Michigan State spring football game preview: 5 things to watch for


More from Spartans Football

Ah, spring. The weather has turned for the better, we can put our snow shovels away, but more importantly, it means spring football. Colleges return to practice and the culmination of those tune-ups is the spring football game. Michigan State’s game is this upcoming Saturday is at 2:00 p.m. ET, a first chance for Spartan Nation to take a look at the veteran players and the up-and-comers.

Most fans will put their coaching hat on and attempting to make predictions based on what they see, as to who will win starting and backup roles in various position battles.

Let’s take a look at five things to watch this upcoming Saturday.

1. The tight end position

This is not a glamorous position and is sometimes overlooked but it will absolutely be a strength this year for the Spartans as they have two studs ready to take the field. Josiah Price and Jamal Lyles will lead a one-two punch that will not just be a complementary piece to the passing game, but a weapon that should be utilized.

Price is coming off his best season; he was 2014 Big Ten honorable mention by the coaches and media and had 26 receptions, six of which went for touchdowns. Price is a great route runner that is able to force defenses into accounting for him in passing situations. He has great hands and has proven he has the ability to be a go to option for Cook this year. Price is also a great run blocker as well, he does not need to come off the field in running situations which makes him even more of a threat.

Nov 8, 2014; East Lansing, MI, USA; Michigan State Spartans tight end Josiah Price (82) runs for yards after the catch during the 2nd half of a game against Ohio State at Spartan Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Mike Carter-USA TODAY Sports

Jamal Lyles does not have the stats, but as Spartan Nation knows, which has been written on this very site, Lyles has the athletic ability to do special things at the tight end position. Lyles was originally recruited to Michigan State as a defensive end but the coaches saw that he had special abilities to transform into a tight end.

He has the rare gifts of size and speed that give defenses a nightmare when it comes to match ups. Being brand new to the position Lyles has taken some time to get up to speed and grasp the offense as well as to become more of a reliable blocker. This is the year that MSU fans are hoping he has put everything together and will let his athleticism shine.

2. Madre London, RB

I predicted in a previous article that London would emerge as one of the two backs that would replace Jeremy Langford. Saturday will be the first time that Spartan fans are able to get an extended look at the talent that the former high school All-American possesses.

London came in last year fully expecting to play his true freshman season and did not see himself as a redshirt. While he showed flashes he was unable to fully grasp the pro-style pass system and protect Connor Cook in blocking situations. London has now said that he is glad he went the redshirt route realizing he had much to learn.

With a full season, and now a spring, under his belt, he’s much more comfortable with the offense and he can just “play” letting his instincts take over allowing his raw ability to come out. When this happens, Spartan Nation will see a running back that is able to hit the holes behind a fantastic offensive line and make big plays.

3. Riley Bullough, MLB 

It just feels right to see a Bullough in middle of the Spartan defense leading it on the field. With the departure of Taiwan Jones, MSU is in need of a player to step into the middle linebacker role. Bullough looks to solidify himself in this position.

Jan 1, 2015; Arlington, TX, USA; Michigan State Spartans linebacker Riley Bullough (30) reacts during the game against the Baylor Bears in the 2015 Cotton Bowl Classic at AT&T Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Kevin Jairaj-USA TODAY Sports

The coaches will be looking for, and the fans can as well, several skills during the live game. Obviously making plays is extremely important, can he make the right reads, clog up the middle, play in coverage and make tackles out on the boundary — these are all very important.

Just as important, and what I’ll be watching for, is how he commands the defense; the middle linebacker is the quarterback of the defense. He is calling the plays in the huddle, ensuring that players are lined up correctly and needs to make any necessary changes when he sees what the offense has called out in.

A lot of the success of the Spartan defense is with communication and being in the right place — this falls onto the middle linebacker. Riley’s older brother, Max, was known as the computer due to how he always had the right defense set up and was never out of position. This is the first step for Riley as Spartan fans hope he continues to carry on the Bullough legacy at MSU. If he does, they’ll be in great shape at the position.

4. Connor Cook, QB 

It has been a crazy and amazing ride and it all comes to a head this year, his final year of eligibility in the Green & White. This game is a formality to Cook; obviously there is no doubt he is the starter, even if he throws nine interceptions but let’s hope that never ever happens, even in a scrimmage.

What I want to watch is the beginning of the end of his fantastic career, and enjoy it. Depending on how this season goes, Cook could go down as the greatest signal-caller in Michigan State history. He already has Big Ten Championship, Rose Bowl and Cotton Bowl victories to go along with two top-five nationally-ranked finishes.

Cook has high hopes for himself personally to be the first quarterback taken in the draft, as well as for his team: a national championship. These goals rely heavily on how well he is able to play. If he has the year that he is hoping to have, the Spartans will have the opportunity to capitalize on everything they want, which in return will bring Cook what he wants.

Jan 1, 2015; Arlington, TX, USA; Michigan State Spartans quarterback Connor Cook (18) celebrates a touchdown during the fourth quarter against the Baylor Bears in the 2015 Cotton Bowl Classic at AT&T Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Kevin Jairaj-USA TODAY Sports

5. The Trenches 

This will be a little more difficult to follow because the defensive and offensive lines will play better as a unit and, in this scrimmage, they’ll be split up between the two teams. However, the amount of talent that is on each of these lines is the best in the Dantonio era, and a huge reason why Michigan State has such high expectations.

I hope to see Jack Conklin go up against Malik McDowell or Shilique Calhoun. I can’t wait to see the fire from the Allen brothers as they take the field again in Spartan Stadium as well as Lawrence Thomas continuing to build off his underrated season from last year. Don’t forget about the development of Montez Sweat and Demetrius Cooper on the defensive side of the ball as well as from transfer Miguel Machado on the offensive line.

Michigan State has a plethora of talent in the trenches and it will all be on display Saturday.

More from Spartan Avenue