EAST LANSING ,Mich. — Air Force outgained Michigan State, had more first downs and moved the ball well at times with its option-based offense.
The Falcons still never mounted much of an upset threat.
Connor Cook threw three touchdown passes in the first half — including a spectacular catch by Aaron Burbridge in the end zone — and the fourth-ranked Spartans beat Air Force 35-21 on Saturday. It might have been closer, but the Falcons were plagued by turnovers, penalties and missed opportunities.
"Too many turnovers, too many balls on the ground, we had some mistakes and I had some misreads," quarterback Karson Roberts said. "We think we can play with anyone. We were as confident as ever going in."
Cook ended up throwing for 247 yards and four touchdowns, and Burbridge caught eight passes for 156 yards and three touchdowns. The highlight was Burbridge's 28-yard scoring reception in the second quarter, when he leaped to make the catch and, as his body stretched parallel to the ground, touched his left foot down inbounds.
The Spartans (3-0) were coming off a big win over Oregon and knew Air Force's option isn't easy to prepare for. But the Falcons (2-1) were penalized six times for 83 yards in the first half, including three chop blocks and a couple crucial defensive penalties that led to second-quarter touchdowns by Michigan State.
Cook opened the scoring with a 15-yard touchdown pass to Josiah Price, and RJ Williamson scored on a 64-yard fumble return to make it 14-0. Air Force then drove 75 yards in 11 plays and scored on Ben Washington's 1-yard run late in the first quarter, but Burbridge caught a pair of TD passes in the second.
His leaping effort along the side of the end zone was originally ruled incomplete, but the call was overturned after replays showed his left foot came down before his body landed out of bounds.
"Amazing," Cook said. "To see him go up and reach back, and to still keep his foot inbounds — a circus catch."
It was 21-7 after that touchdown, and the Spartans caught a break when Air Force was called for a personal foul near the end of the half on a play when Cook was sacked. Instead of third-and-24, Michigan State had a new set of downs, and Cook immediately threw a 32-yard touchdown pass to Burbridge with 28 seconds left in the half.
Burbridge caught a 21-yard scoring pass from Cook early in the third to make it 35-7.
"They're quite, quite skilled," Air Force coach Troy Calhoun said. "We played a bunch of man coverage. When you do that, he gets a hair more time, which he did, and (Burbridge) is a heck of a player."
Air Force lost quarterback Nate Romine to a leg injury in its previous game. Roberts attempted only one pass in the first half against Michigan State, but the Falcons found some success through the air in the third quarter.
Roberts threw a 38-yard TD pass to Jalen Robinette, and Air Force drove down the field again before stalling near the Michigan State goal line early in the fourth. On fourth-and-goal from the 3, Robinette was stopped well behind the line of scrimmage.
Later in the fourth, Roberts was intercepted by Williamson at the Michigan State 8.
Air Force outgained Michigan State 428-324 and had 24 first downs to the Spartans' 22. Roberts went 6 of 9 for 149 yards against a Michigan State team that seemed caught off guard by his passing.
Spartans linebacker Riley Bullough was ejected for targeting with 2:49 remaining, and D.J. Johnson's 2-yard touchdown run made it 35-21.
It was the first time Michigan State hosted a service academy.
AP college football website: collegefootball.ap.org