Takeaways, grades, and game balls from MSU's 49-0 blowout over Rutgers
The MSU football team (3-7 overall, 1-6 Big Ten) was able to end their seven-game losing streak in emphatic fashion this past Saturday — a . The victory had the Spartans in good spirits, as head coach Mark Dantonio said it seemed like “we’d won the championship,” the way the locker room celebrated the victory.
Here are some things to takeaways from the MSU’s , as well as grades for the team and game balls for the best performers.
1. Special Guests
Two of last season’s graduated seniors, Connor Cook and Shilique Calhoun, came back as honorary captains for the game on Saturday, and the team responded to their message in a phenomenal fashion.
“Today (Saturday), we had Shilique and Connor come in and talk to us,” sophomore running back LJ Scott said. “The main thing they emphasized was playing with passion and going out and having fun, playing for the guy next to us, playing for the program, playing for our mom and dad, and just do it for each other.”
The team stepped on the gas from the start and failed to take their foot off it, and the special guests of the afternoon arguably had an impact on their performance.
2. First shutout since ‘13
The MSU defense has had its ups and downs all season, primarily on third-downs and passing defense. But the Spartans came out with a different fire on the defensive end, sparked by a pick-six from senior safety Demetrious Cox.
MSU gave up just 40 yards passing on Saturday, held Rutgers to just 25 percent on third-down conversions and recorded their first shutout since a 14-0 win over Purdue in 2013.
“It’s always awesome for a defense to get a shutout,” co-defensive coordinator Harlon Barnett said. “It’s good for the players to hold an opponent scoreless. It makes everybody’s confidence go up and all those types of things, but it’s hard to do in college football. I don’t care who you’re playing against. So, credit to the players for busting their butts and getting it done, understanding the game plan, and executing the game plan the entire game, so credit to them.”
3. Young guys putting in work
MSU has played nine true freshmen this season, as well as many other redshirt-freshmen and sophomores. The underclassmen had an all-around solid performance on Saturday, making the future appear a little bit brighter for Spartan football.
The offensive line, which started two redshirt-freshmen on the left side in Cole Chewins and Tyler Higby, helped open up holes for Scott, junior Gerald Holmes and the rest of MSU’s rushing attack to generate 277 yards on the ground. Freshman receiver Trishton Jackson snagged his first career touchdown, a 50-yarder in the first quarter, and Donnie Corley made plays on both offense and defense.
The Spartans started three true freshmen –– defensive linemen Mike Panasiuk and Josh King and cornerback Justin Layne on defense. Sophomore linebacker Andrew Dowell also filled in for Ed Davis as starter and recorded six tackles and two quarterback hits.
“Right now every week something changes,” Dantonio said. “It’s a different game plan and a different group of people that you are playing against. There’s different pressures, that sort of thing. I think they (freshmen) played better.”
4. The streak is over, finally
The most important takeaway from Saturday’s contest is the fact that MSU finally ended its seven-game losing streak, one of the . The team did so in a fashion that now gives them some confidence heading into their final two games, both against opponents ranked in the top 10 nationally.
“I’m happy, I’m happy for these guys right here, I’m happy for our football team more than anything,” co-offensive coordinator Dave Warner said. “They’ve continued to work extremely hard through the tough times and obviously it’s what we’ve been waiting for. We hoped it would happen sooner than it did, but like I said, I’m just more excited for these guys than anything.”
MSU faces No. 2 Ohio State University next week on Senior Day in East Lansing before traveling to University Park, Pa. to battle No. 9 Penn State to close out the regular season. The task seemed daunting before, but now MSU might just put up a fight against two of the Big Ten’s best.
“I think we are competitive,” fifth-year senior linebacker and captain Riley Bullough said. “We come in every day and have extremely good practices each week, even after losing seven-straight games. We are coming in and practicing hard, and I think that is a testament to the guys and coaches that we have. I am thankful we could get a win. I am happy for our team and also for Spartan Nation. They have been waiting and finally we could deliver a win.”
MSU OFFENSE: A
The offense clicked on all cylinders against the Scarlet Knights, racking up 440 yards of total offense and making the most of their opportunities –– a perfect 5-5 in the red zone with all chances resulting in six points. By the fourth quarter, backups and third strings had taken over as the offense did its part.
Game Ball: Madre London (nine carries, 52 yards, two touchdowns)
London has been a step behind his counterparts in Holmes and Scott for most of the season, not seeing the field nor the carries they have on the field. The man who started the season for MSU last year in the backfield got into the end zone twice and maybe got some confidence back as well.
MSU DEFENSE: A+
Barnett said it best –– it doesn’t matter who the opponent is, a shutout is an incredibly hard thing to accomplish. A defense that started three true freshmen allowed only 149 yards and only 40 through the passing game. An all-around impressive performance ruined Rutgers’ starting quarterback Giovanni Rescigno’s homecoming to his home state of Michigan.
Game Ball: Demetrious Cox (three tackles, one interception, one touchdown)
Cox intercepted a short sideline pass from Rescigno in the first quarter and waltzed into the endzone to give the Spartans a 14-0 lead they never gave up. For Cox, it was the brightest spot in an otherwise difficult season for the senior captain.
MSU SPECIAL TEAMS: A-
The special teams didn’t do anything “special,” but all units did their jobs. Senior kicker Michael Geiger made all his extra points. Sophomore punter Jake Hartbarger did well with his punts and the coverage unit limited any potential big plays.
Game Ball: Brandon Sowards (four returns, 30 yards)
Sowards has been passive in his punt returns but was able to return four against Rutgers, including a 14-yard one that gave the Spartans a short field, resulting in a touchdown drive.