Expecting a Michigan State letdown after the Spartans’ big win a week ago over Oregon?
Not happening. Not with Connor Cook and his new favorite target, Aaron Burbridge, the opportunistic MSU defense and a veteran group that understands how much every game matters for No. 4 Michigan State in its season-long bid to qualify for the College Football Playoff.
MSU capitalized on a pair of fumble recoveries and scored five of the first six touchdowns en route to a 35-21 win at Spartan Stadium.
Michigan State led 14-0 with six minutes to play in the first quarter after RJ Williamson returned a D.J. Johnson fumble 64 yards for a score.
Cook threw for 247 yards and four touchdowns, three of which went to Burbridge. Air Force outgained MSU 428-328, but the Falcons never got closer than 21 points after halftime until the final three minutes.
MSU linebacker Riley Bullough, who registered a career-high 15 tackles, was disqualified for targeting in the final minutes and will serve a suspension for the first half next week against Central Michigan.
What the win means for Michigan State: Survive and advance. The Spartans (3-0) appeared to avoid major injuries and notched another victory to open a portion of the schedule that gets interesting again on Oct. 17, when MSU visits Michigan. For the next month, the Spartans need to do just what they did Saturday -- take care of business and work toward growing into a more complete unit. An area that could still improve? The running game. MSU gained 77 yards on 42 carries against Air Force.
What the loss means for Air Force: The hope for the Falcons, as with every game, was that they could befuddle Michigan State with an unorthodox offense. It was a struggle, at least until the Spartans led 35-7 and Air Force finally threw its second pass of the game. Regardless, Air Force quarterback Karson Roberts got his feet wet, completing 6 of 9 passes for 149 yards and one score, in place of Nate Romine, who is out for the season. The Falcons (2-1) can regroup and get ready for the trip to Navy in two weeks and then the start of Mountain West play.
Top play: No question about this one. Cook connected with Burbridge in the second quarter for the Spartans’ third touchdown on a 28-yard catch and throw -- apparently so difficult to believe that the officials did not. Originally ruled out of bounds, Burbridge went high above Air Force defender Kalon Baker for the ball. The receiver, twisting his body back toward the field as he fell, clearly dragged his left foot and hip in the end zone. The call was overturned, giving the 6-foot-1 senior his second touchdown of the season. Burbridge caught another TD before halftime and a third in the second half. His numbers through three games -- 20 receptions for 374 yards have equaled his best season-long totals in three years at MSU.
Unsung hero: The Falcons mounted a rally in the second half, scoring on Roberts’ 38-yard toss to Jalen Robinette midway through the third quarter. And after one failed possession, Air Force drove 84 yards, earning a first-and-goal at the 5 with the game still somewhat in doubt in the opening minute of the fourth quarter. But the Spartans stood firm. On fourth down, Robinette took a reverse and needed only to beat Chris Frey to reach the open field. The sophomore linebacker got him, ending the possession and the last legitimate opportunity for the Falcons to manufacture a comeback.