MSU Green and White Spring Game sets the tone for preseason football
On a sunny Saturday afternoon in April, Spartan Stadium played host to the annual spring scrimmage, . The crowd filled in nicely, with 51,000 people in attendance. Students were given the opportunity for a pre-game rush after both teams were introduced on the field.
The Spartans concluded their 15 spring practices with the scrimmage, . Quarterbacks coach Brad Salem fulfilled head coaching duties for White team. Co-defensive coordinator and linebackers coach Mike Tressel did the same for Green team.
That left head coach Mark Dantonio on the field, watching the two teams deck it out. During the game, Dantonio also welcomed various Spartan alums, including current NFL players Bennie Fowler and Jeremy Langford.
In the game, White team took down Green team by a final score of 14-11.
Several Spartans stood out in the game, including two brothers, Andrew and David Dowell. Andrew started the game off well, evidenced by his five total tackles, including one sack and one pass breakup.
David arguably played the better game, though. He finished with a game-high six total tackles and had the game-sealing interception off fellow redshirt-freshman and quarterback Brian Lewerke.
The twins received great praise from their fellow peers and coaches. Senior linebacker Riley Bullough said he has been extremely impressed by what he has seen out of the two so far this spring.
“(The Dowell twins) are extremely athletic, they’re constantly making plays,” Bullough said. “That’s what we need on our defense, we need playmakers. They bring that to the table and I think that’s why you’ll see them on the field.”
David’s play on the field Saturday spoke for itself. For a player who didn’t even see the field last fall, Tressel was extremely complimentary of the redshirt-freshman.
“You wouldn’t think David redshirted this past year, based on his knowledge and where he’s at right now,” Tressel said. “He goes out there with the second defense at times and he makes the calls like a veteran. He obviously has the football IQ, which is real exciting.”
On the other hand, there is Andrew who was one of just six true freshman to play in 2015. Andrew is listed atop the depth chart at STAR, or weak-side linebacker. Now, it’s just a matter of consistency as he looks to earn more playing time his sophomore season.
“Andrew has always been a playmaker,” Tressel said. “It’s a matter of, is he going to be consistent on all those plays when he’s not in the position to get a pick six or a (tackle for loss)? I think there’s more of an urgency to be consistent and be an every down guy.”
As for the entire defense, they played well on both sides of the ball. Between the two teams, they combined for just 126 rushing yards, stifling the running game. In the defense stepping up that run game, Bullough mentioned it had a lot to do with how the defense has been run the past few years.
“It’s guys being competitive and having a lot of energy and that’s what our defense is built on,” Bullough said. “I think for the most part we were filling our holes, our gaps we were doing what we needed to do. Can always do better, the little things that are happening. But I think overall we did a good job.”
Dantonio, watching from the field during the game, said he liked what he saw out of his defense.
“Defensively, we continued the trend,” Dantonio said. “We’re playing well on the backend, we’re playing well on the perimeter, in terms of playing against the run. I thought we tackled very successfully and we have good players on the backend.”
Filling the Offensive Voids
While the defense was doing their job, for MSU players and fans, all eyes were on the quarterbacks. This would be the first time the Spartans graced the field after quarterback Connor Cook graduated in 2015. How the void would be filled has been one of the talks of the spring.
Quarterbacks fifth-year senior Tyler O’Connor and junior Damion Terry got the majority of the playing time. O’Connor finished 10-for-16 with 138 yards and one touchdown. Terry ended 6-for-12 throwing for 70 yards.
Being the quarterbacks coach, Salem has wanted to touch base with his fifth-year senior.
“We had a talk before spring and, as a fifth-year guy who sat behind Connor Cook, he continues to emerge as a leader,” Salem said. “He’s done a nice job as a fifth-year senior. You see him, the way he carries himself, the kids rally around him. He’s a guy that makes people better around him.”
As for the fellow fifth-year senior Bullough, he said he already knows which quarterback he prefers. Playing against him in scrimmages, he has seen what O’Connor can do first-hand.
“Tyler (O’Connor), in my mind, is the number one guy,” Bullough said. “I think he deserves it. I think he’s a leader, which we need at quarterback. He can make those throws and he can also run. I think you saw that today and that was good for him.”
The scrimmage was also the first time the early enrollees played in front of a crowd at Spartan Stadium. True freshmen Donnie Corley and Cam Chambers have both been making some noise throughout this spring. But the latter was the one who made the most of his time during the actual game.
Chambers finished the game with two receptions for 45 total yards. He also caught Green team’s only touchdown of the day, a 13-yard reception from O’Connor.
Corley also had a nice catch, reeling in an 18-yard reception as his lone touch of the day. Terry, one of the upperclassmen, had a lot to say about both Corley and Chambers and the future he sees in them.
“Them two are going to be a really great dynamic duo,” Terry said. “Just like I said about Donnie Corley, they’re both so quiet. I know they’re high school seniors, but you can tell they’re just here to learn football. They just want to get better, they know they’re going to make mistakes but it’s just having that short-term memory. This spring was really great for both of them just to get there and it’s a head start for the fall.”
Coming back from injuries
The Spartans were also welcomed by players who have not seen the field for some time because of injuries. Junior offensive lineman Dennis Finley is one player who fits that description. Tressel said the work Finley has done so far has been good for his development.
“Finley was really just starting to scratch his surface, then he started the game when Jack Conklin was gone and obviously he got injured, I think he’s surprised us by how much he did do,” Salem said. “He’s grown as a football player and person and we’re excited at where he’s at right now.”
Two players in the secondary who missed some time in 2015 were sophomores Vayante Copeland and Jalen Watts-Jackson. Tressel said that they were all surprised by how quickly Watts-Jackson came back after dislocating and fracturing his hip. As for Copeland, though, he mentioned it was a good experience for him to get some live reps in a game atmosphere again.
“Vayante was full-go from the get-go,” Tressel said. “It was good to get him back on the field because any time you miss extended times I’m sure there’s something in the back of your mind that makes you a little bit nervous. But he got into it right away.”
As for both players, it was the first time they saw the field in a while. Copeland was shelved since September and Watts-Jackson in October, so it’s been a bit longer than some of their teammates who played into December. But seeing the field gave them the opportunity to do what they do best on the field.
“The great thing about those two guys is they are both physical football players and very good tacklers,” Salem said. “Once they got rolling, you can tell there’s no place they’d rather be than hitting people on the football field.”
Looking to the future
The class of 2015 seniors were honored at halftime, giving the current Spartans a glimpse of the winningest class in MSU history together. For senior defensive back Demetrious Cox, seeing those guys was just business as usual.
“It’s fun to see those guys on the field and laugh around and get tips and pointers from them on the sideline,” Cox said. “At the same time you have to worry about the task at hand.”
The game was also the first time the Spartans played in front of a crowd since their loss in the College Football Playoff. Cox said he was just embracing playing in front of his home crowd.