EAST LANSING, Mich. – Kirk Cousins and Keith Nichol likely didn’t end their battle to become Michigan State’s permanent starting quarterback in Saturday’s season-opening victory.
Both sophomores looked good as the Spartans cruised to a 44-3 victory over Montana State.
Cousins started and completed 10 of 17 passes for 183 yards and three touchdowns. Nichol played in the first half and started the second, finishing 9 of 18 for 135 yards and two TDs. Neither had a turnover as the Spartans (1-0) overmatched their first opponent from the Football Championship Subdivision, formerly known as Division I-AA.
“It’s a good problem,” Michigan State coach Mark Dantonio said of the ongoing competition to replace Brian Hoyer, now a backup with the NFL’s New England Patriots. “The first assessment is that they both moved the football. That’s the biggest thing we needed to see happen.”
Montana State (0-1) didn’t move the ball against Michigan State’s defense, which was led by linebacker Greg Jones with 14 tackles. The Bobcats finished with just 160 yards of offense compared to 493 yards for Michigan State.
Montana State quarterback Mark Iddins completed 11 of 22 passes for 91 yards before giving way to backup Cody Kempt. Neither had a turnover, and Iddins is expected to continue as the starter.
“We knew physically that we would probably be a little undermatched,” Iddins said. “We were confident coming in, knew it would be a tough game, and they just executed today.”
Montana State has lost four straight against Football Bowl Subdivision opponents since upsetting Colorado in 2006.
Blair White had nine catches for 162 yards and two TDs for Michigan State. Seven different running backs had carries for the Spartans, led by Caulton Ray’s 12 carries for 71 yards.
Michigan State rolled to a 28-0 halftime lead with both its quarterbacks playing key roles. Montana State struggled to cover Michigan State receivers with a secondary thinned by injuries.
Cousins, last year’s backup, was 0-for-2 passing on his first series as Michigan State’s starting quarterback. But he settled down quickly and gave the Spartans a 7-0 lead midway through the first quarter with a 29-yard touchdown strike to a wide-open B.J. Cunningham.
Cousins found Blair White for a 15-yard TD on Michigan State’s next drive, putting Montana State in a 14-0 hole.
“It was a dream come true and a great opportunity,” Cousins said of his first start.
Nichol, an Oklahoma transfer, took over and promptly led the Spartans on another scoring drive to go up 21-0 midway through the second quarter. The drive was capped with a 26-yard TD toss to Dion Sims.
Nichol connected on a 3-yard TD pass to Brian Linthicum putting Michigan State ahead 28-0 at the half.
“It was everything I had envisioned and more,” Nichol said of his first collegiate playing time in his home state. “It was just crazy to be out there and hear the student section.”
Michigan State kicker Brett Swenson made two field goals to increase the lead to 34-0 midway through the third quarter.
Montana State’s best drive of the game came late in the third quarter, ending with a field goal by Jason Cunningham.
Montana State will receive at least $650,000 for traveling to East Lansing, enough to pay nearly a third of its annual football budget.
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