Michigan State Football: What We've Learned from the Spring Game
The Michigan State Spartans concluded their 15 spring practices with the annual Green and White spring game on April 28. Saturday was gloomy and cold, but more than 21,000 people entered Spartan Stadium to see their Legends Division champions take the field once again. Spring games can become boring to watch, but this game answered a lot of concerning questions about the Spartans.
This article describes what was analyzed and learned from the game and how it relates to their upcoming season. Here are the key areas that were noticed.
The Passing Game Needs More Tuning
There were a lot of key players missing from the offense on Saturday, most of them performing crucial positions for the passing game. Two notable players were QB Andrew Maxwell and WR Tony Lippett. Maxwell never touched the field due to his knee healing, and Lippett still remains on injury reserved for his ankle. Due to these missing personnel, redshirt freshman Connor Cook took a majority of the snaps Saturday while a large group of young receivers attempted the catches.
Speed, agility and strength never seemed to be a problem for these players in the scrimmage, but you could tell they lacked valuable experience. Some of the wide receivers had a rough time catching, while others could not separate from coverage effectively or keep to their route. Granted, they were playing against a superb Spartan defense, but the inexperience was highly noticeable for these young players.
Cook seemed to relax a little after the first half, but he could not hide his struggle. Consistency was an issue for most of his passing attempts, and he also seemed lost at times in the pocket. He did show some discipline, though, giving smart audibles and showing leadership with the players. He just needs more time.
For concerned fans there's no reason to panic for the passing game just yet; there were a lot of missing players from the scrimmage that could have made a bigger impact. The passing game needs more work, but these young players are very capable of doing great things, especially now that they have some beneficial experience from the scrimmage.
Nick Hill Will Highly Benefit the Running Game
Veteran tailbacks Le'Veon Bell and Larry Caper saw very little action on Saturday, and for fans it was a little disappointing. As much as everyone would have loved to see a smash-mouth performance with these running backs, the chance of injury was too high to overlook. With both of these guys sitting out of the scrimmage, running back Nick Hill was given some time to shine.
He carried majority of the running attempts for both teams on Saturday, scoring a 32-yard touchdown and having a total of 19 carries for 95 yards. Hill played fast and strong, giving some great hits to the defense along with bursting speed on the outside. His size may seem small and sometimes it shows, but this kid proved on Saturday that he can run with the big dogs.
Hill will be a huge asset to the offense this season, especially if one of the two veteran backs go down with a serious injury. He will also be seeing some action on the kick and punt return teams.
The Defense Was REALLY Good
If Spartan fans feared the defense would be less effective this season, they shall not worry anymore. The defense was dominant and scary during MSU's spring game. The best part was both Green and White teams had a dominant defense. This only proves that not only do the Spartans have a dominant starting defense, they have strong depth behind them.
The very first two points of the scrimmage were committed by the Green defensive team, and of course it was William Gholston who made it happen. Gholston committed a safety on Nick Hill during the second quarter of the scrimmage. He gave the Spartan nation a scare around the end of the third quarter as he limped off the field, but luckily he was diagnosed with a bruised knee, nothing serious. The defensive secondaries created great pressure on the quarterback with their blitzes, and all coverage was solid for the secondaries and linebackers.
Everyone expects the defense will be the key to MSU's success, and based on what we saw Saturday that could very well be true.
Special Teams Aren't Special Yet
Michigan State has been famous for producing strong special teams units, and all of these units have performed great moments and produced big wins. Sadly, many spring games don't give us a good clarification as to where the team sits with its special teams, mostly due to injury risks. However, teams can perform formations and kicking opportunities, which surprisingly the Spartans did not perform very well.
During the spring game there were two field goal attempts that were unsuccessful. Veteran placekicker Dan Conroy, who has made 82 percent of his career field goal attempts, missed a 27- and 46-yard attempt. Coach Mark Dantonio claims he is not worried about Conroy, but it was upsetting to see him miss these attempts while being a fifth-year senior.
The group of players for kickoff seemed to lack a lot of speed and pressure on the return team, which can be shocking since the Spartans have an excellent defensive unit. Then again, it's hard to grade special teams with kickoff since most are inexperienced players getting some field time.
The punt teams looked solid for the most part. No punts were dropped, but yet the blocking seemed ineffective for the return man to make a move. Even though the coaches don't want the players returning punts in the spring game, the blocking was still frustrating to see.
Kicking-wise, Mike Sadler once again proved to punt the ball extremely well, pinning the ball inside the 20-yard line multiple times.
Offensive Linemen Were Fair
Since the Spartans had enough players to split the roster into two teams, it gave a lot of starters the opportunity to play next to the second- and third-string players. The Spartan O-line performed some great plays, but it was highly noticeable that the starters were not in sync with the backups. This lack of production caused most of the spring game to be rather dull for the offense.
Connor Cook was receiving too much pressure while performing in the passer's pocket, and the running backs were stretched to the outside for many running attempts. As much as these plays looked bad, its good to remember that if you alter the starting O-line, you will struggle a little with offensive production. Coaches usually don't want to show their perfect lineup, and that's mostly why the offense wasn't up to par.
Sparty Can't Play Tailback
Just thought I'd throw in some humor for the article. Coach Mark Dantonio has given the fans some amusement the past couple of spring games. Last year the Spartans welcomed Spartan star basketball player Draymond Green to the field for a couple plays. He did not perform the greatest, but his actions made him much more appreciated by the fans and also made the spring game more exciting.
This year Dantonio decided to give Sparty the mascot, a shot at glory by making him a tailback for one play. Unfortunately for Sparty he doesn't seem to have the ability to hold the ball well, which you can't blame him for his insane muscles and huge hands. As much as it would have been better to see him score a touchdown, it was still a great moment for the crowd and the players. Let's just hope he sticks to his usual cheering duties from now on.
Spring games never tell the true story of a team, but yet we love to assume so. We as fans would love to see the team perform wild plays for multiple touchdowns, but that's not how it works. Programs like to keep things simple and vanilla, saving the best shot for the season.
Some of us may think the Spartans performed a dull spring game, but don't expect these guys to be the same when the season shows up. They have a lot of work to do, but Dantonio and staff know how to get the job done with their players. We just have to wait and see whom they really are when the ball is kicked on Aug. 31.