If there’s anybody who probably doesn’t mind winning ugly, it’s Mark Dantonio. Of course, that doesn’t mean he will like it after the fact.
No. 11 Michigan State looked rusty on both sides of the ball and nowhere near the kind of team their ranking suggested during their season-opener against Utah State on Friday night, needing a few key plays down the stretch to hold on for a 38-31 win. It was surprising to see given how many starters returned from last year’s 10-3 squad but also had quite a bit to do with how pesky the Aggies were on the big stage too.
Though he was unable to pull off the upset and trailed off after halftime, USU quarterback Jordan Love was impressive given the environment and wound up throwing for 281 yards (one interception) and was just about the lone rushing threat too with a touchdown on the ground. Utah State mounted a trio of 70+ yard touchdown drives in the game — including the game’s opener that proved the team was more than ready to play. Five different receivers had more than 20 yards through the air and tailback Darwin Thompson did find the end zone twice despite the run game being pretty much bottled up.
Perhaps just as impressive was Matt Wells’ defense on the night. In addition to creating quite a bit of pressure, Gaje Ferguson hauled in a pick-six in the second half that led to a 10-point swing in just 14 seconds on the clock. In the end though, it just wasn’t quite enough as Utah State nearly pulled off the top 25 upset on the road they’ve threatened to win several times the past decade.
As for the Spartans, there were a few bright spots on defense like Joe Bachie (11 tackles) grabbing game-sealing interception and Khari Willis coming down with another pick in the first half. It was still not quite enough to be encouraged if you were Dantonio or a member of the MSU faithful, especially given the number of veterans in action on the night and the fact that they just recorded just one sack against a Group of Five opponent.
Quarterback Brian Lewerke was far from sharp despite being labeled by many as a dark horse Heisman candidate entering 2018. Though his numbers were solid with 287 yards and two scores through the air, the pick-six came on an awful decision and he never could quite find a rhythm. If anything, he was bailed out quite a bit by his receivers — particularly Felton Davis with 69 yards and a touchdown.
Running back LJ Scott rushed for 84 yards and contributed quite a bit in the passing game as well but never could quite bust out the big run.
You’ll hear quite a bit of ‘A win is a win’ coming out of the Michigan State locker room this week but the bottom line is that the team very much escaped a close call on Friday. If the Spartans are to truly challenge Ohio State, Michigan and Penn State in their division and work their way into Playoff contention, then a much better effort is needed going forward.
The graduate transfer has become a great vehicle for Group of 5 and FCS players who over-perform at their level to shoot their shot at a Power 5 program. But Iowa this weekend added an extremely rare Division II-to-Power 5 graduate transfer.
Zach VanValkenburg on Saturday pledged his commitment to Iowa after being pursued by multiple Big Ten programs.
“So thankful for all the people who have gotten me to this point; my parents, my coaches in high school, and my coaches at Hillsdale,” VanValkenburg in an iPhone note posted to his Twitter account. “Leaving Hillsdale is bittersweet but I have reached the end of the road here educationally and my goals are uncompromising. I will always cherish the experiences I had here and the friendships I have made. With that said, I’m very proud to announce that I will be continuing both my academic and football careers at the University of Iowa this fall! Go Hawkeyes!”
Playing at Hillsdale College, a private college in an eponymous Michigan town, the 6-foot-4, 266-pound defensive end collected 70 tackles with 14.5 tackles for loss, 8.5 sacks and three forced fumbles in 2018.
He will be expected to add depth along Iowa’s defensive line after losing all four starters from last year’s team.
VanValkenburg will have two seasons to compete for the Hawkeyes.
Idaho wide receiver Collin Sather is battling advanced renal cancer, the program has announced. Renal cancer attacks the kidneys and most commonly attacks older men.
According to the Idaho Statesman, Sather began experiencing stomach pains on Jan. 17, and by Jan. 21 the pains had progressed to the point where he had to be hospitalized. He is currently undergoing dialysis and chemotherapy at Deaconess Hospital in Spokane, and once he is stabilized will be transferred to Seattle Cancer Care Alliance.
“We are with Collin every day during this fight,” Idaho head coach Paul Petrino said in a statement. “He is a great young man and the model of a great teammate. Everyone in our program cares a lot about him, and he will always be a valued member of this team.
“We keep Collin and his family in our thoughts and prayers each day. We are here to help him keep fighting, and we will be here to welcome him back when he wins his battle.”
A Spokane, Wash., native, Sather was an all-conference player in football and basketball at West Valley High School before signing with Idaho in 2018. He redshirted last fall.
Mark Dantonio signed a 6-year contract in 2016 that was essentially an indefinite contract. Under the provisions of the deal, MSU’s Board of Trustees each February have the option to tack another year onto the contract, making it essentially a rolling 6-year contract, and for the second straight year they have done just that, according to the Lansing State Journal‘s R.J. Wolcott.
Though he is 2-for-2 on automatic rollovers (the deal would remain a 5-year contract if MSU’s trustees for some reason did not approve the rollover), both extensions have come amid a fair level of turmoil around the program.
In 2017, Dantonio successfully rebounded from Sparty’s 3-9 2016 campaign to go 10-3 with a No. 15 finish in the AP poll, but he was dogged by accusations that he mishandled sexual assault allegations against a handful of Spartan players — amid a complete mishandling (to put it lightly) of sexual assault allegations elsewhere in the athletics department, against gymnastics trainer Larry Nassar.
In 2018, Dantonio watched Michigan State’s record slink to 7-6 and, instead of making changes on the offensive staff, he opted to retain his entire roster of offensive coaches, though in different spots.
Still, Dantonio secured his extension. The 2025 season would take Dantonio to his 19th season at Michigan State and past his 69th birthday.
He is 107-51 with three Big Ten championships, two AP top-5 finishes and one College Football Playoff appearance in a dozen seasons as the head Spartan.
After losing Travis Trickett to his old country roads of West Virginia, Georgia State’s new offensive coordinator is a name unfamiliar to most fans, but not to Panthers head coach Shawn Elliott.
Georgia State will hire Brad Glenn as its new offensive coordinator, a source confirmed to CFT.
Glenn is currently the associate head coach, offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach at Western Carolina. Prior to that, he spent seven years on staff at Appalachian State, at times coaching the Mountaineers’ slot receivers, tight ends and quarterbacks. Elliott was App State’s offensive line coach from 2001-09.
Georgia State ranked No. 76 nationally in yards per play (5.57) and No. 104 in scoring (23.9 points per game) en route to a 2-10 season in 2018.