By NOAH TRISTER/AP Sports Writer
Michigan State struggled offensively throughout its season-opening win over Western Michigan last week.
Of course, it could have been a lot worse – just ask South Florida.
The Bulls were routed at home 53-21 by McNeese State of the Football Championship Subdivision. It was a sour way for South Florida to start new coach Willie Taggart’s tenure, and now the Bulls travel to play Michigan State on Saturday.
“It was like our guys were waiting for other bad things to happen once one thing went wrong,” Taggart said. “Things did go bad, but I didn’t think we would play that bad.”
South Florida went 3-9 last season, and the Bulls (0-1) are already off to a poor start this year. The Spartans (1-0) also have a lot to fix, especially on the offensive side of the ball. Michigan State beat Western Michigan 26-13 but scored only one offensive touchdown in that game.
Here are five things to watch in this matchup between two teams with plenty of room for improvement:
QUARTERBACK QUANDARY: Michigan State doesn’t seem any closer to identifying a quarterback who can help jump-start the offense. Andrew Maxwell and Connor Cook combined to go 17 of 37 for 116 yards in the opener. Freshmen Tyler O’Connor and Damion Terry did not play. Coach Mark Dantonio hasn’t said much about his quarterback rotation this week.
“Those decisions are tough decisions, because you have a position of leadership, but that’s why we give people opportunities,” Dantonio said. “I know this is a little bit of a media event because everybody wants to talk about that aspect, because they always want to talk about the head coach, they only want to talk about the quarterback – because they’re positions of leadership. So that goes with the role.”
South Florida also used two quarterbacks last week. Matt Floyd and Bobby Eveld had similar completion percentages, but Floyd was intercepted twice and Eveld threw a pair of second-half touchdown passes.
BULLS’ BLUNDERS: South Florida turned the ball over three times in its opener, and that’s the last thing the Bulls want to do against an opportunistic Michigan State team. The Bulls are heavy underdogs this week, but if the Spartans remain in a funk offensively, South Florida could keep it close. The Bulls will have to take care of the ball and force Michigan State’s quarterbacks to lead long drives throughout the day.
STILL STOUT: Michigan State’s defense looks impressive again this year – that’s one area Dantonio can take pride in, year in and year out. While the quarterbacks were finding their way and fans were becoming restless, Michigan State’s defense scored two touchdowns against Western Michigan. The Spartans also had five sacks and forced four turnovers.
SHAW IMPRESSES: One bright spot for South Florida against McNeese State was Marcus Shaw, who ran for an 80-yard touchdown early in the first quarter. He finished with 145 yards on 12 carries. Shaw is already over halfway to matching his season rushing total from last season. The Michigan State defense should present a major challenge for the South Florida running game.
RECEIVING WOES: It’s not just the quarterbacks who have to improve for Michigan State. An inexperienced receiving corps was a problem last season, and there were a number of dropped passes against Western Michigan. Sophomore Macgarrett Kings is expected to make his first career start in place of senior Bennie Fowler this weekend.