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Spring Football Update No. 3: Defense Wins Jersey Scrimmage In OT

April 10, 2010

EAST LANSING, Mich. - Under partly cloudy skies and temperatures in the 60s, fourth-year Michigan State head coach Mark Dantonio sent his team through a 3-hour "controlled" scrimmage in Spartan Stadium on Saturday, April 10, as the Spartans completed their ninth of 15 allotted spring practices. Utilizing a modified scoring system, the defense returned two interceptions for touchdowns and came up with a goal-line stand to rally from a 35-point deficit for a 93-90 overtime victory in the first spring scrimmage, reclaiming the Green (home) jersey from the offense.

The scrimmage format provided the defense with 18 different scoring opportunities, while the offense had 11 ways to put points on the scoreboard, including the traditional TD and field goal.

The first-team offense scored on four of its first five possessions, producing two TDs and two field goals, while the second team scored TDs on back-to-back drives as the Green built a 62-27 lead midway through the 130-play scrimmage.

Two interception returns for TDs fueled the White team's comeback. First, on a third-and-6 play, cornerback Mitchell White (6-1, 172, So.) intercepted Andrew Maxwell's (6-3, 200, R-Fr.) pass attempt and returned it 40 yards for a score, worth 12 points, as the defense pulled to within 66-61.

Two series later, strong safety Marcus Hyde (6-0, 202, Sr.-5) picked off Kirk Cousins (6-3, 202, Jr.), throwing from his own end zone, and returned it 12 yards for another 12 points, as the White team took its first lead of the scrimmage at 73-71.

Leading 90-81, the offense had a chance to ice the game, facing first-and-goal from the White 5-yard line. Three plays netted 4 yards and on fourth-and-goal from the 1, defensive end Denzel Drone (6-2, 252, R-Fr.) stuffed Edwin Baker (5-9, 199, So.) for no gain and added six points to the White team's total.



Cornerback Chase Parker's (5-9, 177, Jr.) pass break-up on the final play of regulation gave the defense three more points and sent the game into overtime tied at 90.

When Dan Conroy's (5-10, 185, So.) 41-yard field-goal attempt into the wind sailed wide left, it touched off a wild celebration for the White team as it claimed a 93-90 win in overtime.

"I thought it was a great scrimmage," Dantonio said. "Early on, the offense played extremely well, and you can certainly see the value of having an experienced quarterback running the show. It's also apparent that we have great skill players on offense, and those guys produced a number of big plays, especially in the early going. The offensive line allowed only two sacks, so that's another positive.

"Give the defense credit for a great comeback. The defense returned two picks for touchdowns, and with the way we score things, it became a very competitive game at the end. It also reinforces just how difficult it becomes to win a football game when the offense turns the ball over multiple times. The defense also had an impressive goal-line stand to help send the scrimmage into overtime.

"I was really impressed with the hitting, especially when you consider that the scrimmage lasted 130 plays. All in all, we're very pleased with what we got accomplished in the first scrimmage. Our focus will be to continue improving over these last six practices."

Cousins, who took nearly all of the snaps with the first-team offense, completed 19-of-30 throws for 188 yards, two scores and two interceptions. Cousins capped a nine-play, 70-yard drive with a 30-yard TD strike to Keith Nichol (6-2, 220, Jr.). He also hooked up with Keshawn Martin (5-11, 185, Jr.) for a 25-yard scoring play on third-and-10.

"We're focused on learning and improving," Cousins said. "There were certainly some mistakes made today, but we have a lot of guys who working hard and trying to get better. I made a huge mistake, throwing a pick six. I know that I can't do that, especially coming off our goal line, but I'm learning too. We called that same play later in the scrimmage, and we got a completion off of it. So that's a positive sign.

"We have a lot of playmakers on offense, so we simply have to make sure that we're all operating on the same page. When we're running the football effectively, it makes my job as quarterback very easy. We'll be extremely difficult to contain if we can remained balanced on offense.

"The offensive line also did a great job today," Cousins continued. "We have a lot of young guys playing up front, but they did a good job today picking up all of the different blitzes the defense threw at them. Those guys have a humble attitude. They're hungry to learn, and they're willing to put in the work to get better. Some may make a mistake now and then, but they're learning because they're not making the same mistakes twice. With their willingness to learn and commitment to improve, it's easy for me to have patience as this group begins to develop chemistry."

Maxwell, who played the majority of snaps with the second-team offense, connected on 15-of-27 passes for 199 yards, including TD toss of 69 yards to Le'Veon Bell (6-2, 230, Fr.) and 8 yards to Donald Spencer (6-2, 205, R-Fr.). He also played three series with the first team and threw one interception.

Joe Boisture (6-5, 205, Fr.), who also took some reps with the second team, hit 3-of-6 passes for 18 yards.

"I felt very good about how Kirk Cousins and Andrew Maxwell moved the offense and put points on the board," Dantonio said. "It also was important to give Joe Boisture an opportunity to get some reps under center."

Bennie Fowler accounted for 132 all-purpose yards in the first spring scrimmage.

Martin had a scrimmage-best 12 receptions for 109 yards, including a spectacular over-the-shoulder grab on the 25-yard scoring toss from Cousins. Bennie Fowler (6-1, 206, R-Fr.) caught nine passes for 84 yards and scored on a 48-yard reverse, while Nichol finished with four catches for 70 yards. Eleven different receivers caught at least one pass during the scrimmage.

"Keshawn Martin played extremely well, and it was good to see Keith Nichol get involved in the offense in a number of different ways," Dantonio said.

"Bennie Fowler is just another playmaker. He's a great athlete, who sat out all of last year with a stress fracture in his foot. Bennie produced a big play on a reverse and made some big plays in the passing game as well."

MSU's four tailbacks - Larry Caper (5-11, 220, So.), Baker, Bell and Nick Hill (5-6, 182, Fr.) - combined to rush for 135 yards. Caper paced the ground attack with 47 yards on 10 carries.

"When you look at the tailback situation, it's strong," Dantonio said. "Larry Caper and Edwin Baker are much improved. Both of those guys know the system, so now, they're running with power and acceleration. I'm also very impressed by the two freshmen, Le'Veon Bell and Nick Hill. They both showed flashes today. Le'Veon made an outstanding play, turning a screen pass into a touchdown."

Hyde led the first-team defense with seven tackles to go along with his interception return for a touchdown. Linebacker Greg Jones (6-1, 235, Sr.) and free safety Trenton Robinson (5-10, 190, Jr.) made six stops each, while cornerback Chris L. Rucker (6-2, 195, Sr.) had three tackles, including one for a 5-yard loss, and two passes defended, including an interception.

"Greg Jones is always around the football, and he's much improved in terms of his pass coverage," Dantonio said. "We consistently see him doing things in pass coverage that we simply didn't see from him the last three years.

"Chris L. Rucker is playing his way back into top form again. He had a key interception and came up with a big hit on a corner blitz."

Top tacklers for the second team included Drone, defensive end Todd Anderson (6-2, 240, Jr.) and linebacker Denicos Allen (5-10, 215, R-Fr.), who contributed five stops each.

Conroy converted his first four field-goal attempts (from 23, 38, 44 and 44 yards) before missing the potential game-winner from 41 yards out in overtime. Kevin Muma (6-0, 180, R-Fr.) made 1-of-2 field-goal attempts, coming up short on a 49-yarder and hitting from 33 yards.

"We were able to get our field-goal kickers a lot of work," Dantonio said. "Both guys were given opportunities to kick in pressure situations, so we'll go back and evaluate things."

Michigan State concludes its 15 spring practices with the Green-White intrasquad game on Saturday, April 24 at 1:30 p.m. in Spartan Stadium. Parking is free (in Lots T-79, A-62, S-56, P-39/40, H-63 and M-66), and the stadium gates (Gates B, C, J and K) open at 12 p.m. Admission is free.

Prior to the spring game, MSU's coaching staff and players will conduct a free youth football clinic (no registration required). Children, ages 8-12, are invited to attend the youth clinic from 10-11:30 a.m. on the grass practice fields behind the Duffy Daugherty Football Building, located at the corner of Chestnut Road and Shaw Lane. Clinic participants and their parents are requested to enter the practice fields through the gate on Shaw Lane. Over the last seven years, nearly 3,200 children have participated in the annual youth football clinic.

The purpose of the clinic is to introduce youngsters to the game by stressing fundamentals. No football gear is required. From 11:30 a.m.-12:15 p.m., Coach Dantonio and his players will be available for an autograph session for clinic participants. In addition, clinic participants will receive a coupon for a complimentary hot dog and soft drink to be redeemed at a concession stand in Spartan Stadium during the spring game.

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