Michigan State Spring Game: Top Ten Notables from the Spartan's Scrimmage
Ahh yes, spring is in the air. The birds are singing, the flowers are blooming, the football games on in an hour... wait, what?
That's right, right around this time of year is when the top college programs in the nation showcase their off-seasons hard work in front of their fans by playing an in-squad scrimmage. To some people, this is just a giant over-blown practice, but to a team it can show everything.
When the Spartans took the field on Saturday, Green versus White, the fans got to venture back to their favorite stadium and see Michigan State showcase their next year's team.
Over the offseason the Spartans have lost great players, gained some excellent ones, and even had an inspirational story go down in their very locker room, and in this list we will break down the ten best story lines that have carried over from the off-season to the MSU spring game.
10. How Is Our Three-Headed Monster of Running Backs Looking?
Three headed monster? Try imagining a four headed monster with Caper, Baker, Bell, and now redshirt freshman Nick Hill. Man oh man is Michigan State spoiled in running backs this season.
The game mainly featured passing, and the carries were spread out evenly amongst the crew. Le’Veon Bell had the most touches, eight, and ran for a solid 46 yards.
Newcomer Nick Hill only had three touches for three yards, but given his persona and the amount of time he has to develop, he could become another threat for other teams and possibly one up last year’s Michigan game where all three running backs scored and have all four running backs sent to the end zone this year.
9. Did We See Any Preview to the Newest Dantonio Trick Play?
After “Little Giants” against Notre Dame and the epic fake punt against Northwestern that sealed a comeback, can Dantonio really have something else up his sleeve?
I’m sure they didn’t unload their entire bag of tricks for the world to see, but yes, they do still have everyone’s favorite plays in the playbook. The two that were tried were both reverse passes coming out of a three running back set with Maxwell at the wide out.
In the most successful one out of the two, Maxwell ran a reverse, got the lateral in the backfield and gunned it downfield to Garrett Celek for a 39 yard completion. Now if only they can remove the ineligible receiver downfield, we have our selves a great play to use.
8. Will Chris L. Rucker Be Missed in the Secondary?
With Chris L. Rucker out of the defensive backfield next year someone will need to step up, and this game should have left Spartan fans confident with the secondary.
Star receiver BJ Cunningham was held to only two catches and really didn’t seem to be a factor for the White team thanks to the lockdown defense of Johnny Adams.
Trenton Robinson had two breakups, and many other corners had one breakup like starters Darqeeze Denard and Jarius Jones.
Another player to keep your eye on is redshirt freshman Tony Lippet, who is a receiver/cornerback hybrid player who excels at both positions, which was clear as day on Saturday.
7. How Did Draymond Green Do in the Game?
No this is not a typo, and yes it was hilarious.
Coach Dantonio made it a priority to entertain the crowd at some point in the game, and he delivered by bringing MSU hoops star Draymond Green, who wore number 83, on to the field for a couple plays.
If any thoughts of the possibility of “Day-Day” being a two-sport athlete are looming in your head, get them out right now. When Green came into the game as a tight end, he bolted off the line and was five yards ahead of everybody, which is great, IF the ball wasn’t still in the centers hand.
The second play after pushing the ball five yards back Green lined up on the lockdown cornerback Johnny Adams, which was a sight to see. Poor Draymond was sent on a route, but it was halted right when Adams jammed him two yards off of the line.
Running out of time, quarterback Andrew Maxwell hurled the ball at Green who couldn’t even get a hand on it, but drew a controversial flag from the refs for pass interference.
6. Will We See Another Great Year of Kicking?
Dan Conroy, who was a lights-out field goal kicker last season, and kick-off specialist Kevin Muma, who played on opposite teams, looked great.
Conroy, coming off of a season where he went 14-15 in field goals last year, showed signs of expected promise in Saturday’s game.
In five kickoffs Conroy averaged 62 yards a kickoff and nailed his lone field goal that was 44 yards out. Not too shabby considering the 20 mph winds blowing from the back corner of the stadium.
Muma didn’t get as much action as Conroy since his White team didn’t score as much, but he didn’t show any bad signs. In two kickoffs Muma averaged 61 yards and booted a 28 yarder to end the first half.
5. Will Kirk Cousin's Miss Mark Dell a Lot This Season?
Dell is out, but I’m just going to flat out say it now, we won’t miss him as much as you think we should. Now I’m not saying Dell wasn’t great, I’m just saying our other options are just that good.
While wide out B.J. Cunningham didn’t have a career game, other receivers like Keshawn Martin, who had one touchdown and 64 yards on three grabs, and Bennie Fowler, who had a game-high five catches, picked up the slack for him.
If the wide outs seem to be shut down at any point of the season, wait to hit the panic button. Tight ends Garrett Celek and Deion Sims both had themselves a game, combining for 101 yards on six catches.
Coming off of a year of absence due to a disciplinary suspension, Sims is bringing to the table what other teams don’t want to worry about. Standing at 6’7” and 280 pounds, Sims resembles the likes of a freight train when the ball is in his hands, kind of like Antonio Gates if you will.
So whether we need to hurl the deep ball to one of our key wide outs or toss the ball to our burly tight ends to do some hard hitting, State has the players to do it.
4. How Strong Did the Back-Up Quarterbacks Look?
Let’s just start this off by saying that it doesn’t look like Kirk Cousins will be having any surprise competition for the starting position this year.
While Andrew Maxwell didn’t throw an interception this game (neither team threw one), he still didn’t have the performance he would have liked to have, and he is the first one to say he didn’t.
Today, I was a little disappointed in the way that I executed and led the offense. “I don't think I did a very good job of moving the ball and putting our team in good positions,” stated Maxwell who threw 9-21 on the day.
Don’t be too concerned on the lack of depth if Cousins gets injured though, Dantonio and the rest of the coaching staff have been speaking very highly of Maxwell’s spring practice performance.
Also, junior QB Peter Badovinac got a few snaps in and completed his only pass he threw for 16 yards, but I would have personally liked to see more of him. All of Badovinac’s fundamentals looked great and the pass he threw was right on the money, but with just one series it’s hard to tell if that was a fluke or if he really can play ball.
3. Any Big Changes We Should Expect from New Offensive Coordinator Dan Roushar?
New offensive coordinator Dan Roushar is now in his fifth year with the Spartans, but this will be his first season as offensive coordinator.
The offense in this game was very identical to last year’s scheme, but what I saw in this game was a lot of screen passes, something Michigan State did not have an array of in past year’s playbooks.
The screens that this game displayed came from all around; bubble screens to the halfback, and regular screens to receivers and halfback as well. The screens seemed to work out to be average, but the play from the receivers was, in my mind, above average.
The blocking from the receivers as a core was exceptional, giving the running back enough space from the d-backs and linebackers to get five plus yards on most bubble screens or receiver screens.
Other than the screens the Spartans had a few snaps from the wildcat offense. Now will this be incorporated into the game plan? Not sure, since Keshawn Martin says that White coach Mark Staten made the play up there on the spot, but in order to see if it will be implemented on the field this year, you’re going to need to tune in this fall.
2. Any Telling If Kirk Cousins Will Make a Run at the Heisman?
After being rolled by the Tide in January, any game would look good from Kirk Cousins, but he exceeded all expectations on Saturday.
Being considered a dark horse candidate for Heisman didn’t seem to foolish this game with Cousins throwing 22-29 with three TDs. Now I know it’s just a spring game, but the throws Cousins was making aren’t any different than the ones he will be making come October.
Cousins also saw something unusual in his own play today, saying that “I've never played well in spring scrimmages period for whatever reason, so it's good to get out here in a game-type setting and play well.”
Could a better spring than usual mean a better fall than last year? Who knows, but let’s just say it doesn’t sound like a bad sign.
1. What's the Best Storyline to Come out of This Game?
It can be no other than Arthur Ray Jr.'s return to the gridiron. What a story this tough kid has.
Four years just months after signing with Michigan State the senior lineman was diagnosed with cancer, leaving a malignant tumor below his left knee right on the bone.
Well four years of rehab and nine surgeries later the offensive guard suited up to play in the spring game, prompting everyone on their feet when the P.A. announcer broadcasted that Ray Jr. has made it back on the field after his long battle with cancer.
Admittedly, Ray Jr. says he is only 75 percent, but you wouldn’t guess that on Saturday. Right off the bat Ray Jr. had to step down and make a block for Le’Veon Bell on a counter run to get by, and he did so by shutting down the middle linebacker that came to sweep over for the tackle.
Great job Arthur, we’ll all be pulling for you this season.