By Tony Briscoe
Michigan State head football coach Mark Dantonio maintained his perfect record in home openers on Friday as his team secured a far from perfect victory over a scrappy Youngstown State team.
The Spartans, ranked No. 17 by the Associated Press preseason poll, defeated the Penguins 28-6, but committed several mental errors throughout the game. MSU was penalized seven times for 50 yards in the first quarter alone, which shortened the offense’s time of possession and lengthened the defense’s time on the field.
Senior Keyshawn Martin dropped a punt in the second quarter after what should have been a three-and-out possession by YSU. However, Youngstown State recovered the ball after the gaffe by Martin, which ultimately led to the Penguins’ only touchdown. As YSU attempted to tie the score at seven, senior defensive lineman Jerel Worthy blocked the extra point attempt. The mental mistakes continued through the second half as second-year starting kicker Dan Conroy, who made 14 of 15 field goals he attempted last season, missed a 27-yard field goal in the fourth quarter.
“We’ll work on things,” said Dantonio. “Don’t worry, we’ll address our issues. I promise you that. And this is our first game, so maybe it’s good that we don’t feel too good about ourselves.”
Although the Spartans had their share of troubles throughout the game, the offense, lead by MSU’s senior quarterback Kirk Cousins, looked exceptional. Cousins was 18-22, throwing for 222 yards with one touchdown and no interceptions. B.J. Cunningham lead the Spartan receiving core with nine receptions for 129 yards, including a spectacular 18-yard grab for a touchdown.
Cunningham finished the game with 148 career receptions, surpassing Andre Rison and tying Matt Trannon for most receptions in MSU history. Michigan State’s running backs were also effective against the YSU defense. LeVeon Bell rushed nine times for 40 yards and two touchdowns, while Larry Caper accumulated 22 yards and one touchdown on four attempts.
Edwin Baker got the bulk of the handoffs rushing 91 yards on 15 attempts. Friday’s game, which had 75,910 attendees, was only the tenth night game in the 88-year history of Spartan Stadium. Before the game, there was a moment of silence to remember All-American MSU defensive end Charles “Bubba” Smith. Smith, one of three football players to have their jerseys retired by Michigan State, played in 1966 National Championship game against Notre Dame, commonly referred to as the “Game of the Century”.
The match ended in a 10-10 draw; therefore, both teams recorded championships for the year. Shortly after, on the first play of the game was another poignant moment for Spartan fans. Fifth-year senior left guard Joel Foreman surrendered his 23rd straight start to give Arthur Ray Jr., who has battled leg cancer for four years, an opportunity to get in the game.
On his only play of the game, Ray blocked effectively as Kirk Cousin passed to Brian Linthicum for a seven-yard gain. MSU’s next opponent will be Florida Atlantic. In the first week, the Owls were routed 41-3 by the No. 22 Florida Gators.