This was not your 12-win Central Michigan Football team, and the Spartans made that point clear before the end of the 2nd Quarter as their lead pushed past three scores (> 24 points), and MSU secured the 1st Half knock out.  Former Spartan Dan Enos’ bunch did not feature an explosive “Tebow-eqsue” Quarterback lining up under center this time, and simply didn’t have the experience and talent to stay with the overpowering Spartans today.

MSU came out quick after starting the first possession at their 20.  The Spartans ripped off five straight runs before Kirk Cousins (Rs.-Sr. QB) found B.J. Cunningham (Rs.-Sr. WR) once again, this time for 54 yards over the middle and the first big play of the day.  Le’Veon Bell (So. RB) finished off the drive with his 4th Touchdown of the year, and the Spartans looked off and rolling early.

A somewhat sloppy and sluggish pace took over for the Quarter from there, however.  Between a few penalties (4 total for the game), missed assignments, and mistakes on each side of the ball, it was not a completely clean steamrolling all day.  The Chips couldn’t move it much early though (17 total yards) as the Spartan D began to make it a long day.  Yet, CMU’s Defense did enough (often moving 8 or 9 up in the box) to keep the score at 7-0 after a period.

Mike Sadler’s (Rs.-Fr. P) punting again stood out, as the fast becoming dependable Sadler dropped his first for 46 yards and a fair catch, and his second kick with the needed backspin to pin the Chips inside the 10-yard line.  Unfortunately, his near-perfect kick was bobbled by the MSU coverage unit into the End Zone, highlighted by a missed opportunity from Johnny Adams (Rs.-Jr. CB) to finish the play.

On MSU’s carry-over possession into the start of the 2nd, Cousins threw an interception while trying to find Dion Sims (Rs.-So. TE) through double coverage.  It looked as if Cousins decided he was going to throw to Sims before the snap was even taken, which was not Kirk Cousins at his best.

Two plays later, Central’s Ryan Radcliff (Jr. QB) took his turn and floated one towards to center field and into the waiting arms of the Spartans’ Trenton Robinson (Sr. S).  Robinson picked it off around the 3 and took it all the way to the MSU 37.  Five plays and 63 yards later, featuring some nice open field running by Bell (4 carries for 59 yards on the drive), the 240 pound Sophomore took it in from the 5 for his 5th TD of the year and second on the day.

At the 10:00 mark of the 2nd, Enos made a change at QB by going with A.J. Westendorp (So. QB), and benching the Chips’ Jr. and Captain signal caller, Radcliff.  After a few successful runs, Westendorp made an off balance TD pass the other way, under heavy heat from MSU’s Marcus Rush (Rs.-Fr. LB).  Westendorp felt the pressure and foolishly threw towards the Spartans’ standout Safety, Isaiah Lewis (So.).  Lewis jumped into the ball’s path and went all 36-yards for the TD to put MSU up 21-0.

Things went from bad to worse for CMU on the subsequent drive as Westendorp again showed his youth and threw a pass towards five Green jerseys.  To no great surprise, the “Defensive QB” Max Bullough (So. LB) pulled it in to put the Chips all the way back on the ropes, and primed for the 1st Half Knock Out.

3 plays and only 23 yards later, Cousins missed an open Keith Nichol (Rs.-Sr. WR) for the would-have-been third TD of the Quarter, but the Spartans capitalized instead with a 23-yard Dan Conroy (Jr. PK) Field Goal to go up 24-0.  All 17 of the Spartans’ points in the Quarter had come off CMU turnovers, and it was time again for Central to rotate their Quarterback.

After a “3 and out” and a CMU punt, MSU took the ball 62 yards on 9 plays to go up 31-0.  Bell finished off the Chips for good with his 3rd TD of the day on a 13 yard carry.  The Chips were completely out of fire, and the 1st Half-Spartan Knock Out was complete.

The 2nd Half was highlighted early by what we didn’t see (Andrew Maxwell (Rs.-So. QB) taking all the Spartans’ snaps under center), and a couple of big plays early.  After a good 1st Half punting, MSU’s punt protection coverage appeared to fail badly as Central’s Kevin King (Fr. DB) snuck in easily for a block and return 30-yards down to the MSU 13.  After Central spoiled the shutout bid with a 5-yard TD pass from Radcliff to David Blackburn (Sr. TE) at 10:11 of the 3rd, MSU returned the favor when Cousins found a favorite 3rd down target in Larry Caper (Jr. RB) for a 15-yard TD score to extend the lead to 38-7.

Maxwell finally came in at the 5:46 mark of the 3rd, but there’s a good argument that the most valuable snaps he could’ve taken on the day were handled by Cousins early in the Quarter when more of the starters for both teams were still on the field.  Maxwell took full advantage of his reps though, and ran up a nice line (7/8 78 yards, 1 TD) along with his first College TD pass, a 3 yard toss to Dion Sims to make it 45-7.

Through his 20 minutes of play, Maxwell again showed off the tools that Spartan Nation should become familiar with during 2012 and 2013.  Though playing against far from the greatest of MAC teams, Maxwell looked smooth with his mechanics in check, and very capable to deliver the ball all across the field.  He’s no doubt a better athlete than Kirk Cousins, and probably Brian Hoyer, but clearly will have a lot to do to match the productivity and success of each predecessor.

Other young Spartans got a chance for some valuable playing time as well in the 2nd Half including Nick Hill (Rs.-Fr. RB), Keith Mumphrey (Rs.-Fr. WR), Tony Lippett (Rs.-Fr. WR/CB), Travis Jackson (Rs.-Fr. C), and Taiwan Jones (Fr. LB).  You can’t replace game reps, and this was probably the last chance for many of the younger Spartans to see much of the field for at least the next month or so.

As easy as it looked today against Central, things will look quite different next week in front of more than 100,000 at “The Shoe.”  Spartan Nation knows, the heavy lifting of a Big Ten title defense starts in earnest next week against the program that’s had a piece of the last six Conference Championships.

The Outlook Moving Forward

Offense

Mark Dantonio made the statement clear earlier this week, “Pound, Green, Pound.”  Today as expected, that’s what happened.  In a bounce back-confidence building fashion, The BBC ran strong (Bell: 8/81 TD, Baker: 16/49, Caper: 11/54, Hill: 8/20) and caught a few balls as well (Bell: 1/17, Caper: 1/15, TD) in order to build steam towards the meatiest part of the 2011 schedule.  Now that the Spartan Offense has reaffirmed its identity, it must guard from some of the stubbornness that has plagued them at times in the past five years.

MSU will not simply be able to run through the likes of Ohio St., Wisconsin, and Nebraska.  They will be challenged, probably early, to go unbalanced at first in order to open up the opportunity to restore balance effectively during the course of 60 minutes.  The BBC, along with their Junior Associate Nick Hill, are better Running Backs than they were last year.  But without the level of line support needed, they won’t always be able to show it against the best Defenses in 2011.  As the blocking goes, might go the entire Spartan Offense during Big Ten play.

As long as there’s instability and a lack of depth up front, there may be real issues trying to move the ball consistently.  We’ve clearly seen what happens when the Spartan Offense cannot stay balanced, and no one in Spartan Nation wants to see that again in the next 5 weeks.  This Offense works best when they can run and throw effectively, sometimes throwing early in a series and sometimes running later to keep the chains moving.  Next week will tell a lot.

This was not the razor sharp performance the Spartan Nation was looking for from Kirk Cousins.  Cousins looked good in spots, but also surprisingly balky on his interception throw, a couple clear overthrows, and a couple other balls that very well could’ve been picked off by the lowly Chippewa Defense.  MSU hasn’t played Ohio St. in the past two seasons, and can’t quite be sure what they’re going to see next Saturday.  That presents a bit of a concern relative to Kirk Cousins right now.  He must stay steady and energetic, especially early, next week in Columbus.

It was a surprise that Andrew Maxwell (Rs.-So. QB) didn’t play the entire 2nd Half.  In fact, Cousins stayed out under center for the first two series of the 3rd Quarter, took some more decent hits, but appeared to stay healthy heading into the Big Ten opener.  Yet, as Spartan Nation discussed with various members of the MSU staff all the way back to the spring, it sounded important to get Maxwell significant game action when the opportunity arose.

Despite being up 31-7 after the Central 3rd Quarter score, there seemed hardly any reason for Cousins to go back in.  It’s hard to imagine that the extra snaps and TD pass were of much value to Cousins at that point.  At the same time, those very snaps for Maxwell appeared to be invaluable.  Maxwell’s absence to start and play the entire 2nd Half is something the entire Spartan Nation must be curious about this evening.

The Offense should be ready to go for their first really tough road environment of the year, but if the line can’t block early and effectively, it could be a tight day in Columbus for the unit.

Defense

Credit the Defense for being primarily responsible for the 1st Half KO of the Chippewas today.  The quickly growing MSU D stoned CMU when it mattered most, holding the Chips to only 47 total yards for the 1st Half, including 14 on the ground, four 1st Downs, and picking Central off three times to take the game over for good.  Had the punt block never happened, there’s a great chance the Spartan D would’ve closed out its second shutout in only three weeks.

For the game, MSU muted Central to only 104 total yards, 23 on the ground, and turned Central over all four times by interception.  This unit is raising their game quickly.  That’s exactly the type of dominant Defensive performance Spartan Nation was looking for against a younger MAC team.

Johnny Adams can be an All-Time great Spartan Corner Back, but he might also go down as one who talked the biggest game.  Adams must be aware of his actions and conduct at all times, because everyone watching his games surely are.  There’s nothing wrong with playing with excitement and an edge, but there’s a line that Adams should be aware of as he moves into the very big stage the Spartans will play on for the next few months.  His play is usually more than enough to do the talking for him.

Special Teams

The Special Teams unit needed to bounce back from the let down performance at Notre Dame.  After good 1st Half, the 2nd Half was blemished briefly by an apparent mistake from the up-back on Mike Sadler’s early 3rd Quarter punt.  That mistake left Central wide open for the block, and the Chips’ single biggest play of the day.  Outside of that, the kicking game had a more solid day than in South Bend.

Nick Hill continues to get reps as a returner.  After Keshawn Martin (Sr. WR) went down early, his presence returning wasn’t needed in such a lopsided affair.  But Hill’s performance and additional reps could really be important to the return game for the rest of the year.  No one may completely replace Martin as a returner in Green for a very long time, but Hill looks to have the quicks and instincts needed to carve out his own special niche in taking them back.  It wouldn’t be a surprise to see Hill break one sometime in 2011.

Overall

The “preseason” is over now.  The first Big Ten Title Defense in 20 years begins next week in Columbus.  They all count one, but given Ohio St.’s spot on the schedule here in 2011 and the poor performance at Notre Dame last week, next week probably means more than just one.  If MSU has any designs of competing for another Big Ten crown, they need to win next week.  If you can’t beat the Bucks at the “Horseshoe” when they’re short at least five key players and a Hall of Fame Coach, when can you?

P.A.T. (Perhaps Another Thought…)

  1. Why doesn’t the Big Ten play Conference games before the season’s fifth week?  This is 2011, and nearly every other major league in College Football has already featured a handful of big time Conference matchups.  Those leagues and teams have benefited from playing league games, and the Big Ten has once again been left behind.  There’s too much to gain by integrating the entire schedule, for too many competitive reasons.  Teams get better-earlier by mixing in an early Conference game or two, and also can benefit later with a less competitive non-conference foe strategically placed at another spot in the schedule.  It’s time for the Big Ten to open up the schedule to include a season’s first four weeks.

*Follow Jonathan on Twitter @JPSpartan, and find him inside the Phalanx Forum