Cunningham, Bullough Stand Out In Season Opener
Fifth-year senior sets career highs for catches and receiving yards while tying school all-time record for receptions, and sophomore linebacker produces 15 tackles in first career start.
Sept. 3, 2011
By Steve Grinczel, Online Columnist
Two players pierced the "ho-hum" fog Michigan State coach Mark Dantonio said cloaked the 28-6 season-opening victory over Youngstown State in Spartan Stadium.
With nine catches for a career-high 130 yards, Cunningham moved into a tie with Matt Trannon for the top spot on Michigan State's all-time reception list. Cunningham will enter next Saturday's game against Florida Atlantic with 148 receptions.
In the second quarter, Cunningham took Kirk Cousins' deep pass down the center of the field in stride for a 55-yard gain that set up the Spartans' second touchdown. Cousins and Cunningham hooked up again for an 18-yard scoring play that made the score 21-6 in the third quarter.
His record-tying catch covered just 3 yards, but put him forever in the elite company of past MSU greats such as Kirk Gibson, Andre Rison, Plaxico Burress, Muhsin Muhammad, Derrick Mason, Charles Rogers, Mark Ingram and Courtney Hawkins.
"There are a lot of great receivers on that list who came through here," Cunningham said. "It's a blessing to be part of that group, and being able to be out there to catch the football and do what I do with it. I give all the credit to the O-line, my teammates and Kirk for giving me this opportunity."
Cousins had precious little room to work with on the scoring play.
"Good receivers find a way to get open and get a quarterback's attention," Cousins said. "There were times tonight when B.J. wasn't the primary and he wasn't the second option. He was the third or fourth option, but I was getting it to him because he finds a way of getting open.
"It's a credit to him."
Cunningham's performance was a big part of the reason the Spartans were able to overcome too many penalties - eight for 55 yards - and mistakes on special teams, which Dantonio generously gave a grade of C-minus.
"We won the game, but a lot of guys aren't happy with how they played," Cunningham said. "But like I said, it's all fixable."
Bullough, who had 23 tackles all last season as a true freshman, finished with 15 tackles, including three solo stops, in his debut as two-time All-American Greg Jones' replacement.
"He was sideline-to-sideline," Dantonio said. "He was out there for a lot of plays, too. I'm sure he made some mistakes, but I thought he played pretty well. He certainly ran to the football and tackled well."
Bullough has already established himself as the consummate team player.
"Six points on the board," he said. "You can't really ever complain about that. But also, there's a lot of improvement that we need to make. We're never satisfied. That first half, I felt like we were out there the whole time. I can guarantee you we're going to improve."
He didn't assign a whole lot of significance to his numbers, which nearly doubled the eight-tackle performance Jones had in his first career start, as a true freshman, against Northwestern in 2007.
"You know, it's exciting," Bullough said. "But, it's more about the team, more about us getting better. I could have however many tackles as I want, and if we don't do well or lose, I'm not going to be happy.
"I'm in it for the team, and hopefully other guys can start making tackles too, like they did tonight, and then we can all be better because of it."
It'll be a couple of years before Bullough's name is added to the list of MSU's top tacklers, which is equal in status to the Spartans' all-time receiving corps. But at this rate, it's only a matter of time before he's up there with Dan Bass, Percy Snow, Jones, his dad, Shane, and his uncle Chuck.