East Lansing, MI (SportsNetwork.com) - After a week off to recover from a difficult road loss to Oregon, the Michigan State Spartans play host to the Eastern Michigan Eagles this Saturday at Spartan Stadium.
The then seventh-ranked Spartans invaded Autzen Stadium in Eugene to face No. 2 Oregon on Sept. 6, and had the Ducks on the ropes -- at least for a half. Michigan State entered intermission with a 24-18 lead, but could not keep Marcus Mariota and the high-powered Oregon offense under wraps for long, eventually falling in a 46-27 decision. The Spartans are now 1-1, with their win coming against FCS foe Jacksonville State in the season opener.
"There's always disappointment when you lose a big football game, but young people are resilient, so we'll be able to move past that," Michigan State head coach Mark Dantonio said. "We had opportunities to win the football game and we just didn't take advantage of it ultimately, and that's what cost us."
Eastern Michigan has not grabbed the type of headlines Michigan State has. The Eagles are 1-2 as they enter this contest. They were able to hold on to beat FCS foe Morgan State (31-28) in the season opener, but have since fallen to Florida (65-0) and Old Dominion (17-3).
When these teams last met, Michigan State posted a 23-7 win during the 2012 season. The Spartans have won all nine matchups in the series between intrastate rivals.
Although they may have lost to Oregon, the Spartans still performed well offensively, at least in terms of yardage gained. They finished with 481 total yards and also converted 8-of-17 third-down chances. They have scored 72 points and gained 1,046 yards combined on the season.
Connor Cook is the man under center for the Spartans. He threw for a season- high 348 yards against Oregon, but he also matched his two touchdown passes with two interceptions. Overall, he has completed 68.3 percent of his passes for 633 yards and five scores, to go along with the two picks.
"If it was last year around this time, I would say he had an excellent game. But it's this year this time, and if you want to play at that level, your quarterback has to play at that level," Dantonio said of his signal caller's performance against Oregon. "That's just the way it is. I'm sure he wished he had a couple plays back because he knows you got to make those key plays."
Cook has leaned heavily on Tony Lippett and that isn't likely to change. The senior wideout has hauled in 15 passes for 300 yards and three scores in only two games. He tallied 11 of those receptions against Oregon, finishing with 133 yards on the day. Tight end Josiah Price (eight receptions, 110 yards, TD) is the only other player to have more than 100 receiving yards at this point.
Starting running back Jeremy Langford also had a solid game against Oregon, finishing with 91 yards and a touchdown on 24 carries. He has turned 37 total attempts into 148 yards and the lone score in the first two games.
Michigan State is best known for its defense. The Spartans seemed to have the Ducks figured out, but that all changed when adjustments were made at halftime. The Spartans ended up allowing 506 yards of total offense in the contest. They also let up 40 points in a game for the first time since 2011 when Wisconsin scored 42 during the Big Ten Championship.
Marcus Rush (13 tackles, 3.0 TFL, 1.0 sacks) has been the leader of the defense early on. RJ Williamson (13 tackles) and Kurtis Drummond (seven tackles, INT) are also important contributors.
Eastern Michigan has been absolutely abysmal on offense this season. The Eagles have scored only 34 points combined in the first three games. They have done so on just 731 yards of total offense, 216 of which has come through the air.
The Eagles have relied much more heavily on the run, with 138 total carries by the team compared to just 75 pass attempts. Bronson Hill (192 yards) and Darius Jackson (104 yards) are the workhorses, although Ryan Brumfield (84 yards, two TDs) has two of the team's three rushing touchdowns.
Three different quarterbacks have gotten a chance under center. Brogan Roback is the top option, having thrown for 125 yards on 51.2 percent passing. Reginald Bell (13-of-22, 51 yards) and Rob Bolden (5-of-12, 20 yards, INT) are there as well.
Tyreese Russell (nine receptions, 71 yards) is the only player on the team with more than 40 receiving yards.
The defensive side of the ball has been just as challenging for the Eagles, who are allowing 500.3 yards and 36.7 points per game. Great Ibe (33 tackles, 3.5 TFL) has been making plays all over the field, and Pat O'Connor (21 tackles, 6.0 TFL, 3.5 sacks) has shown a real knack for getting into the backfield.