On Friday night, the Spartans offensive coordinator was quick to remind that the Spartans did score in its win against Western Michigan.
“I think we scored one,” he said. “We kicked two field goals, too, by the way.”
Warner was correct, but in this year’s season opener, there was no doubt the Spartans offense put points on the scoreboard.
”I thought we came out and obviously had some fireworks early on,” he said. “It’s just a good feeling. That’s what people expected a lot from us and, being honest, that’s what we expected from our offense.
”I think we picked up where we left off last year.”
Coming off a Rose Bowl title last season, the Spartans burst out to an early 14-0 – then 38-0 – lead behind quarterback Connor Cook and wide receiver Tony Lippett and cruised to a 45-7 win against Jacksonville State.
Cook, who threw for 285 yards and three touchdowns on 12 of 13 passing, said the growth has been progressing continuously since last season ended in spring ball, the summer and preseason camp. Now, he expects the growth to continue.
“We are going to strive for greatness, strive for more and be greedy like Coach Warner always says,” he said. “(We will) try and get one more yard or more passing yards, rushing yards and get better as an offense so it can be one of the top five, three elite offenses in the country.”
The thought of Michigan State being an elite offense shows just how far things have come from the lackluster 2012 and similarly iffy start to 2013. Whereas a season ago it took the Spartans until the second game of the season to score two offensive touchdowns, this year it took just 4:37 to get two scores.
Coach Mark Dantonio said that is a credit to the Spartans having answers at major positions on offensive now – from quarterback to tight end and in between.
”You sort of expect that to happen with what we have seen in the spring and fall camp,” he said. “Our guys believe in each other and are making plays and you saw that.”
Cook and Lippett teamed up for the first score as Cook rolled out to his right, hitting Lippett downfield as the senior wide receiver scampered down the sideline 64 yards and dove to the pylon for the touchdown. Cook went down on the play after taking a hit to his left knee, but said after the game it was “nothing serious.”
The junior quarterback returned to connect with Lippett again on a 71-yard touchdown on the next drive. It was the first time Lippett had posted 100 yards receiving in a game with a previous career high of 96 yards as he finished with 167 yards on four receptions.
The early showing accomplished exactly what the Spartans set out to do, Dantonio said.
”I thought we made a statement,” he said. “We wanted to make sure that we weren't flat coming out and I don't think we were.”
Cook was anything but flat, continuing his strong play as he hit junior wide receiver A.J. Troup for a 17-yard score. Senior running back Nick Hill added a pair of touchdowns as the Spartans raced to a 38-0 halftime lead.
The performance by the offense was complemented by the Michigan State defense playing as it has throughout the past couple seasons – but with a little bit more leeway than it had at this time last season.
Senior safety Kurtis Drummond had one of three interceptions for the Spartans (Darian Hicks and Nick Tompkins recorded the others) and he sees a confidence in the defense as the offense plays to a high level.
”When you have an explosive offense like that clicking, it’s dangerous for any team to go up against,” he said. “Seeing them come out there clicking early is giving us more confidence and allowing us to play at ease.”
The Spartans allowed Jacksonville State just 82 yards in the first half and 222 in the game, making a statement of its own as it replaces six starters from a season ago.
”I’m sure there are things we can learn from and we wanna correct, but I would say we played a pretty solid game overall on the defense,” Drummond said.
Backup quarterbacks Tyler O’Connor and Damion Terry each played a quarter of the second half as Cook's day wrapped up at halftime. O’Connor had his first career touchdown on a 3-yard touchdown run to put the Spartans up 45-7 before the game went scoreless in the fourth.
Now, with the first win under their belts, the Spartans have a clash with Oregon in Eugene next Saturday. But with their highest point total in a home opener since Dantonio's first year in 2007 behind them, the Spartans feel they made the statement they desired to make back up their early lofty ranking.
”Coach Dantonio definitely emphasized the fact that we needed to come out and prove that we belong in the Top 10 in the nation and to show that we had no drop out from last year,” linebacker Darien Harris said.
”I think we came out and made a statement in this game.”