Saturday, April 28, 2012

Thoughts on MSU's Spring Game

(Box score here)

I think MSU's defense will be pretty good this fall.

At one point in Saturday's Spring Game, I wondered if MSU would end in a 0-0 tie like Pitt did a few weeks back. MSU's defense (even split into two teams) is so good, and redshirt freshman quarterback Connor Cook looked completely helpless. But the offenses found a little bit of a rhythm and the White ended with a 14-2 win.

The story of the day was William Gholston. The rising junior is expected to have a big year (which could be his last at MSU) and that was shown Saturday. Gholston consistently busted through the White team's offensive line, catching Andre Sims Jr. on a reverse on one play. He tackled Hill for a safety for the game's first score. He had a pass breakup and even tackled Sparty on a play.

Note how Gholston is as big as Sparty. That's a big man. Gholston was later overhead on Mark Dantonio's mic asking if he'd get in trouble for doing that, although the players obviously didn't try too hard.

One of the plays Gholston didn't make, however, resulted in a 32-yard touchdown run by Nick Hill at the end of the third quarter. Gholston stayed down on the field after the play. He walked off under his own power, but did not return. BTN's Lisa Byington said Gholston suffered a right knee bruise and that they MSU staff wasn't very concerned.

The most important thing in a Spring Game is staying healthy, and MSU had some guys get banged up. Larry Caper has just one carry before leaving the game. The Spartan Sports Network said Caper had a slight concussion. Le'Veon Bell had just four carries for six yards. Nick Hill got banged up at one point but did return. MSU was running out of running backs, so Jeremy Langford moved back to the backfield and had six carries. Defensive end-turned-tight end Denzel Drone left the game with a left leg injury and was on crutches later in the day.

As for the game, it went about as expected, with Cook struggling early before finding some success against both of MSU's stout defenses. Cook finished a combined 20-for-45 for 294 yards, one touchdown and one interception playing for both teams. He was under constant pressure and missed some easier throws, but he'll get better. He's been in the program for less than one year and likely won't start for a few more years. Dantonio said after the game that Cook "grew enormously."

The wide receivers struggled a bit, also as expected. The most-experienced guys, Bennie Fowler and Tony Lippett were expected to miss the game, although Fowler was out there a little bit. He's coming back from foot surgery. Early-enrollee Kyle Kerrick was noticeable out there. He had an early drop but ran some good routes and made a few plays, finishing with two catches for 23 yards. Sims Jr. had three catches for 22 yards and a touchdown. Tight end Dion Sims actually had the most catches, with four for 73 yards. The receivers have work to do, but that was expected.

The catch of the day actually came from Johnny Adams, who made a nice adjustment on a 45-yard grab. Perhaps the top cornerback in the Big Ten, Dantonio said MSU might give Adams a few chances on offense in the fall. A poor man's Charles Woodson? The number of chances Adams gets might depend on how much the young receivers improve.

The Green team had four of five offensive line starters, but rushed for -10 yards and gave up three sacks. That should be a little worrisome, but MSU's defensive line is going to overwhelm a lot of teams this season. Joel Heath got a lot of hype from the coaches, and he had a solid game. He'll be valuable in the rotation on the ends come fall. Hill played on both teams, finishing with 95 yards and the one touchdown on 19 carries.

Special teams was a bit of an issue. Mike Sadler punted well, but MSU had some problems with snaps and Dan Conroy missed both field goal attempts, including a short 27-yarder.

The forecast for the game showed temperatures in the 40s with a good chance of rain, but the rain held off and MSU estimated 21,000 fans showed up, which was decent given the forecast.

Now we have to wait four more months for some real college football (sadface). It was a pretty uneventful spring for MSU, other than Andrew Maxwell's knee injury. But coming off back-to-back 11-win seasons with one of the top defenses in the country, MSU is settling in as one of the top programs in the Big Ten and success is becoming the norm.

Also, this was pretty cool. From the MSUAA YouTube page, Mark Dantonio talks with MSU's oldest living alumnus, who is 105 years old.

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