EAST LANSING - One thing was clear through the early part of Michigan State’s opening game Friday night.
The Spartans are in drastic need of improvement if they want to repeat as Big Ten champions.
No. 12 MSU looked like it’s a long way from being a finished product, doing just enough to keep Furman at bay for a 28-13 win. And it really wasn’t about the Spartans’ new quarterback.
Tyler O’Connor looked sharp, throwing for three touchdowns with one interception. He completed 13-for-18 passes for 190 yards.
Furman won the opening kickoff, deferred, and then suffered. MSU’s offense opened with a scalpel-sharp drive that showed six runs and a pass. LJ Scott got 33 yards on four carries, including his 1-yard run around left end for the first touchdown of the season.
From there, the Spartans sputtered.
Four straight possessions stalled, including a short-field setup that ended without points when Michael Geiger’s 43-yard field-goal attempt fluttered wide left. A pair of penalties from senior tight end Josiah Price — one a 15-yard personal foul, the other a 10-yard holding penalty — helped thwart two other drives.
MSU’s defense, however, looked sharp for its first five drives. The Paladins went three-and-out three times and didn’t get to midfield on those possessions, punting each time.
The Spartans found a rhythm late in the second quarter, this time with O’Connor as the director. He hit all three of his passes on the drive, including the first of Donnie Corley’s career – a 12-yard quick out that resulted in a first down.
Facing a third-and-7, O’Connor threw a perfect over-the-shoulder pass to Felton Davis III in the right corner of the end zone for a 13-yard TD pass. It was sophomore Davis’ first touchdown of his career and the fifth of fifth-year senior O’Connor’s.
Then Furman quarterback P.J. Blazejowski dissected MSU’s defense over the final 3:19 after the Spartans’ score. Blazejowski — in a battle for the starting job all preseason — marched the Paladins 72 yards in 13 plays. He converted a pair of third downs before the drive stalled at MSU’s 3-yard line. Kicker Jon Croft Hollingsworth’s field goal with 15 seconds left to go in the half cut the Spartans’ lead to 14-3.
MSU tried to move Malik McDowell around the defense, but the Paladins would run the ball away from the star junior. Demetrious Cox and Andrew Dowell each had five tackles, while Chris Frey had four.
Linebacker Jon Reschke did not play in the first half, and receiver R.J. Shelton did not play after taking a big hit on a punt return in the first quarter.
In the third quarter, Hollingsworth kicked a 23-yard field goal to cut the MSU lead to 14-6.
MSU got a 21-yard touchdown pass from O’Connor to Price to make it 21-6.
Furman scored a touchdown early in the fourth quarter and then intercepted O'Connor.
But linebacker Andrew Dowell intercepted the ensuing Furman pass and the Spartans drove the down field for the icing touchdown, O'Connor to tight end Jamal Lyles.
Detroit Free Press