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Upon Further Review: Western Michigan

Sept. 5, 2010

Le'Veon Bell introduced himself in a big way to Spartan fans in his debut on Saturday against Western Michigan.

Michigan State had one 100-yard rusher in a game all of 2009.

In the 2010 season opener, the Spartans doubled their output from last year.

Freshman Le'Veon Bell rushed for the most yards ever by a true freshman Spartan running back in his debut, racking up 141 yards and two touchdowns on just 10 carries, while sophomore Edwin Baker tallied a career-high 117 yards and two TDs as Michigan State defeated Western Michigan, 38-14, Saturday at Spartan Stadium.

All told, the duo teamed up for 258 yards and became the first Spartan running backs to rush for 100 yards in the same game since Jehuu Caulcrick and Jason Teague ran past No. 4 Wisconsin in 2004.

The new look offensive line, featuring three starters, paved the way for the Spartan running game as MSU collected 297 yards on the ground.

"I thought we ran the ball very effectively," said head coach Mark Dantonio.

Well said.

Baker got the start in place of Larry Caper, who was held out for precautionary reasons with a hand injury. The sophomore from Highland Park, Mich., set the tone early as he escaped multiple tackles on his way for a 28-yard score in only MSU's second play from scrimmage.

"I've been staying more patient and just letting my play develop and telling myself to have fun and not think too much," he said at the post-game press conference. "(Coach Salem) just told us to go out there and have fun and see the field in a bigger way. I think we took that today and made the best out of it."

With Caper out, Bell saw more time, and made the most of it. His 141 yards were the most by a Spartan freshman since Javon Ringer ran wild for 194 yards at Illinois five years ago.

Bell's longest run came at an opportune time - with MSU up only seven points late in the second quarter and facing a second-and-6 on its own 6-yard line, he broke free down the sideline and scampered for what would end up being a 75-yard gain. It set up Baker's second TD of the game, giving MSU a 21-7 lead with 3:26 left in the first half.

"Le'Veon Bell has been a pleasant surprise as far back as in the spring," said Treadwell. "He enrolled early last spring, he immediately got the attention of the coaches, as well as his teammates, with just his natural ability. He has great vision for a running back, and excellent feet for a guy his size. We are very excited by him, and we think the sky is the limit as we keep moving forward."

After the game, Bell entered the interview trailer and went straight to the podium. He not only made a first impression on the field, but also in his first press conference.

"How's everybody doing?" he asked with a smile. The room erupted in laughter. The reporters are the ones usually asking the questions.

"This is my first time doing this," Bell then said. He followed by adding, "It was a great experience, to come out here and play for the Spartans for your first time in front of 75,000 people...I always dreamed about starting like this for my first time on a college field."


Keith Nichol hauls in his first career touchdown reception in the second quarter.

Along with Bell, junior Keith Nichol was also making a debut of sorts. Although he started at wide receiver in the Alamo Bowl, he had only been practicing at the position for a few weeks prior to that game.

Now, after a full offseason of work at wideout, Nichol was properly ready to make an impact.

His hard work and team-first attitude throughout the transition from quarterback was rewarded even prior to kickoff, as he was appointed a game captain against the Broncos. He was one of four Spartans, in addition to season captains Aaron Bates, Kirk Cousins and Greg Jones, to walk to midfield for the coin toss, just moments before the start of the highly anticipated 2010 campaign.

Nichol caught two passes in the Alamo Bowl, but his unofficial welcome as a true weapon in the Spartan receiving corps arrived in the second quarter against Western Michigan. On a play-action pass, Cousins faked the handoff and heaved a high-arcing ball toward the back of the end zone. Out of nowhere, Nichol leaped from double coverage to snag the pass, recording his first career TD reception on the process.

"One of the things Coach Treadwell talked about was focusing on all the little things, keeping your eye on the ball and your hands ready, and at that time everything just kind of slowed down," said Nichol on his acrobatic 20-yard touchdown grab. "It felt like it took the ball forever to get there really."

"That was all Keith on that one," explained Cousins. "Play-action pass, it worked for us in spring ball and we were excited about using it. Really the safeties didn't bite and the corners didn't bite on the play-action fake. I got a little bit of pressure and needed to get rid of the ball, so I thought I'd throw the ball and basically try to give Keith a chance - and it would go out of the back of the end zone if he didn't catch it...Right there, Keith just made a great play."

After the touchdown, Nichol said he thought about a lot of things, including his grandmother, who passed away earlier this year.

"Grandma, I know you're watching," Nichol told a television camera upon reaching the sideline after the play.

Catching touchdowns are the goal for every receiver, but just as important - although usually unnoticed - are the blocking skills that can lead to scores. Nichol showed he has that ability too. On Baker's second TD of the day from 7 yards out, he raced toward the outside looking for six. Nichol impressively held off his defender for several seconds near the goal line in a one-on-one encounter, allowing Baker to easily extend MSU's lead to 21-7.

"Well, I knew we were setting up that play, and when they called it, I knew that if myself and the other receiver made the block we were going to score," said Nichol. "We have a great running back (in Edwin Baker) and it's hard to tackle him one-on-one anyways...That's why you're out there, to score touchdowns. When you're a part of that and you feel like you're playing a role in that, it's exciting when we succeed."

All in all, it was a positive start for the Spartans as they won their 12th consecutive home opener before a sold-out crowd of 75,769 at Spartan Stadium. Sure, mistakes were made, but that's to be expected in an opener. The focus is now on Florida Atlantic as the Spartans will take on the Owls at Ford Field in Downtown Detroit on Sept. 11, with kickoff set for noon.

"We have to eliminate the unforced penalties, which are disappointing as a coach, but we'll continue work on it," said Dantonio. "But its win number one and we look forward to going to Ford Field next week."

Edwin Baker (left) scores his second touchdown as Keith Nichol (right) finishes his block.



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