Spartans ready for South Florida
MSU aiming to improve on both sides of football in second home game
As disappointing as last Friday’s season-opener against Western Michigan was for the Spartans, at least they won.
South Florida — the second consecutive outmatched opponent the Spartans welcome to East Lansing — can’t say the same after being blasted at home 53-21 by McNeese State of the NCAA Football Championship Subdivision.
Guided by first-year head coach Willie Taggart, the Bulls (0-1 overall) find themselves in similar territory to MSU (1-0) despite opposite records, though. Heading into Saturday’s noon contest, both teams are trying to look past first week letdowns while congruently seeking dramatic improvement.
“They’ve got talent, they can run, they’re athletic,” head coach Mark Dantonio said. “Coach Taggart is in his first year, so this is a transitional game for him as he moves forward and we expect them to be better.”
Taggart came to South Florida after spending three years rebuilding the program at his alma mater, Western Kentucky, to replace the fired Skip Holtz. The Bulls, in just their 13th season competing at the highest level of Division 1 football, reached a pinnacle during the 2007 season with a No. 2 ranking in the Associated Press poll.
The program’s glory days have faded, though, and Taggart’s current conflict centers on figuring out how to move the ball against this MSU defense — a task he called a challenge on a conference call with the media this week.
“You don’t really ever see them out of place,” Taggart said of the Spartan defense. “You can tell they’re part of a system that they’ve been used to, and know the system inside-out because these guys are always where they’re supposed to be.”
South Florida, like MSU, is trying to reinvent itself offensively this season after Taggart scrapped Holtz’s spread offense and installed a pro-style attack.
From a scheme standpoint, senior linebacker Max Bullough found similarities between the Bulls and MSU.
“Just (a) downhill run team,” Bullough said.
“You wouldn’t think that of a team like South Florida, but they are. They’ve got a good running back, good offensive line and they come right at you. So we’ll try to make them one-dimensional and throw the ball.”
After allowing just 11 rushing yards against Western Michigan, the Spartans will look to shut down Bulls’ running back Marcus Shaw, who ran for 147 yards and had 47 yards
receiving in week one.
Reeling from an embarrassing home loss, South
Florida should provide MSU with another ample opportunity to try and get its wheels turning offensively.
In the 26-13 win against Western Michigan, senior Andrew Maxwell and sophomore Connor Cook split the quarterback duties with minimal effectiveness, combining for 116 yards and no passing touchdowns.
All week, Dantonio refused to reveal who will start at quarterback, leaving many to wonder whether redshirt freshman Tyler O’Connor or true
freshman Damion Terry will get a shot against the Bulls.
At running back, junior Jeremy Langford and redshirt freshman Riley Bullough are listed as co-starters on the depth chart despite Langford dominating the carries last week.
“We’re going to find out some things in practice and we’re going to make decisions as we move forward,” Dantonio said.
“Those decisions are tough decisions, because you have a position of leadership, but that’s why we give people opportunities.”
If the Spartans can avoid tripping over their own feet, South Florida defensive end Aaron Lynch could be the one hitting the stop button on MSU’s offense.
Lynch, a former blue-chip recruit who played at Notre Dame, has talent, players said.
“Explosive, you see on film great use of hands,” senior guard Blake Treadwell said of Lynch.