The 2016 season for the Michigan State Spartans got underway Friday night under the lights in Spartan Stadium. Their quest to repeat as Big Ten champions and hopes of getting back to the College Football Playoff began with a bout with FCS opponent Furman.
It’s a new era in East Lansing in 2016, redshirt senior Tyler O’Connor takes over for the winningest and most prolific quarterback in school history in Connor Cook. He’s flanked by a young and experienced wide receiving core but has a bevy of running threads at his disposal, including his own legs. Defensively, they boast one of the best units in the conference, perhaps in the country.
The Spartans got the ball first to open the game and went right down the field in seven plays, scoring on their opening drive. They picked up 53 yards on the first two plays, one run by senior R.J. Shelton and followed up by another from sophomore LJ Scott. It was one of four rushes for Scott on that drive for 33 yards, including from one yard out to punch it into the end zone.
Outside of that, it was relatively quiet for both teams in the 1st quarter. MSU had a chance for more points late after starting a drive inside the Furman 45-yard line. They advanced the ball more than 20 yards, aided by a Furman holding penalty, but senior kicker Michael Geiger missed a field goal attempt from 26 yards out.
MSU totaled 94 yards in the first quarter, the defense held the Paladins to just 25 yards of offense, forcing three punts.
(THRU 1ST: MSU LEADS 7-0)
Michigan State got on the board again about halfway through the 2nd stanza after starting the drive just before midfield in their own territory. They needed eight plays to go 57 yards down the field, capped off by a 13-yard completion from O’Connor to sophomore Felton Davis III, pad their lead. O’Connor completed all three of his passes for 35 yards on that scoring drive.
Furman finally got on the board with 19 seconds to go in the first half, a chip shot from 20 yards out to cut the Spartan lead to 14-3. It was a solid drive put together by the Paladins, 13 plays for 72 yards that began back on their own 25-yard line.
The offense was a bit hit-and-miss in the first half but prolific in the box score. O’Connor was efficient, completing eight of his ten pass attempts for 109 yards and a touchdown. Six different Spartans rushed for 101 total yards, led by Scott’s 12 carries for 61 yards and a score. Meanwhile, the Spartan defense held Furman to just 115 total yards of offense.
(HALF: MSU LEADS 14-3)
Furman took their opening drive in the second half 42 yards down the field, mostly aided by two MSU 15-yard penalties, one a personal foul. The drive squandered after getting to the MSU 33-yard line and the Paladins missed wide left on a 50-yard field goal attempt.
The first turnover came in the game on the ensuing drive by the Spartans after the missed field goal. Redshirt freshman receiver Darrell Stewart Jr. fumbled the ball on an end-around run play, recovered by the Paladins. A second defensive pass interference from senior Darian Hicks set up Furman with a 1st & goal on the MSU 5-yard line, but the Spartan defense held its own again, holding Furman to a field goal, this one from 23 yards out to make it 14-6, Michigan State.
Michigan State opened up their next drive on their own 42-yard line, thanks in part to a Furman personal foul on the return. Five plays later, MSU was back in the end zone after O’Connor completed a 21-yard pass to his senior tight end Josiah Price to the front corner of the end zone, making it 21-6 MSU. It was another efficient drive for O’Connor, three passes completed for 58 yards.
Furman slowly worked their way down the field as the 3rd quarter drew to an end. The drive was aided by the eighth penalty of the night from the Spartans. When the quarter ended, the Paladins had a 1st & 10 on the MSU 21-yard line.
(THRU 3RD: MSU LEADS 21-6)
Paladins quarterback P.J. Blazejowski completed a huge 4th & 5 from the MSU-16 to keep the drive alive and on the next play, they punched it in from six yards out on a rush from Antonio Wilcox, making it a one-possession game 21-13.
Michigan State on the ensuing drive seemed like they were moving the ball via LJ Scott, but another bad personal foul penalty negated all the momentum and then was compounded two plays later when O’Connor threw a pick towards the sidelines, giving Furman the ball back. However, Blazejowski for the Paladins returned the favor with an interception of his own on the very next play.
MSU ran with it, literally, for an insurance score. A 12-play, 60-yard drive that exhausted nearly seven minutes of game time concluded with an O’Connor TD pass to redshirt senior tight end Jamal Lyles 11 yards out, making it 28-13 MSU. Eight of the 12 plays on that drive were on the ground.
Furman had one last chance to move the ball down the field, but a failed 4th down conversion allowed MSU to retrieve the ball and knee it to cap off a season-opening victory of 28-13, albeit a not-so-pretty one.
The Spartans outgained Furman the yardage department 361-226, but committed an eye sore of 10 penalties for 120 yards.
(FINAL: MSU 28, FURM 13)
- T. O’Connor: 13/18, 190 yards, 3 TD, 1 INT
- LJ Scott: 20 carries, 105 yards, TD
- M. Madaris: 5 catches, 85 yards
- F. Davis III, J. Lyles, J. Price: Rec TD each