2011 College Football: Observations from Michigan State's Green and White Game
The annual Green and White game held by the Michigan State Spartan football program provided much needed relief for fans that witnessed the previous football game played by the Spartans. Before Saturday, the sour taste of a 49-7 defeat to the mighty Alabama Crimson Tide at the Capital One Bowl on New Year's Day still lingered despite a share for the Big Ten Title last season. It was a brutal display of dominance, killing all the electricity in the stadium provided by the faithful in green and white. I know this first hand, I was there.
Moving forward from that defeat, we find ourselves at the beginning of a brand new season with lofty expectations. As they say, spring is the season of eternal optimism. It may have not felt like spring in Spartan Stadium on Saturday, but you could feel the optimism buzzing throughout the stands.
Spartan Nation has a lot to be excited about what's to come in the 2011 season. The annual Green and White game kicks off a period of extended anticipation for Spartan fans dreaming of their very first BCS Bowl.
Is it possible? Very much so, but that's the reason we attend spring games and pay close attention to key players. On paper, high-profile names garner more national respect in the spring. But this game isn't played on paper or with paper or really anything regarding paper. It is played on the gridiron, and that tells me that every team in the nation still has a chance to accomplish their goals.
At this time of the year, we are all optimists, no matter what comes out of your mouth. Here are a few key observations that I took from the Green and White game at Spartan Stadium.
The defensive line will be just as filthy as the line-backing core behind them was a year ago. Either that or the offensive line is straight up offensive.
On Saturday, neither the Green nor White team could get anything going on the ground.
The Spartans had to bid farewell to three productive offensive lineman (D.J. Young, John Stipek, J'Michael Deane) but return starting guards Joel Foreman and Chris McDonald.
At the start of the Spring Game, the Spartans offense only had 10 healthy offensive lineman, which included all walk-ons. Because of that, it seemed the O-line was running uphill all game. Minus a few false starts, the lineman fought hard and were able to, at the very least, protect the quarterback.
The main reason the O-line saw more that it's fair share of difficulties was positioned directly opposite of them.
The defensive line will be a great strength for Michigan State this year, and it showed on Saturday.
Sophomore William Gholston and junior Tyler Hoover will start opposite each other at the defensive end positions, both being a monstrous six feet seven inches tall. These two will be giving opposing quarterbacks fits all year long, by either putting him on his back or deflecting thrown balls.
Between the two giants sits two bowling balls in juniors Jerel Worthy and Anthony "Rashad" White. Worthy has already established himself as a top DT prospect in the Big Ten, and White has shown an incredible motor for his size.
The top-notch defensive line should really benefit the linebackers behind them that have to replace All-American LB Greg Jones and All-Conference LB Eric Gordon. Worthy and White have the ability to clog up holes and take on more than one blocker, allowing the backers to read the situation and make the play.
There has been quite a bit of hype for a two-way star from Detroit that wasn't a highly sought after recruit. On Saturday, fans were able to witness the hype of Tony Lippett first hand.
Tony Lippett has the look and frame of a major offensive threat, but this red-shirt freshman is only at the onset of what his potential has in store for him. The 6'3" wide receiver-safety combo displayed natural instincts and great hands on the field.
The show-stopper was a 57-yard touchdown reception from starting quarterback Kirk Cousins. Is this a sign of things to come? I sure hope so.
Lippett not only showed his ability to catch the ball and separate as a receiver, he displayed his athleticism by playing both ways and recording three tackles and a tipped pass at safety. He projects to be an offensive weapon for the Spartans this upcoming season and beyond, and doing so at a University notorious for producing Pro-level wide receivers.
Lippett is already off to a great start as a Spartan, and we can only hope that his start is a sign for even greater things to come.
If You Haven't Heard, Kirk Cousins Can Throw the Football
Senior starting quarterback Kirk Cousins has been through thick and thin with the Michigan State football program.
Cousins saw Nick Foles and Connor Dixon transfer from MSU after Oklahoma QB Keith Nichol transferred to Michigan State. Cousins split time with Nichol in 2009, ultimately winning the job as Nichol was moved to wide receiver.
After leading the Spartans to a share of the Big Ten title in his first full season as starting quarterback, Kirk enters his senior season with three letters in mind: BCS.
And if those are the incorrect three letters, the other three would be W-I-N. Even though Mark Dantonio has lead the Spartans to four straight bowl games, the Spartans have yet to win one for the coach.
Cousins, usually an under-performer during spring ball, lit up the skies Saturday afternoon. He completed 22 passes out of 29 attempts, throwing for 285 yards and three scores. Cousins showed poise in the pocket and spread the ball to a multitude of receivers. The best stat in Cousin's line reads zero, for number of interceptions thrown.
If the Spartans can limit turnovers, they have the weapons through the air and on the ground to completely control the pace of a game.
Just a note to add. After watching the NFL Draft this past weekend, it isn't out of this question to ask whether Kirk Cousins can get drafted in the first round.
Holes Filling Up Nicely
Greg Jones, pictured here, had been Mr. Everything for Michigan State's defense in recent years. Now that he is out of the picture, along with fellow linebacker Eric Gordon and safety Marcus Hyde, the torch has been passed to a new set of defensive starters.
The battle for the starting middle linebacker position vacated by Jones will be more competitive than thought. Max Bullough and Ty'Quan Hammock both played very well on Saturday on should compete with each other over the summer for the top spot.
Bullough seemed to be a shoe-in to the position, but Hammock has transformed his fullback body back into the linebacker he was in high school. Regardless of who wins the job, the competition between the two will benefit them both and make them better.
Sophomore safety Isaiah Lewis recorded eight tackles and looks to be in control of the safety spot left open by Marcus Hyde. It is good to see Lewis play well after suffering some pretty significant knee injuries at the end of his high school career.
There was also a new guy that got to play a few snaps on the line for the first time with his teammates. That guy goes by the name of Arthur Ray Jr., a Spartan recruit from 2007 that had battled leg cancer for four years. Ray was finally cleared to practice and play football, and a standing ovation was in store for the most courageous football player on the field.
Dion Sims Is Back
A year ago, Dion Sims was suspended indefinitely from Michigan State football for his involvement in a laptop-theft ring. Sims has now been reinstated and looks to become another threat for Kirk Cousins down the field.
Sims showed what Spartan fans had been waiting for during the Spring Game on Saturday. Sims caught two beautiful balls by Cousins for touchdowns, and his size is really tough to cover in the red-zone. The addition of Sims to the football team is equivalent to the signing of a top TE prospect.
With a new attitude and a second chance at football, I believe Dion will not only make an immediate impact, but will grow on Cousins and be his top tight end target for this upcoming season. If my eyes don't lie, Dion Sims can be dangerous.
Draymond Can Suit Up
That is one big dude pictured as No. 83 above. If you are familiar with Michigan State basketball, that dude in full pads is none other than Spartan big man Draymond Green. To clear any air, he only played three snaps and did not get hurt. I repeat, Draymond Green is not hurt.
Seeing the charismatic face of MSU basketball in football gear was a really cool site to see. Draymond went up to Coach Dantonio and asked if he could play a few snaps in the upcoming Spring Game. Coach D told him if he passed a physical and practiced with the team, he would give him a look. That look only lasted three plays, but it was an entertaining three plays to say the least.
The first play saw nothing really happen, and Green stayed in for play number two of his three play set. Green lined up as a down tight-end on the left side of the line, and before you knew it, he was sprinting forward for a....false start. The crowd loved it, but the moment was made by the P.A. announcer at Spartan Stadium. After the false start penalty, he announced that Green had been called for traveling.
The final play was drawn up specifically for Draymond, who split out wide (pictured above) on Johnny Adams. White-team quarterback Andrew Maxwell dropped back and tossed it up and over the reach of Draymond Green. The play didn't work out the way it was planned, but Green did manage to draw a holding call on Adams. A positive none-the-less.
For that minute or two, Spartan Nation got to enjoy the best of both worlds. The Spring Game for there football team featuring an appearance by their basketball star. I couldn't have asked for anything more.