Thursday, June 30, 2022

MSU Spring Game: How to watch, what to expect and positions to eye on Saturday

April 15, 2022
<p>Spartan safety Darius Snow (23) assists in a tackle in MSU’s match against the Purdue Boilermakers at Ross-Ade Stadium in West Lafayette on Saturday, Nov. 6, 2021.</p>

Spartan safety Darius Snow (23) assists in a tackle in MSU’s match against the Purdue Boilermakers at Ross-Ade Stadium in West Lafayette on Saturday, Nov. 6, 2021.

Photo by Chloe Trofatter | The State News

Finally, the weather is beginning to turn and it looks like it is here to stay. In the Greater Lansing area that means one thing: the Michigan State Spring Game. 

Michigan State Head Coach Mel Tucker, redshirt junior quarterback Payton Thorne, redshirt senior wide receiver Jayden Reed and company are set to take the field Saturday at 2 p.m. at Spartan Stadium for MSU’s annual spring game. It will be the second spring game ahead of Tucker’s third season after a 2020 hiatus and a 2021 spring game that was restricted to 6,000 fans. 

This year, the game is completely open, free to the public, and surrounded with way more buzz than last spring. Tucker feels it too. And those eager to get a dose of the team can be in their seats as early as 12:30 p.m. 

“I remember our first spring game at Georgia, we had 97,000 people there,” Tucker said. “And the fire marshal had to come and tell people they couldn't come in. They were standing in the aisles. So I'd love to see that. I don't see why not come on out and let's watch some ball.”

Those planning on attending are encouraged to bring books as part of a book drive benefiting the Lansing Public School District. A book donation also yields a raffle ticket with a chance to win a pair of free tickets when Michigan State hosts Ohio State next October.

And for those unable to make it, MSU’s spring game will be aired on Big Ten Network and broadcast on the radio via the Spartan Media Network. 

What to expect:

For what it’s worth, “spring game” is perhaps a bit misleading. Just like last spring, there will be no scrimmage between the green and white. Rather, Saturday will consist of a 15-period practice.

To some, it may be a disappointment compared to the game-style format under former Head Coach Mark Dantonio. The public got a glimpse of the intense, detail-oriented Tucker-led practice last spring. Gameday speed and intensity is Tucker’s expectation at each and every one of MSU’s practices in order to emulate Saturdays in the fall and that won’t change for this weekend. 

But if it were up to Tucker, it wouldn’t be this way. Injuries, specifically to that of the offensive line, have hampered the Spartans all spring. It hasn’t just affected the trenches either. Reps across the board, such as those for running backs, have been scaled back during team drills. 

“I would love to be able to play a traditional game if we could,” Tucker said. “But our numbers won't allow us to do it.”

Positions to watch:

Offensive line

Heading into the spring, it was already expected the offensive line would be a work in progress. It was a steady and experienced group last year. But with the departures of three regular starters in graduate student A.J. Arcuri, redshirt senior Kevin Jarvis and graduate student Matt Allen as well as key contributors such as redshirt senior Blake Bueter and graduate student Luke Campbell, a revamped offensive line is in the future. 

The Spartans have just five players on the spring roster with game experience. Sixth-year offensive guard Matt Carrick and fifth-year offensive tackle Jarrett Horst exercised their extra year of eligibility to return. Senior offensive guard J.D. Duplain broke out in 2021 and looks to build upon it. Senior Nick Samac projects to become the regular starting center. Redshirt junior offensive tackle Spencer Brown showed flashes in his first career start in the Peach Bowl. 

Individual talent is always important on the offensive line, however, chemistry is just as, if not more, essential. Spring ball provides an opportunity to strengthen that. But as MSU has progressed through the spring with at times as low as seven available linemen, it has missed part of the opportunity. 

“Normally you do your individual periods early on and then you go to the group periods and then you go to the team,” Tucker said. “And so we’ve had to mix some of the group periods in between the team periods throughout the practice so that we can keep the O-line fresh. We’ve implemented some T.V. timeouts during practice to give those guys a blow.”

It is unclear at this point who will and won’t be available on Saturday, but those who can give it a go will be on display. Young players who normally wouldn’t be getting as many reps are getting more reps than usual and could turn some heads of the coaching staff. 

Running Back

Michigan State fans got their first look at junior running back Kenneth Walker III last spring, the birth of a green and white star. Now the Spartans are tasked with replacing the Walter Camp Player of the Year with a new running backs coach in Effrem Reed. 

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Redshirt freshman Davion Primm, who did not see game action in 2021, has been the buzz of the spring, receiving praise from offensive coordinator Jay Johnson, Tucker and Reed. 

“The one thing that stands out the most about Davion, his body has changed a lot so he's able to endure a lot more, but the mental aspect of the game, he understands that a lot more,” Reed said on Thursday. “He's able to slow it down and he's slowing things down out there on the field. So he's able to process a lot more and he's playing faster and making plays.”

Wisconsin transfer running back Jalen Berger was banged up early in the spring, but appears to be emerging late. The team held its second scrimmage of the spring last Thursday and Berger “popped a couple of runs” after not being at full strength for the first scrimmage. A four-star recruit in high school, the potential is there for Berger to be an impactful player early in the season. 

The Spartans still await the summer arrival of Colorado transfer Jarek Broussard, but still have plenty to work with. In addition to Berger and Primm, MSU returns junior Jordon Simmons, redshirt senior Harold Joiner, redshirt senior Elijah Collins and redshirt sophomore Donovan Eaglin – all players who received carries in 2021.

Linebacker

The linebacking core was one of the more stable groups when healthy, led by senior Quavaris Crouch and redshirt sophomore Cal Haladay. Both are back for 2022 and hope to build off the foundation they cemented last fall. 

However, Crouch has been a non-participant in spring practice and missed three games last year with injury, exposing a lack of depth in defensive coordinator Scottie Hazelton’s two-linebacker scheme. Hazelton has since kept his title, but switched to a focus on the linebackers. 

In doing so, Michigan State added two quality transfer linebacker transfers: senior Jacoby Windmon from UNLV and fifth-year Aaron Brule from Mississippi State. Between Crouch, Haladay, Windmon and Brule, all possess unique skill sets that Hazelton says can be weaponized. 

“There's a couple guys in that room with the ability to rush and you'd say 'Okay, you can get down there on third down and go rush or we can blitz this or we can use this,’” Hazelton said. “That helps the team overall just get more pressure.”

Then there is junior Darius Snow. He’s listed as a safety and has spent the past two years playing safety and nickel back. However, he’s been hanging with the linebackers this spring in hopes of adding to his already versatile profile. 

Snow improved each and every week last fall and won over the fanbase with his amusing play style. It’s been all positive remarks from the team regarding his time with the linebackers, leaving a fascinating mystery for what Michigan State has in store. 

“It’s probably the best fit for him right there,” Hazelton said. “There’s a lot of those same fundamentals that they use so he hasn’t missed a beat moving there. It’s been great.”

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