Coming off a share of its first Big Ten title in 20 years, Michigan State opened 2011 with a victory under the lights. Coach Mark Dantonio, though, did not have many glowing comments about his team's performance.
The 17th-ranked Spartans look to improve upon that subpar effort Saturday in East Lansing where they'll face a Florida Atlantic team hoping for a better result than in last year's "home" game versus Michigan State.
Playing just the 10th night game in the 88-year history of Spartan Stadium, Michigan State opened its season last Friday with a 28-6 victory over Youngstown State. The Spartans, who won a school-record 11 games in 2010 while tying Wisconsin and Ohio State atop the conference, committed seven first-half penalties and looked shaky against an FCS program coming off a 3-8 season.
"I think everyone has got to take a look at themselves, coaches, players, everybody and go back and get ready to play the next one against Florida Atlantic," Dantonio said. "I think it can certainly serve to motivate us by asking the question, 'Who are we? Who are we as a football team?' Hopefully that wasn't us out there."
While Dantonio is looking for his young defense (three seniors) to start creating an identity, the Spartans' offense has plenty of experience with quarterback Kirk Cousins and receiver B.J. Cunningham. The two seniors connected nine times for 130 yards - both career highs for Cunningham - and a touchdown.
Cunningham tied Matt Trannon's school record with 148 receptions.
"When I'd get to the sideline, people would tell me how many I had," said Cunningham, whose 1,910 receiving yards are 35 shy of Mark Ingram and Derrick Mason for ninth in school history. "A lot of great receivers have come through here. It's a blessing to be a part of that group."
Junior Edwin Baker could end up among the Spartans' all-time best running backs. A first-team All-Big Ten selection last year after rushing for 1,201 yards, Baker carried 15 times for 91 yards in the season opener.
He rushed for a career-best 183, including an 80-yard TD, in a 30-17 victory over Florida Atlantic last Sept. 11. Cunningham caught Cousins' only touchdown pass in the win.
That contest was originally scheduled to be at the Owls' new stadium in Boca Raton, Fla., but that facility won't open until next month. Instead, the teams played 90 miles from the East Lansing campus at Ford Field with Florida Atlantic wearing its home jerseys.
Coach Howard Schnellenberger's team won't be wearing those for a while, as it starts with five straight road games. The Owls, who next face defending national champion Auburn on Sept. 24, open their new stadium Oct. 15 against Western Kentucky.
Schnellenberger, who announced last month he will retire following the season, will likely return to the sidelines after coaching last Saturday's 41-3 loss at then-No. 22 Florida from the press box following recent hip surgery.
"As I watched the game unfold, it became obvious either we weren't prepared mentally for the game or we didn't expect them to be as good as they were," he said. "But more important than that is I can't determine how hard they played and I can't determine how talented or lack of talent we have because we made an error on almost every play that we had on the offensive side and defensive side."
The Owls, who had 137 yards of offense, will have to do a better job running the ball after carrying 30 times for 30 yards against the Gators.
Junior quarterback Graham Wilbert completed 14 of 26 for 107 yards in his first game as the starter. He went 1 of 2 for 41 yards last season against Michigan State in his Owls debut.
The Spartans are undefeated in two games against Florida Atlantic, winning 17-0 in East Lansing in the teams' first matchup Sept. 13, 2008.