Four Downs Week 2: Appreciating Michigan State’s Big Wins


FIRST DOWN: Appreciating Michigan State

In the past 21 months, Michigan State football has wins Ohio State, Stanford, Baylor and, as of Saturday, Oregon. That’s four opponents ranked no worse than No. 7.

No other program can claim as many wins over teams ranked in the Top 10 at the time of their meeting in the same time-span. Ohio State has three between January’s College Football Playoff and last year’s rematch with Michigan State. Florida State has two between the 2014 BCS Championship and last October’s defeat of Notre Dame.

Extend it to include Top 11, and Alabama’s lost as many over the last 21 months as Michigan State’s won.

That should give you some context into just how good Sparty’s been — good, and perhaps under-appreciated.

Everyone respects Michigan State under Mark Dantonio, sure. And you have to respect winning at least 11 games four of the last five seasons, with the Spartans starting strong for No. 5.

But respect and appreciate are two different things. Saturday’s defeat of Oregon commands appreciation.

“I watched these Fast and Furious movies every now and again and that’s what it reminded me of,” Dantonio said in his postgame press conference, via MSUSpartans.com.

First of all, the visual of Mark Dantonio settling in on the couch with a bowl of popcorn and soda to watch Fast & Furious is hilarious. The stoic, if not downright stern Dantonio is showing more personality with every big win.

It’s fitting, because Michigan State is displaying more identity, too.

That action-film edge, adding some offensive explosiveness to the typical Michigan State toughness, should bring more eyeballs to this Spartan team.

Michigan State’s success under Dantonio came with certain connotations. Sparty was seen as defense-first, using a physical style to prop up a methodical offense.

T.J. Duckett may have predated Dantonio at Michigan State by a half-decade, but that was the enduring image of Spartan offense: a thick running back grinding out yards in a cloud of dust.

Even putting up 31 points per game with Kirk Cousins at quarterback in 2011, a much thicker Le’Veon Bell was grounding-and-pounding via the run.

In certain ways against Oregon, however, Michigan State beat the Ducks at their own game. Scoring in just three plays on its first touchdown drive set a tone for the offense, while the defense brought the same hard-hitting and discipline demonstrated under Narduzzi.

The three-and-yards-and-a-cloud-of-dust stereotype didn’t necessarily apply before, but with a combined 73 points in wins over Baylor and Oregon — college football’s two highest-scoring teams most seasons — Michigan State may finally have redefined its image.

In the process, the nation should be on notice. This is a national championship-caliber team, as quarterback Connor Cook eluded to with reporters.

Laying an egg in the second half and that stuck with me during the whole year. It stuck with me during the season. It stuck with me watching them playing in the national championship, and it was with me all through spring ball, through camp. It’s one of the main reasons why we wanted to come back is to play Oregon again and beat them.

Michigan State also had to watch Ohio State play in January’s title game. Their Big Ten Conference matchup promises to have College Football Playoff implications.

Michigan State will certainly be tested in big games once that date rolls around, and we can all appreciate that.

SECOND DOWN: Bowling Green’s Matt Johnson A Rising Star

Bowling Green quarterback Matt Johnson has thrown for 919 yards in two games. Let that number marinate for a moment: 919.

His 491 yards and six touchdowns led Bowling Green to an impressive win over Maryland.

After having thrown for two touchdowns Week 1 at Tennessee, Johnson now has more passing scores in 2015 than six FBS teams had all of 2014.

Johnson’s eye-popping numbers should come as no surprise to those familiar with Bowling Green coach Dino Babers. Babers toiled as an assistant at various stops for almost three decades before Eastern Illinois gave him a head coaching opportunity in 2012.

At Eastern Illinois, Babers applied lessons from one of his assistant’s stops: Baylor. The Panthers operated with a high-tempo, pass-heavy attack that helped catapult quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo into the stratosphere.

In much the same way operating Babers’ offense brought Garoppolo into the national spotlight, you can expect the same for Matt Johnson. He’s now roasted SEC and Big Ten defenses in back-to-back weekends, so I shudder to think of the kind of numbers he could register in the Mid-American (though Toledo might argue MAC > SEC).

THIRD DOWN: Road Warriors

I’ll let Matt Brown of Sports on Earth set the stage for this one:

Two teams at the lowest run of college football’s lowest tier both won road games on Saturday. For Georgia State, hanging on 34-32 at New Mexico State was downright historic.

1. This was Georgia State’s first road win as an FBS member.
2. This was Georgia State’s first road win over an FBS opponent. The Panthers’ last win away from the Georgia Dome was at Rhode Island in 2012.
3. This was Georgia State’s first Sun Belt Conference victory.

Georgia State’s football history only goes back five years, so the Panthers’ historic Saturday didn’t quite match Eastern Michigan’s in terms of longevity. Per HustleBelt.com:

Twenty-seven years without a nonconference win away from home. Not a single member of this year’s Eagle squad was alive for that last victory — and, in fact, you’d have to go back a few seasons for the last time an active Eagle player would have been.

Eastern Michigan let a multiple-score lead slip away in its opener at The Factory against Old Dominion, so the Eagles left no doubt Saturday at Wyoming.

Wyoming threatened ever-so-briefly after Eastern Michigan jumped ahead 38-7, but the threat was fleeting.

For Eastern Michigan to win on the road and have an opportunity to win Week 1 shows major strides in head coach Chris Creighton’s second season.

FOURTH DOWN: BYU Prayers Answered

I saved the best finish of Week 2 for the fourth down — the same down on which Tanner Mangum threw his game-winning touchdown pass to Mitchell Juergens against Boise State.

Mangum’s second, final-minute touchdown heave in as many weeks may not be as dramatic as the Hail Mary to down Nebraska. BYU tacked on one more score Saturday with a pick-six of Ryan Finley’s final, desperate attempt.

However, this was just as much game-saving. With the Cougars on fourth down and trailing 24-21, his failure to convert would resulted in a BYU loss.

BYU’s gauntlet of a first month continues next week at the Rose Bowl against undefeated UCLA. Were I Bruins head coach Jim Mora or defense coordinator Tom Bradley, I’d dedicate a significant chunk of practice in the coming week to batting down long balls at the goal line.