EAST LANSING, Mich. – Jerel Worthy and the Michigan State Spartans had a long week to stew after a sluggish performance in their season opener.
Then they took the field against Florida Atlantic, ready to prove a point.
Worthy helped set the tone with an early sack, and No. 17 Michigan State held FAU to one first down in a 44-0 victory over the Owls on Saturday. Kirk Cousins threw for 183 yards and two touchdowns for the Spartans, who outgained FAU 434-48.
It was a much sharper performance by Michigan State, which was merely adequate when it opened the season with a 28-6 win over Youngstown State last Friday night.
"We always want to come out and play our best game of the season. I think today we played our best game — we played a lot better than last week," said Worthy, the Spartans' standout defensive tackle. "The sky's the limit for this defense. We're very humble, we're very hungry, and we want to go out there and showcase our skills."
After going without a sack in the opener, Michigan State had three against FAU.
B.J. Cunningham caught five passes for 73 yards, breaking a tie with Matt Trannon for Michigan State's career lead in receptions. The Spartans (2-0) led 27-0 at halftime.
The Owls (0-2) have scheduled a brutal opening month. They opened at Florida and play at Auburn in two weeks.
"This was a very disappointing thing for us," said FAU coach Howard Schnellenberger, who is retiring after this season. "We thought we'd come up and play more consistently than we have in the past. We didn't. We played absolutely inconsistent and horrible."
Michigan State has held an opponent to one first down only one other time — against Maryland in 1944.
"I thought last week's game got our attention," Spartans coach Mark Dantonio said. "I felt like we were ready to go this week."
Cousins finished 16 of 21, and backup Andrew Maxwell also played quite a bit. Cunningham entered the game even with Trannon at 148 catches, but he had two receptions on Michigan State's first drive to take sole possession of first place on that list. On the milestone catch, Cunningham actually stumbled and was juggling the ball while on his back before disappearing with it underneath a pile of players.
"I caught it the third time," Cunningham said. "Third bobble, brought it in."
Edwin Baker capped Michigan State's first drive with a 9-yard touchdown run, and Le'Veon Bell added a 2-yard scoring run late in the quarter to make it 14-0.
Dan Conroy equaled his career best with a 50-yard field goal that made it 17-0, then added a 41-yarder.
Cousins made it 27-0 with a 1-yard touchdown pass to Dion Sims with 12 seconds remaining in the half, and the senior quarterback caught a bit of a break in the third quarter when his fourth-down pass went through the hands of FAU's Keith Reaser and was caught by Garrett Celek for an 8-yard touchdown.
The Spartans were uncharacteristically shaky on special teams against Youngstown State, but Keshawn Martin provided a boost Saturday with a nifty 35-yard punt return in the second quarter that helped set up Sims' last-minute touchdown.
Conroy did miss a 28-yard field goal in the third quarter, hitting the left upright. Backup kicker Kevin Muma made a field goal from the same distance in the fourth to make it 37-0.
FAU quarterback Graham Wilbert went 4 of 10 for 15 yards, and the Owls couldn't run the ball either against Michigan State's tough defensive front. In the fourth quarter, FAU's Xavier Stinson ran for 14 yards and what would have been the Owls' second first down — but he fumbled, and Michigan State's Jeremy Langford returned it 37 yards for a touchdown and a 44-0 lead.
The only FAU first down came in the second quarter, when backup quarterback David Kooi threw an 8-yard pass to DeAndre Richardson on second-and-4.
FAU will have a much-needed open date next weekend, while the Spartans play at Notre Dame. Michigan State beat the Irish last year on a fake field goal in overtime.
"It was good to play a much cleaner game," Cousins said. "Certainly next week is going to be a great test for us, but that's why you come to Michigan State — to play in games like this."