With shadow over MSU football, team tries to recover from the disaster of last season
Amid the sexual assault allegations against three MSU football players and one staff member, the MSU football team held its annual Green-White Spring Game.
After the game, only head coach Mark Dantonio was available to the media. Usually, players also appear for questions, but they were unavailable following Dantonio’s departure.
It was the first time both the press and the fans were able to preview next season’s roster.
In a modified format, the White team defeated the Green team, 33-23.
Without a spring game draft, the spring game consisted of the offense vs. the defense.
“I think you get more out of it like this from a coaching standpoint,” Dantonio said. “So, there’s a reason to do that. That’s how we scrimmage in a lot of ways, but I think the draft is also good because it allows you to pick the players and then you have more of a game-type situation and there’s just a little bit more flow to the game.”
Dantonio said the loss of numerous seniors and key players from last season’s team added to the decision to play the offense against the defense.
“From that standpoint, our numbers were a little bit down, so you would have had guys with no backup playing one side or the other and (we) didn’t want to do that,” Dantonio said. “We wanted to be able to work our two’s in there with our one’s or whatever we work it, so that there was depth at either side.”
The scoring was also dissimilar from previous years.
The offense was scored as usual with a touchdown counting for six points. However, if the offense committed a turnover in the game, the offense had to score 28 points to win.
The defense scored three points for every five minutes of play, three points for a turnover and seven points for every turnover forced inside either the 10-yard line or defensive touchdown scored.
Redshirt-sophomore quarterback Brian Lewerke, who suffered a broken leg late last season, led the Green team in passing as the Phoenix, Ariz. native completed 25-of-44 passes for 305 yards and a touchdown.
The 6-foot-3 quarterback did throw two interceptions in the loss.
“He’s still going to mess up signals and call the wrong play when it’s supposed to be a different play — those type of things, which are elementary mistakes that he will get past — but I think he’s progressed very well,” Dantonio said. “He can throw the ball. He has a great ability to run the football too, I feel. He’s a good athlete, he’s poised back there and every time he takes a snap in an environment where there’s people there or something of that nature, he’s going to get better and better and better.”
Junior quarterback Colar Kuhns was the only other Spartan to take reps at quarterback.
The 6-foot-2 quarterback from Gaithersburg, Md. completed 6-of-13 passes for 111 yards and a touchdown.
“I also think our other quarterbacks are good players, but right now (Lewerke is) the guy,” Dantonio said.
Early Enrollees Shine
Cornerback Josiah Scott and wide receiver Hunter Rison were two of three recruits from the 2017 class to arrive to East Lansing this spring.
They made an early impact on the team during this year’s spring game.
On fourth down with just seconds left in the game and in the red zone, the offense had a chance to tie the game, but Lewerke’s pass intended for Darrell Stewart Jr. was deflected by Scott in the end zone to seal the win for the White team.
Scott also picked off Lewerke late in the fourth quarter to add onto his dominant performance.
“He’s got a lot of Darqueze Dennard-type intangibles to go along with his ability to run the ball skills. He’s a very good tackler,” Dantonio said.
Scott finished the day tied with Kenny Willekes as the Spartans’ leader in tackles with eight, while also tallying an interception.
“The guy’s diligent, he’s on time, he has great attention to detail ... he’s got great ball skills, he can run. He’s put himself in a position to start (at cornerback) as a true freshman,” Dantonio said.
Dantonio also complimented Rison, who impressed both in receiving and blocking Saturday.
“Hunter’s had a nice spring,” Dantonio said. “I think he’s very functional. To me, functionality is a big part of everything. You’ve got to know what to do and be able to take steps forward in that capacity, and he’s able to do that. He can get on the field, he can catch the football, almost made a catch on a corner route, he runs good, crisp routes and he’s a competitor. So, he’s going to show up next year for us on the field on game day I think without question.”
Impressive in Spring
After the game, Dantonio complimented a myriad of players and the success they have had this spring.
“On the offensive line, Luke Campbell solidified himself sort of as the right offensive tackle,” Dantonio said. “He’s gotten bigger. He’s over 300 pounds now and he’s a good athlete, he can run, he’s tough. Tyler Higby’s coming into his own. He’s in his second year. He’s healed from his broken leg and started the spring slowly, but I think he’s transitioned to having a very strong spring.”
Sophomore receiver Trishton Jackson led the offense in receiving yards Saturday as the 6-foot-3, West Bloomfield, Mich. native hauled in eight catches for 168 yards.
“He’s a great football player,” Dantonio said. “He can really run, he’s got size, he’s got great hands. He’s got to get tougher, so we can print that. That’s what I’m always telling him — ‘You’ve got to get tougher.’ But he can play. He has a very unique skillset.”
Jackson, who recorded 89 receiving yards on eight catches last season, is seemingly on track to blow past that record this fall.
Cornerback and wide receiver Justin Layne was second on the Green team in receiving with 60 yards, while Cam Chambers had 54 yards and Stewart Jr. finished with 43.
“Talk about the wideouts, Matt Sokol’s having a good spring along with Noah Davis — he’s a true freshman,” Dantonio said. “I think Noah’s at 265 (pounds). We’ve got some guys.”
Dantonio also commended the springs of junior linebacker Andrew Dowell and safety Matt Morrissey.
Both Dowell and Morrissey recorded six tackles in the White team victory.
Running back Madre London was the Spartans’ leader in rushing Saturday. The junior had 15 carries for 127 yards and a touchdown.
Dantonio noted after the game there have been switches of MSU football’s full-time personnel.
He said Mark Snyder, who coached the linebacker and special team units last season, has switched to coaching defensive ends.
“I felt like at this point in time, we needed to take our defensive line because of the player-coach ratio,” he said. “What you have right now, is you have so many run-pass option plays, where there’s a run-pass conflict of the defensive ends, where they start to be coached differently than inside players. So I felt like we needed to go from a 15 to 1 ratio to more of a 7 or 8 to 1 ratio and they work collectively, but they meet separately because what we’re seeing now from an offensive perspective demands them to be coach differently. And so, we’ve made that transition.”
Dantonio also said Mike Tressel is now back to coaching the linebackers.
“Tressel is coaching the linebackers, so we’re back to him coaching the linebackers, which he’s always been very involved in obviously,” Dantonio said.
With two spring practices remaining, the Spartans will look to focus on this upcoming fall as the team is scheduled to kick off the 2017-18 season on Sept. 2 at Spartan Stadium against Bowling Green State University.