Aug. 14, 2012
By Steve Grinczel, Online Columnist
EAST LANSING, Mich. - The trouble spots the first preseason scrimmage is designed to uncover were: 1. Undetected; 2. Non-existent; or 3. Inconsequential.
While Michigan State head football coach Mark Dantonio knows the first possibility is highly unlikely, and the second is completely unrealistic, he's hopeful the third will prove to be the case right up to the Aug. 31 season opener against Boise State.
The defense was more advanced than the offense in Sunday's first jersey scrimmage, but that's typical of most teams this time of year. Given the off-the-chart expectations defensive coordinator Pat Narduzzi's unit carried into preseason camp, anything but a dominating performance would have sent up an unexpected red flag.
However, the offense and special teams clicked well enough at times in the 74-54 modified scoring that favored the defense to prevent Dantonio from declaring the event flag day.
"Everything's manageable," Dantonio said Monday. "I think we're where we thought we would be and guys are competing. We've got some good players on both sides of the ball so sometimes you're going to win and sometimes you're going to lose that situation.
"So as the head coach, you're sort of sitting there trying to play both ends of the stick."
New starting quarterback Andrew Maxwell completed 16 of 29 passes for 162 yards, and backup Connor Cook also had a good performance while completing 15 of 25 for 145 yards, including a 38-yard touchdown to Jeremy Langford and one interception.
"Maxwell was sharp and delivered the ball well," Dantonio said. "Nice job by our corners and wide receivers battling. The offense made some plays. They hit some third-down situations. But on the back end of that, the defense was tough to score on and when you're tough to score on you're going to win the scrimmage.
"I thought our football team played pretty crisp, played very hard and played with a lot of effort. The one thing I think we need to put forth a little bit is you'd like to see them play with a little more enthusiasm because I think that's when you overachieve."
However, Dantonio quickly pointed out that the atmosphere on game day, especially in Spartan Stadium, should remedy that concern.
Safety Demetrious Cox continued to make a case for getting playing time as a true freshman.
"He plays a skill position, so they're usually able to play a little faster," Dantonio said. "He's got a great attention-to-detail, which sort of sets him apart from most freshmen. And he's firm, and he plays extremely hard. He'll be in the mix to see where he's at in terms of when he gets on the field, but again, we're not just going to take a guy's (redshirt) year.
"He's got another big week of practice and things start to mount on players after one week, but he's positioned himself well for the next phase of our summer practices."
"If you're on three or four (special teams units), then I think it's worth (burning a redshirt)," Dantonio said. "If you're on one, then I don't think it's worth it unless you're a particular guy. Fore example, (freshman long snapper) Taybor Pepper is going to play. He's been very, very good."
Had the offense put up six touchdowns against MSU's defense, Dantonio would have been deeply agitated.
"Nor am I happy if we don't score a one," he said. "But it does point to where we are defensively at this time. There's enough good things that you see on offense that you're impressed with it."
In other words, if the offense catches up to the defense, the Spartans should be in pretty good shape.
GoG Notes and Quotes:
Wide receiver is the team's biggest unknown with no bona fide producers returning. However, the talented lump of clay that receivers coach Terrence Samuel is working with is taking shape.
Junior Bennie Fowler showed his foot problems are apparently behind him by catching five passes for 55 yards.
"What I learned is Bennie Fowler is going to be OK," Samuel said. "The wide-receiving group as a whole just needs more reps; we've got guys who can make some plays."
Converted running back Jeremy Langford and transfer DeAnthony Arnett are interesting cases in point. The speedy Langford gives the Spartans a different kind of yards-after-catch capability, and Arnett already has gone through a BCS-level season.
"When you take a running back to wide receiver, the best thing about it is the fact that once they have the ball they have the instincts to go and run and be physical," Samuel said. "The blocking component, he's very physical at the point of attack. He's just not used to seeing that ball from depth, but the more he sees it, the better he'll get."
Arnett's experience at Tennessee is both a help and a hindrance.
"He's not a freshman and we expect him to be able to make plays this year," Samuel said. "We're going to put his feet under the fire a little bit to make sure he makes plays. He has the ability to help us this year. He was coached probably a little different than he is here. The offense and verbiage are probably a little bit different. So, it takes a little bit of time, but he's coming through right now. As he gets more reps, he'll start to shine.
We have the athletes. They just have to be in the right place at the right time..., so the job is easy."
Seasoned starting linebackers Max Bullough in the middle and Denicos Allen and Chris Norman can handle almost any situation. Nevertheless, look for linebackers coach Mike Tressel to find special situations to use junior TyQuan Hammock and red-shirt freshman Ed Davis.
"Ed Davis is certainly a guy who can blitz very, very well," Tressel said. "You can put him in many types of situations even if he isn't playing a ton in base (defense). He has a nose for the football."
Hammock's skill-set will be especially useful against teams like Wisconsin.
"TyQuan is a very good defend-the-run linebacker," Tressel said. "When you get into two-back, two-tight-end-personnels (on offense), he really delivers a blow. He's also intelligent about things, so I feel good about where he's at. The best-case scenario for him is, you get against a running team, and we're banging, banging, banging, he can go in and do that with the best of them.
"If we can get Max off the field (when he's dinged up or fatigued), that's good for us. Certainly, against a downhill running team, TyQuan's a good fit for that."