(Sports Network) - The 17th-ranked Michigan State Spartans are set to do battle with the Florida Atlantic Owls in a non-conference affair from East Lansing.
This season marks the last on the sidelines for FAU's legendary coach, Howard Schnellenberger. The architect of the Owls' program, Schnellenberger will retire from coaching after the 2011 campaign, one which he hopes will result in a Sun Belt Conference championship. Unfortunately, his team was clearly outclassed last weekend in a 41-3 loss to the Florida Gators in Gainesville. The Owls play their first five games on the road before hosting Western Kentucky on October 15.
Michigan State was far from dominant in its season opener against FCS foe Youngstown State, but the Spartans did take care of business in the 28-6 victory. That meeting was the first ever between the Spartans and the Penguins. Michigan State went 11-2 last season, winning a share of the Big Ten title before losing to Alabama in the Capital One Bowl. With a considerable amount of talent back from that squad, the Spartans are expected to be among the better teams in the Big Ten this year.
Michigan State has won both of its previous meetings with Florida Atlantic, including a 30-17 triumph over the Owls last season.
Following a disappointing 4-8 mark last year, Schnellenberger announced his 27th season at the helm will be his last. His Owls didn't exactly rally for their coach in the opener against Florida, as they gained a mere 137 total yards in the affair. Graham Wilbert threw for just 107 yards on 14-of-26 efficiency in defeat.
"Physically they (Florida) are just a great team and an SEC opponent," Wilbert said. "New coaches or not, they still have a stacked roster and they are going to win a lot of games this year."
FAU finished 2-of-13 on third-down conversion attempts and reached the red zone only twice, coming away scoreless on one of those opportunities.
The good news for the Owls' defense is that they came up with three interceptions against Florida. Unfortunately, the Gators still racked up 468 yards and scored 41 points. The Owls permitted 25 of the 36 passes that they faced to be completed, and they surrendered 197 rushing yards on 33 attempts.
"I was disappointed in our football team because, as I watched the game unfold, it became obvious that we weren't prepared for the game or we didn't expect them to be as good as they were," said Schnellenberger after the defeat. "I can't determine how hard they played or the talent or lack of talent because we made an error on almost every play."
Kirk Cousins passed for 222 yards and a touchdown while completing 18-of-22 passes to lead Michigan State over Youngstown State last week. Le'Veon Bell ran for two touchdowns for the Spartans, who finished with 396 total yards.
"The first game there is a lot of excitement but you've got to still execute. Sometimes the excitement and the jitters can turn into a lack of execution and I think you saw that at times," Cousins said. "Ultimately I think time of possession was one of the factors. I think we only ran 20-22 plays in the first half, which just isn't a lot of plays."
Edwin Baker totaled 91 rushing yards on 15 carries, while Larry Caper ran for a score. B.J. Cunningham caught nine passes for 130 yards, including an 18- yard scoring strike from Cousins. Cunningham needs just one catch to become MSU's all-time receptions leader.
Defensively, Michigan State was strong against both the run and the pass last week. The Spartans managed to limit Youngstown State to 128 rushing yards on 34 attempts, none of which resulted in a touchdown. Against the pass, Michigan State held YSU quarterback under a 50 percent completion rating. Sure, there could have been more impact plays made, as the Spartans failed to post a single sack and came up with only one takeaway, but the overall effort was solid.
Max Bullough was extremely active in the victory, as he posted 15 total tackles to pace the club. William Gholston registered a pair of TFLs, and Isaiah Lewis notched the club's interception.
"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," said head coach Mark Dantonio, who was less than thrilled with his team's performance. "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."
Expect a far more efficient Michigan State team this week, as it is better than it showed against Youngstown State. The Spartans will jump on top of the Owls early on and never look back.
Sports Network Predicted Outcome: Michigan State 41, Florida Atlantic 9