’t exactly rout FAU last season, beating the Owls 30-17 in September.
Of course, Michigan State went on to tie for the Big Ten title, so maybe beating up on early-season foes isn’t all that important.
“Everybody wants to win every single game big, but again, you go back, you credit Youngstown State,” Dantonio said. “The ball got out of the quarterback’s hand as soon as he got it. They were throwing on rhythm, very short passes — bubbles, speed sweeps, wide receiver sweeps, those type of things, jet sweeps.”
FAU, which plays in the Sun Belt Conference, lost 41-3 at Florida last weekend, the start of a brutal opening-month schedule that also includes a trip to Auburn.
Coach Howard Schnellenberger, who is retiring after this season, watched the lopsided loss to the Gators from a coaching box after a leg cramp and discomfort in his surgically repaired hip a day earlier. His Owls managed just 137 yards against Florida, including 30 on the ground.
“I thought our football team fought a hard fight,” Schnellenberger said. “We did, I think, become a better football team as a result of playing that great football team in that tough venue, and we’re going to come out swinging.”
The problem for Schnellenberger is that Michigan State seems to feel the same way. The Spartans will be trying to bring more pressure against FAU and quarterback Graham Wilbert.
And when Michigan State did have the ball against Youngstown State, the Spartans were able to move it. Quarterback Kirk Cousins went 18 of 22 for 222 yards, and fellow senior B.J. Cunningham caught nine of those passes. Cunningham needs only one catch to move into sole possession of first place on the school’s career receiving list.
“He just has tremendous hands,” Cousins said. “He’s one of those all-purpose receivers who can really do it all, and he is underrated. … We’re just fortunate to have him.”
Although Michigan State is expected to beat FAU, the Spartans’ schedule turns serious in a hurry. They play at Notre Dame on Sept. 17, and in October, Michigan State faces Ohio State, Michigan, Wisconsin and Nebraska in succession.
Whatever problems the Spartans have, they don’t have much time left to fix them.
“I think expectations coming into the (opener) were a little bit higher than maybe we played,” Dantonio said. “However, you get challenged with adversity, and that’s the name of the game, I think. As a football coach and as a football player, you’re constantly challenged as you move forward.”