Air Force brings new challenge for Spartans
EAST LANSING, Mich. (AP) — If Michigan State coach Mark Dantonio was concerned about a letdown after his team’s big victory over Oregon, he had plenty of numbers he could show his team this week.
For example: After two games, Air Force has already rushed for 822 yards. The Falcons won both while attempting only 18 passes.
Nobody has been able to force Air Force from its comfort zone yet this season, but Michigan State is certainly well equipped to try. The fourth-ranked Spartans contained Oregon’s fast-paced offense well enough to beat the Ducks last weekend, and they’re heavily favored to do the same against the Falcons on Saturday. But Air Force’s unusual option-heavy system has Michigan State’s attention.
"High school coaches all across the country who run this type of offense, that’s where they go," Dantonio said. "That’s where they go to find out exactly how it’s done at the highest level. So we’re going to play against that."
The Falcons did lose quarterback Nate Romine to a leg injury in their win last week over San Jose State. Karson Roberts, now a senior, appeared in 10 games last season. In typical Air Force fashion, he attempted 49 rushes and 41 passes.
Michigan State actually started preparing for Air Force a bit during fall camp last month, so when it was time to focus on the Falcons this week, the Spartans were somewhat familiar with what to expect.
"We talk about their discipline," linebacker Riley Bullough said. "Obviously, they’re going to be disciplined, coming from the Air Force. They’re going to keep coming. They’re not going to stop playing. They’re going to play the whole game."
Here are a few more things to watch from Saturday’s game:
BACKFIELD DEPTH: Air Force has plenty of running backs for Michigan State to worry about. D.J. Johnson and Jacobi Owens combined for 188 yards on 32 carries last week, and as a team, the Falcons are averaging 6.2 yards per carry.
"They have great players," Dantonio said. "What they do, they do extremely well."
Wide receiver Garrett Brown has more rushes than receptions this season and ran for a 63-yard touchdown last week.
COUNTERPARTS: Michigan State’s backfield is also intriguing. Madre London had 103 yards on 18 carries against Oregon, and LJ Scott rushed for two touchdowns.
"We’ll ride the hot guy, there’s no question about that," Dantonio said.
COOK’S NUMBERS: Michigan State’s Connor Cook threw for 192 yards and two touchdowns against Oregon, stats that understated how sharp he looked for stretches. He completed eight passes to Aaron Burbridge and six to Macgarrett Kings.
SHAKY SPECIAL TEAMS: Michigan State prides itself on strong special teams, but the Spartans allowed a kickoff return for a touchdown in their opener against Western Michigan and a punt return TD against Oregon.
Michael Geiger missed a 28-yard field goal attempt last week.
TIME OF POSSESSION: Michigan State controlled the ball for most of the third quarter against Oregon, keeping the ball away from the Ducks’ dangerous offense. Now it’s Air Force that may have a chance to follow that blueprint against the Spartans.
The Falcons had the ball for 36:05 against San Jose State and ran 80 offensive plays.