Tuesday, December 31, 2013
Season report card: Michigan State
By Brian Bennett
New Year's Day and the rest of the Big Ten bowl parade begin tomorrow. First, though, we close out 2013 by wrapping up our season report cards that have graded each league team's regular-season performance on offense, defense, special teams and overall showing.
Michigan State already has the roses, but how rosy are the Spartans grades?
Let's find out:
What kind of odds could you have gotten before the season -- or heck, even in late September -- that Michigan State would basically average 30 points per game (29.8, to be exact)? It sure seemed unlikely, given the team's quarterback carousel and unproven receivers and running backs.
But things finally began to click just in time for conference play, thanks in large part to the emergence of Connor Cook at quarterback. Cook threw for 2,423 yards, and more importantly, had 20 touchdowns against just five interceptions. His uncanny confidence seemed to seep into the rest of the offense, as the receivers around him suddenly started making plays. Cook went 9-0 in Big Ten games and won championship game MVP honors with a career day against Ohio State.
Running back Jeremy Langford surprised a lot of people with his 1,338-yard season and 17 rushing touchdowns, most of any back in the Big Ten. Langford always had speed and athleticism, but his power and toughness was a revelation. The unsung heroes of the Michigan State offense, however, could be found on the line. Deep and experienced, this was the best offensive line of Mark Dantonio's tenure in East Lansing, and it paved the way for a very respectable performance.
At this point, there's not much more that needs to be said about Pat Narduzzi's defense. Some wanted to criticize the level of offensive competition the Spartans faced or point out how teams later in the season were able to poke some holes in the defense. Still, when you lead the nation in total defense and rush defense and are as clearly dominant in all areas as Michigan State was, that's an A-plus season. No question about it.
Special teams: A-minus
Mike Sadler consistently pinned opponents deep into their own territory and was our choice as the first-team All-American punter. Freshman Michael Geiger gave the Spartans a much-needed weapon at placekicker, drilling 14 of his 15 attempts this season. Dantonio was also up to some of his old tricks on special teams, pulling off successful fakes at Iowa and Nebraska. The kick return unit could have been better, but that's picking nits.
Michigan State was a few sorry pass-interference penalties at Notre Dame away from likely playing for the BCS title. The team didn't really hit its stride until October, but it got stronger as the year went on and had the Big Ten's single best unit (its defense) and got back to a championship level on defense. A convincing win over Ohio State in the Big Ten title game and the program's first trip to the Rose Bowl Game presented by VIZIO since 1987 are reason enough to award this season the highest possible grade.
More report cards