April 21, 2013
DOUBLE DUTY FOR RILEY BULLOUGH
Red-shirt freshman Riley Bullough was the busiest player on the field Saturday afternoon in Michigan State's spring game.
Bullough, who moved to the tailback position just last week at practice, led all rushers in the game with 11 carries for 46 yards while playing for the Green. In the second half, Bullough not only took handoffs on the offensive side of the ball, but switched jerseys between series and lined up as a middle linebacker for the White.
Then, as if that wasn't enough, he even completed a pass - to his older brother Max on a 12-yard completion in the third quarter that set up Nick Hill's 7-yard go-ahead touchdown run.
"It's kind of like high school, takes me back," said Riley Bullough, who was a starting quarterback at Traverse City St. Francis High School. "I played quarterback, (Max) played tight end. Really to us we've done that a million times. We did have a touchdown pass in the (2009) state championship game."
"I'm really proud of him," said Max of his brother Riley. "He has always excelled at whatever he is doing, whether it is offense, defense, basketball or football. I'm proud of what he has done and I think he has proven he can play on either side of the ball."
"I think they prepared for that exactly zero times," commented Green team head coach Pat Narduzzi. "Obviously, it was the highlight of the day. As one of our defensive guys, it was good to see Riley (Bullough) carrying the ball well out there. From what I saw today, I think he will be able to help us out next fall."
Riley Bullough scored two touchdowns in last week's second spring scrimmage and
continued to impress the coaching staff in the spring game on Saturday.
"I think Riley shows the ability to play with a football IQ; he shows the ability to play on offense and the ability to play on defense," said head coach Mark Dantonio. "He gives us a powerful punch."
"He certainly adds another dimension to our offense," said co-offensive coordinator Dave Warner. "The limit for him (at running back) is still out there; he's never played running back and played quarterback on offense in high school even though he ran the ball. So we feel like if he gets a lot more individual work and a better feel for our offense, he's going to keep getting better and better."
PASSING GAME SHOWS EXPLOSIVENESS
One of the calling cards for the offense going into spring practice was the need to create more explosive pass plays.
If the spring game was any indication, the offense seems to be moving in the right direction under co-offensive coordinators Jim Bollman and Warner.
Spartan quarterbacks combined for six plays of 20-plus passing yards on Saturday - two for touchdowns.
The explosive plays featured a game-long 63-yard pass from Cook to Bennie Fowler, a 46-yard (game-winning) touchdown strike from Andrew Maxwell to AJ Troup, a 44-yard pass from Cook to Nick Hill, a 40-yard pass from O'Connor to Aaron Burbridge, a 34-yard pass from Cook to Burbridge, and a 22-yard touchdown pass from Cook to DeAnthony Arnett. Five of the six receptions on those explosive plays were by different receivers.
"We had some guys make some big plays," said Dantonio. "DeAnthony) Arnett got involved and made some big plays; I was happy to see that. (Bennie) Fowler from what I saw and (Aaron) Burbridge made some big plays as well. So those three receivers on the Green side did really well."
"I learned that we have some playmakers at the wide receiver spot," said Connor Cook. "Guys at times went up and made plays and caught the ball."
But in the eyes of Warner, there's still much progress to be made.
"I continue to be concerned with our pass game, with our efficiency there," said Warner. "Throwing, catching, protecting, the whole thing put together. I think we made strides there, but I think we've got a ways to go."
ALL EYES ON THE QUARTERBACKS
After five weeks of spring practice, senior quarterback Andrew Maxwell will be the No. 1 quarterback heading into fall camp, Dantonio said at his post-game press conference. But that doesn't mean that the race for the starting position is over. More like on pause.
"I think you leave here at the end of spring saying that (Andrew) Maxwell comes into the summer camp number one, based on knowledge and consistency in terms of performance," stated Dantonio.
"I think Connor Cook pushes him, and quite frankly, if Cook doesn't make mistakes that can be easily omitted, he's right there, because I think he throws the ball and moves well in the pocket. But you can't take a 5-yard loss and turn it into a 20-yard loss; you just can't do that. That's the bottom line of it. We've got to learn that and that's part of it."
Maxwell completed 9-of-20 passes for 110 yards in the game, while Cook threw for 217 yards on 10-of-26 attempts.
"That's kind of been the theme of the spring is how competitive we've been and that's what you hope for in a spring game, just to make it as competitive and game-like as possible," said Maxwell. "You put in 14 practices of work and it all kind of builds to this. I think it was pretty game-like; I think it was competitive and that's what we're looking for."
Said Cook: "I just feel so much more comfortable with everything: protections, plays, audibles, checks like that, especially going up against our defense. This is my third year in a row, so there is stuff that I see now that I never saw last year or that I saw in my first year."
Red-shirt freshman Tyler O'Connor also saw action playing for both teams, finishing 3-of-7 passing for 59 yards and two interceptions.
"It was Tyler O'Connor's first opportunity to play on live TV and in front of a large group of people," Dantonio said. "He needs to play with a little bit more consistency and play better. He had a big turnover for a touchdown. Again, he was playing with the White team, so he didn't get as many snaps initially, and we tried to force the issue at the end, playing him with the Green a little bit."
FORCING THE ISSUE
Although Michigan State has led the Big Ten in total defense the past two seasons, the Spartans are looking to dial up the intensity in 2013 to create more turnovers. MSU led the Big Ten in six defensive statistical categories last season, but managed to tie for just 76th in the FBS with 20 turnovers caused.
The White team forced three Green turnovers on Saturday, including two for touchdowns. Red-shirt freshman cornerback Ezra Robinson started the second-quarter turnover party for the White with an interception just three plays into the quarter. With three minutes left before halftime, sophomore safety Chris Laneaux returned an interception 25 yards for a score, and a little over a minute later, Joel Heath forced a fumble on Riley Bullough and Kyler Elsworth scooped it up and ran 41 yards for a touchdown.
"That was a big thing that we were talking about going into spring ball, getting turnovers and not only getting turnovers, but also making a big play out of it," said Elsworth, whose touchdown gave the White a 14-3 lead. "Getting the pick six, getting the fumble recovery and getting the touchdown. All spring ball that has been our one goal on defense, it's been the one thing we have all been working on."
"For a defense, yes, it was good to see those," said Narduzzi, although as head coach of the Green team, he wasn't the beneficiary of those turnovers on Saturday. "As you sit here as a defensive coach, you obviously want to see a cleaner game than that. I don't want to see any turnovers for touchdowns when we're playing each other, but I certainly want to see them against our opponents."
One of the biggest question marks for the Spartans in 2013 is replacing Dan Conroy, who set a MSU single-season record with 23 field goals made last season.
In constant swirling winds, both of the Spartan placekickers made their only field-goal attempts and also connected on their PATs. Red-shirt freshman Kevin Cronin drilled a 30-yarder in the first quarter to give the Green a 3-0 lead, while fifth-year senior Kevin Muma also booted a 30-yard field goal that tied the game at 17 in the fourth quarter.
One of the primary concerns for Dantonio heading into the spring game was getting out healthy.
The Spartans did have a few minor setbacks on Saturday, but none of the injuries appeared to be major. According to Dantonio, cornerback Ezra Robinson hurt his knee but did not suffer any major ligament damage, while defensive end Shilique Calhoun and center Kodi Kieler "tweaked" their ankles.
Dantonio also said he expects to have everyone on the roster at 100 percent by the beginning of preseason camp in August.
"We had five starters that were out today; two defensive backs (Darqueze Dennard, Isaiah Lewis) and three offensive linemen (Jack Allen, Skyler Burkland, Dan France) that have started for us and were out," remarked Dantonio. "To be able to put that on the field, on offensive line, a secondary offensive line, two different teams like that shows that you have some depth with scholarships players in there. That depth needs to come of age in the fall."