Michigan State Flying High After 6-0 Start

From the frying pan to the fire. The Fighting Illini football team has waded through Ohio State and Penn State games and achieved an important victory in the latter. But now it must travel to the powerful Michigan State Spartans, unbeaten and riding high this season. A look at MSU shows why they are performing so well.

Michigan State coach Mark Dantonio suffered a heart attack three weeks ago and watched his Spartans whip intrastate rival Michigan from the press box last Saturday. Instead of being a detriment to the team, his absence has served to inspire them.

Their passing game is potent. Junior quarterback Kirk Cousins (6'-3", 202) leads a crew that ranks second in the Big 10 in total offense at 473.2 yards a game. The Spartans are producing 248 passing yards each outing as Cousins has completed 99 of 145 passes for 1416 yards and 10 touchdowns with only 4 interceptions.

Cousins ranks first all-time among MSU quarterbacks in passing efficiency, and he is second in completion percentage at 63.3. He ranks among the top NCAA FBS passers in both categories at 6th and 10th respectively.

Complimenting the MSU pass offense is a rushing attack that is producing more yardage than Illinois to this point. It is a three-pronged attack with big, aggressive speedsters sophomore Edwin Baker (5'-9", 208), freshman Le'Veon Bell (6'-2", 230r) and sophomore Larry Caper (5'-11", 220).

Baker leads the team with 683 yards, an average of 113.8 yards a game. He has 6 touchdowns on the year. It appears he is not utilized much in the passing game. Bell is an exciting newcomer and has 8 TDs while averaging 91.5 yards a game. Capers gets less carries as a third option, but he averages 23.5 yards a game. Senior fullback Nick Bendzuck (6'-2", 240) plows interference.

Senior Mark Dell (6'-2", 199) and junior B.J. Cunningham (6'-2", 220) are both over 1000 career receiving yards. Cunningham shares time with exciting sophomore Keshawn Martin (5'-11", 185), who doubles as a punt and kick returner and runs reverses for a 12.7 yard average. Martin leads the Big 10 in punt returns and tops MSU in all-purpose yardage per game.

Martin and Cunningham each have 22 receptions on the season, and Dell has 19. Tight ends Charlie Gantt (6'-5", 260) and Brian Linthicum (6'-5", 238) have 8 and 9 receptions respectively. Converted quarterback Keith Nichol (6'-2", 222) shares time with Dell.

Doing quality work on the offensive line are left tackle D.J. Young (6'-5", 298), left guard Joel Foreman (6'-4", 310), center John Stipek (6'-5", 285), right guard Chris McDonald (6'-5", 295), and right tackle J'Michael Deane (6'-5", 312). Young, Stipek and Deane are seniors, Foreman is a junior and McDonald a sophomore.

The Spartan defense is again led by dominant senior middle linebacker Greg Jones (6'-1", 240 sr). Highly ranked nationally, Jones leads the team in most statistical categories. He has 46 tackles with five for loss, 4 pass break-ups and 2 interceptions. He is a future NFL player.

The SAM backer is senior Eric Gordon (6'-0", 232). The "Star" or WILL backer is shared between senior Jon Misch (6'-3", 207) and sophomore Chris Norman (6'-1", 220). Gordon is tied for second on the team with 40 tackles. He and Jones have the most combined career tackles of any active FBS duo.

The defensive line is young but talented. The left end is Tyler Hoover (6'-7", 260), a sophomore. The tackle is sophomore Jerel Worthy (6'-3", 305). Sophmore Blake Treadwell (6'-3", 277) and junior Kevin Pickelman (6'-4", 285) share nose tackle, while junior Colin Neely (6'-1", 258) and redshirt freshman Denzel Drone (6'-2", 250) share right end.

Senior Chris L. Rucker (6'-2", 200) is the secondary leader at boundary corner. He is tied with Gordon in tackles and has an interception plus five passes broken up. However, he has been suspended for the Illinois game. His replacement will be true freshman Darqueze Dennard (5'-11", 175).

The field corner is sophomore Johnny Adams (5'-11", 170), who has two interceptions; junior free safety Trenton Robinson (5'-10", 195), who has 9 passes broken up and 2 interceptions; and senior strong safety Marcus Hyde (6'-0", 200).

The Spartans are fourth in rushing defense and fifth in scoring defense in the Big 10. They are sixth in total defense as they rank 10th in pass defense.

The MSU special teams are outstanding also. Sophomore Dan Conroy is perfect on the season. He is 9 for 9 on field goal attempts and 26 for 26 in PAT. He has 53 points on the season to lead the team. Senior punter Aaron Bates is second only to the UI's Anthony Santella in the conference, averaging 45.2 yards per punt. Martin and Bell are the kickoff returners.

Michigan State is athletic and highly motivated. Their recruiting has been outstanding in the Dantonio years, and it is showing on the field. They are a definite contender for the conference championship, especially since they do not have to play Ohio State. At home, they may be invincible.


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