HALFTIME: MSU takes commanding lead over Rutgers
A chilly November afternoon welcomed MSU football (2-7, 0-6 Big Ten) into Spartan Stadium as they play host to Rutgers University (2-7, 0-6 Big Ten) as both teams fought for their first conference win of the year. At the end of the first half, MSU showed to be more hungry for that win, jumping out to a commanding 35-0 lead.
Both opening drives resulted in punts, but MSU manufactured a touchdown drive their second time around, engineered by the legs of sophomore running back LJ Scott. Scott had 46 yards on the drive that resulted in a touchdown pass from fifth-year senior Tyler O’Connor to senior tight end Josiah Price.
It was Price’s 20th career touchdown catch, tying him for fourth all-time in MSU football history in touchdown receptions. O’Connor finished the half going 9-of-14 for 113 yards and three touchdowns, while Scott had 103 yards and a score on 16 carries.
The following drive saw junior quarterback Giovanni Rescigno, a Michigan native and Warren De La Salle graduate, throw an interception to senior captain Demetrious Cox, and with no one in front of him, waltzed into the end zone to give the Spartans a 14-0 lead.
Rutgers punted again shortly after, and the Spartans wasted little time extending the margin. O’Connor lobbed a deep corner route to true freshman Trishton Jackson on the first play of the drive. Jackson adjusted to reel it in, then dragged a couple would-be tacklers into the end zone for his first career touchdown with just over five minutes left in the first quarter.
The Spartans started three true freshman on defense –– defensive lineman Josh King and Mike Panasiuk as well as cornerback Justin Layne. Defensive end Malik McDowell and cornerback Tyson Smith, both listed as starters on the depth chart this week, did not dress for the game.
The defense, however, held Rutgers to zero points in the half and only allowed 79 total yards. The Scarlet Knights were led offensively by running back Robert Martin’s 28 yards on the ground. Rescigno was just 3-10 for 22 yards and an interception in a homecoming of sorts for him.
MSU’s leading tackler in the first half was senior Riley Bullough, wrapping up five Scarlet Knights. Junior safety Montae Nicholson, who missed last game with injury also had an admirable half, finishing with four tackles.
The Spartans added another score with just over seven minutes left in the half as O’Connor found Price for a four-yard score, their second connection of the game. It capped off a 12 play, 92-yard possession, tying MSU’s longest scoring drive of the season.
MSU was able to ground and pound through the first 30 minutes, plowing ahead for 171 yards rushing as a team despite MSU’s first three offensive touchdowns coming through the air. Rutgers came into the contest as the worst rushing defense in the Big Ten, allowing just under 250 yards on the ground per game and have given up 24 rushing touchdowns heading into the game.
Overall, MSU outgained Rutgers 284-79 in total yards and performed better in nearly every single statistical category. MSU had just two penalties for 15 yards in the first half, an issue the Spartans have been struggling with all season.
Stay with the State News for coverage during and after the contest today, and follow our football reporters on Twitter, Nathaniel Bott (@Nathaniel_Bott) and Stephen Olschanski (@SOlschanski) for analysis.