Reflecting on his team’s first jersey scrimmage of the spring, MSU football coach Mark Dantonio walked away with mostly positive feelings.
Using a modified scoring system, the defense won the scrimmage Friday, 25-23, after a last-second field goal from redshirt freshman kicker Kevin Cronin was no good.
Dantonio said the defenders played “very, very well,” while the offense took a little longer to gain traction. He called it a catch-22 situation as he yearns for improvement and explosive plays from an offensive unit that lacked them a season ago, while acknowledging the need for the defense to remain sharp and improve as well.
MSU struggled to run the ball with three offensive linemen sitting out the scrimmage with injuries, he said, which is a concern.
The offense had a solid day through the air, however, accounting for 401 yards and four touchdowns between senior quarterback Andrew Maxwell — who gets the most repetitions with the starters — sophomore Connor Cook and redshirt freshman Tyler O’Connor. Maxwell led the way going 17-for-27 passing for 187 yards and three scores.
“When he’s got time and everything’s good around him, I think he’s very efficient,” Dantonio said of Maxwell. “When things break down, you know, which is usually with most quarterbacks, … The separation is not as great. When I say that, the separation is not as great between the other two.”
Cook went 11-for-18 for 73 yards and an interception while O’Connor was 6-for-10 for 141 yards and a touchdown.
With the ninth spring practice in the books, the coaching staff still is slowly implementing new wrinkles to the offense, Dantonio said. The process has been slowed down, though, because of youth and inexperience at positions, such as tight end and running back.
“In the spring, what you need to find is who can play the game,” he said. “It’s not so much about what we do — it is to some extent because we want to experiment with things — but we need to find out who can play and then get those players into the game and get those players in the right positions.”
If the season started today, Dantonio said he would stick with juniors Keith Mumphery, Tony Lippett and senior Bennie Fowler as the starting wide receivers with sophomore Aaron Burbridge right in the mix.
The group struggled at the beginning of last season with a rash of dropped passes. Consistency is the main thing the seventh-year head coach wants the receivers to improve on this spring.
Sophomore A.J. Troup is one player Dantonio identified as having a productive spring. Troup caught three balls for 97 yards and a pair of touchdowns in the scrimmage.
“All four of those guys have made plays here this spring,” Dantonio said. “And you see some things from (redshirt freshman Monty) Madaris and A.J. Troup. But we haven’t risen to a player like B.J. Cunningham and that is the standard, and we can’t except anything less than that. That’s the standard.”
The most impressive kicker throughout the spring so far has been Cronin, Dantonio said. Cronin, redshirt freshman Evan Fischer and senior Kevin Muma are the only kickers currently on the roster vying to replace Dan Conroy.
In the fall, MSU welcomes true freshman Michael Geiger to campus, who was the No. 1-ranked kicker prospect in the 2013 recruiting class according to Rivals.com.
Thanks to the weather this spring, the Spartans have spent a lot of time practicing in their indoor facility, making it hard to practice their special teams adequately, Dantonio said.
“We’ve been inside so often it’s been tough to really do a lot of that game speed,” he said. “(Sophomore wide receiver) A.J. Sims had a nice return … In a live punt situation. I think from a kickoff standpoint, we haven’t done that yet just because of the nature of what’s been going on.”