EAST LANSING (AP) – Even after a victory, Mark Dantonio noticed a few problems for his Michigan State team to correct.
The 17th-ranked Spartans opened the season with a 28-6 win over Youngstown State on Friday night, but they were far from dominant. The game was tight until Michigan State scored a touchdown in each of the third and fourth quarters to pull away.
“We will address our issues, I can promise you that,” said Dantonio, in his fifth season as Michigan State’s coach.
“This is our first game, so maybe it is good that we don’t feel too good about ourselves. They have been saying a lot of nice things about us in August. It is time to get back to work.”
Michigan State tied for the Big Ten title last year. The Spartans don’t play a conference game until Oct. 1 at Ohio State, and they have a lot to work on before then.
Michigan State committed too many penalties in the first half, and its defense had a hard time getting off the field. The Spartans also made mistakes on special teams, which might be the easiest way to earn a rebuke from Dantonio.
Keshawn Martin muffed a punt in the second quarter, and Youngstown State took the ball and drove for its only touchdown of the game. In the fourth quarter, Dan Conroy missed a 27-yard field goal, kicking the ball low and horribly to the left. Dantonio put some – but not all – of the blame on a shaky hold.
“Snap looked good but the laces got turned toward the kicker,” Dantonio said. “But still, I think you need to be able to kick the laces a little better than that.”
Michigan State did do some good things. Quarterback Kirk Cousins looked sharp, completing 18 of 22 passes for 222 yards. He and fellow senior B.J. Cunningham were on the same page throughout the game. Cunningham caught nine passes for 130 yards and a touchdown, moving into a tie with Matt Trannon atop the school’s career receptions list.
Cunningham has 148 receptions and will have a chance to move past Trannon next weekend against Florida Atlantic.
“B.J. was B.J. He has been that way for four years,” Cousins said. “He’s very underrated. I’m glad he’s on my team.”
And there was at least one big play on special teams. Defensive lineman Jerel Worthy blocked an extra point, enabling the Spartans to stay ahead 7-6 in the first half.
“In all honesty, we could’ve won by a lot more,” Worthy said. “In camp, we tackled pretty well, but we got lax a little bit. We can improve. We won by 22 and could’ve won by 40.”
After seven first-half penalties, Michigan State committed only one in the second half and prevented any further scoring by the Penguins of the Football Championship Subdivision. Sophomore linebacker Max Bullough had 15 tackles in his first career start.
What concerned Dantonio was the fact that Youngstown State was able to move the ball and control it in the first half. The Penguins had 19:36 of possession time through two quarters.
After recovering Martin’s fumble, Youngstown State went on a nine-play, 62-yard drive that included a pass interference call on the Spartans, and a defensive offside penalty that turned third-and-10 into third-and-5.
Kurt Hess threw a 10-yard touchdown pass to Jelani Berassa immediately after the offside call.
“We made a lot of mistakes, but a lot of them were very correctable,” Dantonio said. “We can define who we are. Hopefully, that wasn’t us out there.”
(Copyright 2011 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)