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Tuesday, October 11, 2011
Midseason report: Michigan State

By Brian Bennett

Michigan State Spartans

Record: 4-1 (1-0) Big Ten

Michigan State's Kirk Cousins, a polished public speaker, put it best when talking about the 2011 campaign: The Spartans will be defined this year by how they play on the road. The early return on their demanding road schedule is a 1-1 record, but at least they won the one that really matters. A disappointing 31-13 loss at Notre Dame in Week 3 didn't inspire confidence, especially since the rest of the nonconference schedule was so soft. But the Spartans regrouped and beat Ohio State 10-7 in their Big Ten opener, notching their first victory in Columbus since 1998. One thing they have counted on all season long is their suffocating defense, which led the FBS in fewest yards allowed heading into last week's bye week. Led by Jerel Worthy up front, Max Bullough in the aggressive linebacker corps and a ball-hawking secondary, Michigan State might have its best defense under Mark Dantonio. Ohio State wouldn't argue that point after allowing nine sacks in the loss. The road schedule is still difficult (at Nebraska, at Iowa, at Northwestern) and the next two against Michigan and Wisconsin at home will tell us a lot about this team. But at least the Spartans have one elite unit that should keep them competitive every week.

Offensive MVP: Wide receiver B.J. Cunningham. The Spartans' running attack hasn't been as powerful as hoped, especially against the good teams on the schedule. That most likely owes to a rebuilt offensive line which has already had to replace some injured starters. But Cunningham has picked up the slack with a terrific season as Cousins' go-to guy. Early in the year, he set the school's all-time record for receptions, and he ranks second in the Big Ten with 38 catches for 582 yards, plus two scores.

Defensive MVP: Tackle Jerel Worthy. Just about everybody on the Michigan State defense is playing great and a case could be made for several Spartans here. But Worthy gets things started up front by disrupting the interior of the opposing offense. He was hardly blockable against Ohio State and spent as much time in the Buckeyes' backfield as Braxton Miller. Worthy is showing why many project him as a first-round NFL pick whenever he chooses to leave East Lansing.