Mark Dantonio has a message for his football team: Let the past be the past and focus on what's ahead.
The No. 18 Spartans open their season Friday night when they host Tulsa (7:00 p.m. on FS1). For Michigan State, there isn’t any time to dwell about prior misfortunes.
That’s the mindset Dantonio wants to instill into his team heading into the new season.
“The message to our football team is, it's game day, game time,” Dantonio said. “I don’t care if you bench 400 pounds, or run 4.5 or a vertical of 36 inches. I don’t care if you were voted preseason All-American. I don’t care if you had a tough year last year. It’s time to get ready to play.
“Our mindset has got to be, ‘Let’s go.’ That’s where we’re at right now. That’s the mindset we’re in and that’s what we're going with.”
The Spartans have gone through an offseason of secrecy and unknowns. With a revamped offense under wraps at the hands of new offensive coordinator Brad Salem, MSU still isn’t revealing much.
But, a lot of what the Spartans are — and can be — will begin to divulge when MSU takes the field Friday night.
"We’ve gone through the first phase, that’s August camp,” Dantonio said. “Now we are going into phase two, which is these first three games. We'll find out a lot about our football team in these first three games.”
Depth chart dissection
When MSU released its first official depth chart of the season, there was one notable name missing: senior offensive tackle Cole Chewins.
“(Chewins) struggled with his back here throughout preseason, so right now he’s sort of on a day-to-day basis to see where he is at,” Dantonio said. “We do anticipate that he will be able to play at some point, but he’s had some time off here as of late.”
Dantonio also confirmed Chewins will miss Friday night’s game. His absence moves junior A.J. Arcuri into the starting left tackle spot. Senior Tyler Higby was listed as the starter at left guard, while junior Matt Allen or sophomore Blake Bueter were listed as the starter at center. Junior Kevin Jarvis (right guard) and junior Jordan Reid (right tackle) round at MSU’s starting offensive line.
Though junior Connor Heyward was listed as the No. 1 guy at running back, that position is still being treated like a revolving door.
“Really fluid,” Dantonio said. “I see that running back situation very fluid. Guys are going to get opportunities, especially in that first game of the season. Connor (Heyward) has had a good summer camp. I've been impressed with really all of our running backs in summer camp.”
Cody White, Jalen Nailor and Darrell Stewart were listed as the starting wide receivers with junior Matt Dotson at tight end.
It was the status quo on defense with Jacub Panasiuk, Raequan Williams, Mike Panasiuk and Kenny Willekes listed as starters on the defensive line. Antjuan Simmons, Joe Bachie and senior Tyriq Thompson were listed as starting linebackers while Josiah Scott, David Dowell, Xavier Henderson and Josh Butler round out MSU’s starting secondary.
Defending the Hurricane
It will be strength versus strength when MSU’s run-stuffing defense goes up against two prolific running backs in Tulsa’s offense.
Juniors Shamari Brooks and Corey Taylor II combined for 18 touchdowns and almost 2,000 yards last season. It will be a tall task for the Spartan defense to barricade. But it is a challenge they say they are up for.
“We don’t want to let people run the ball on us,” Dantonio said. “People have not been able to do that recently. We need to continue that trend. Again, it will be a challenge. ... They have been successful and we will have to see how it all shakes out.”
The Golden Hurricane will also trot out a new quarterback in Zach Smith, who sat out last season after transferring from Baylor. Dantonio said he expects a fast-pace offense from Tulsa, noting their offense doesn’t take much time in between plays.
“They’re going to be a tempo offense,” Dantonio said. “They are going to line up there, they’re going to maybe run 10 to 15 second a play at times, so you gotta be prepared for that which we’ve been preparing for that very hard. ... I anticipate a lot of RPO’s (run-pass options), they’re going to try and run the football.”