Head Coach Mark Dantonio considered Friday’s season opening contest against Jacksonville State a statement game.
Coming off a magical year in 2013, Dantonio has been harping the motto of sustaining success, and Friday served as the first opportunity to prove that.
And it only took No. 8 MSU one quarter to make a statement and show the college football world that Sparty is perhaps here to stick around.
Junior quarterback Connor Cook led the way on Friday as MSU made quick work of Jacksonville State and cruised to 45-7 victory at Spartan Stadium.
“We came out and made a statement, that’s what we wanted to do,” Dantonio said. “We wanted to make sure we’re not flat coming out and I don’t think that we were. I thought we came out and played extremely well.”
The green-and-white took the life out of the Gamecocks early and were able to impose its will through long scoring drives and stout defense. MSU jumped to a 38-0 lead in the first half, showing no signs of any struggle to move the ball against the Gamecocks.
All seven of MSU’s first half drives reached Jacksonville State territory, with only one not resulting in points as a result of sophomore kicker Michael Geiger missing a 41-yard field goal attempt.
Jacksonville State finally broke through for a touchdown early in the third quarter to make the score 38-7, but the Gamecocks never got any closer than that. MSU would respond with a 81-yard scoring drive capped off by a sophomore quarterback Tyler O’Connor three-yard touchdown run.
MSU racked up 562 total yards offensively and held Jacksonville State’s no-huddle potent offense to only 244 yards, including a minimal 89 in the first half.
Cook had a near-perfect outing, posting an impressive 12-13 for 285 yards and three touchdowns in only two quarters of play. Cook connected with senior wide receiver Tony Lippett for 64- and 71-yard touchdowns as the first two scores only 4:36 into the game.
Cook would again find the endzone before the first quarter ended, this time to junior wide receiver A.J. Troup for a 17-yard score.
One play in the second quarter could have summed up Cook’s night where he was all but taken down for a sack, but somehow got away to flip a pass to an open sophomore tight end Jamal Lyles for a gain of 10 yards.
While Cook started off the game 9-for-9, it wasn’t all smooth sailing. On the opening 64-yard touchdown pass to Lippett, Jacksonville State junior safety Folo Johnson hit Cook late in his left knee forcing the medical staff to come out for assistance. Cook was able to shake off the gruesome hit and followed it up the next drive with Lippett’s other long score.
Following the game, Cook said he wasn’t worried about the seriousness of the injury but did admit it was “frightening.”
Cook ultimately led MSU on six scoring drives of 80, 73, 56, 70, 90 and 16 yards. Senior running back Nick Hill capped off two of the drives with touchdown runs, while Geiger kicked a 35 yard field goal to finish the first half.
Cook was pleased with himself and the offense’s efforts against Jacksonville State, but knows the unit will have to continue to improve from week-to-week.
“We have progressively gotten better from the end of the year to spring ball to fall camp,” Cook said. “We all are very happy for how we played tonight, but we’re not going to celebrate, we want to obviously strive for greatness, strive for more.”
Lippett was Cook’s No. 1 target on Friday, racking up a career-high 167 yards and two touchdowns. Lippett’s two touchdown’s matched his season total from a year ago.
Lippett said Cook and himself have practiced enough to build a strong chemistry, leading to the big number production in the season opener.
“We’ve been putting in a lot of work, we put in work no matter what the time was, no matter what day it was, we just come out here and work with each other,” Lippett said. “(Cook) knows where I like the ball at, I know where he likes to throw the ball at. … Just trying to build the chemistry as the season goes on.”
The ground game experienced similar success out of senior running back Jeremy Langford and Hill. Langford led the duo with 57 yards on 13 carries, while Hill had 42 yards on 11 carries and two touchdowns. One of the night’s highlights came from Hill’s 17-yard touchdown scamper where he made multiple Gamecock defenders miss through spins and jukes.
Langford got banged up multiples times in the first half, needing medical assistance at one point but was able to jog off on his own power. After the game, Langford said he’s fine and will be 100 percent ready to go next week.
On the other side of the ball MSU saw standout efforts from multiple guys including senior safety Kurtis Drummond and junior linebacker Ed Davis. Drummond recorded four tackles and one interception on Friday, while Davis was a force on the pass rush to finish with four tackles including 1.5 sacks and two tackles for a loss.
The unit, which broke in six new starters on Friday, was able to hold sophomore quarterback Eli Jenkins to 5-of-13 for 82 yards, two interceptions and only seven yards on the ground. Jacksonville State’s other big name offensive threat and Walter Payton Award Watch List candidate senior running back DeMarcus James was held to only 17 yards on three carries.
Defensive Coordinator Pat Narduzzi said he was most pleased about getting a number of younger guys into the game for live game reps on Friday.
“I’m happy because we got a lot of guys playing defensively,” Narduzzi said. “We haven’t had that for two or three years in that season opener, it’s a tight game so probably happiest thing is that we got guys in that you don’t know about and an opportunity at corner and linebacker.”
MSU football will return to the field next week when the Spartans travel to No. 3 Oregon. Kickoff is set for 6:30 p.m EST and can be seen on Fox Sports One.