September 6, 2011

MSU's Hot 11 coming out of Week 1

1. B.J. Cunningham had nine catches for a career-high 130 yards. He had no dropped passes and was easily the most consistent, reliable player on either side of the ball for the Spartans. After Youngstown State cut the lead to 7-6, Michigan State regained momentum immediately with a 55-yard deep post to Cunningham on the first play of the ensuing drive. Later, he snared an 18-yard TD pass in traffic, giving the Spartans a 21-6 lead. He needs two catches to become MSU's all-time leading receiver.

2. Max Bullough had 15 tackles in his first career start at Mike linebacker. He halted Youngstown State's opening drive by stuffing the running back on fourth-and-two, thanks to a well-timed blitz and getting off the center's block attempt. Bullough showed sure tackling skills and tremendous conditioning on a hot night when most of his teammates were taking multiple breathers.

3. Jerel Worthy turned in some of the most explosive defensive plays of the night. He penetrated the backfield to wrap up a running back for a loss of four late in the second quarter, helping halt a drive which ended in a missed field goal. He also blocked an extra point, applied pressure to the QB in helping force one interception, and later his pressure almost resulted in another interception, if Kevin Pickelman had held on.

4. Johnny Adams was tremendous in press coverage, jamming and withstanding three fade routes aimed in his direction. He made a physical pass break-up along the sideline and then secured what Spartan players say should have been ruled an interception, although TV replays were inconclusive. He was also excellent against the run with seven tackles, missing only one on a counter draw.

5. Edwin Baker looked quick and fast in his first full-contact work since the Capital One Bowl. MSU coaches conserved Baker's body by keeping him out of almost all contact drills during spring practice and August camp, but Baker showed no rust. He averaged 6.1 yards per carry, netting 91 yards on 15 attempts. His 21-yarder on an outside zone to the right behind Brian Linthicum fueled MSU's first TD drive.

6. In other years, a QB performance as sharp as Kirk Cousins' 18-of-22 evening might have earned No. 1 status on this list, but it has come to be expected from the gifted senior. He threw for 222 yards and 1 TD. His 18-yard TD dart to Cunningham was top-notch. On third downs, Cousins stayed out of trouble by throwing to running back Larry Caper on three occasions, although only one of those three passes went for first-down yardage. A fourth time, in the face of a blitz, he audibled to Cunningham for a short hitch, which also was held short of first-down yardage, resulting in a missed field goal.

7. Joel Foreman was a force on the 'power o', pulling from left and leading into the hole on the right side of the formation. Michigan State didn't always generate sizable gains with the power, but they were effective in wearing down the YSU defensive front. Foreman pulled on a power, out of a spread look, and got a good knock on the play-side linebacker in helping Larry Caper get loose for a 6-yard TD and a 7-0 lead.

8. Isaiah Lewis helped secure victory with an interception in Youngstown State territory with 8:18 to play, setting up the Spartans' final TD and a 28-6 lead. Lewis finished with 3 tackles, including a nice read, close and hit on a RB, stopping a zone run for a 2-yard gain in the first quarter.

9. Darqueze Dennard had six loud tackles at field cornerback and also safety in the nickel defense. He had a good pass break-up on a slant at the goal line midway through the second quarter. He also delivered an excellent hit on a tight end on a shallow crossing route, knocking him short of first-down yardage on third-and-medium, although a bad spot by the officials resulted in a first down.

10. Larry Caper made quite a splash on just seven touches. He carried the ball four times for 22 yards, including a 6-yard TD on a third-and-four to open the scoring. He ranked third on the team with three catches for 37 yards, all of which came on third down. On a key third-and-six, he flared out to the left flat and looked back at Cousins over his left shoulder; Cousins threw to Caper's right shoulder. Caper made a quick, excellent adjustment to the ball, made a difficult catch look easy and then zipped up the sideline for a gain of 14. That play helped key a drive which resulted in an MSU TD and a 21-7 lead.

11. Will Gholston ranked fourth on the team in tackles with seven stops, including two for losses. He played the run well, on plays run at him or away from him. He registered a TFL on a zone run which cutback away from him, as he got up field, read the flow, charged down the line, withstood a bump from the right tackle, laid out and engulfed the RB a half-yard behind the line of scrimmage. Gholston had a good night in hand-to-hand combat with blockers most of the night, although he didn't register a major hit in the pass rush. He did get a good push on the LT and converged on the QB during the pass that nearly resulted in the Adams interception.

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