The 2015 Michigan State Spartan spring football game is in the books and has to be considered a success. From a fan turnout point, although the 50K that coach Dantonio asked for came up just short, the 48K in attendance is nothing to be ashamed about. This places MSU in the top 10 nationwide for spring game turnout, and by far the most ever to watch the game. Also, no one got injured which is the biggest key to these games, ending them healthy, and there was still valuable information that was able to be gained by players performances.
With that being said let’s do some position grading for this years’ game.
If this was just grading Connor Cook’s performance the grade would have been an A. Cook hit several difficult throws, had great awareness in the pocket, and went through his progressions nicely. Cook did miss a few downfield throws but overall he looked sharp. The grade comes down a little when adding Tyler O’Connor’s performance.
O’Connor came out firing on his first throw, making a beautiful pass to RJ Shelton for a 30-yard gain but then after that he never really kept the momentum. There were some nice throws scattered here and there but the green offense was never able to get into a passing rhythm. This can be credited to a disjointed lineup but at the same time there should have been a better performance from a player that is in his third year in the system.
Running Backs: B
This grade goes to the combination of Madre London and Gerald Holmes who received a bulk of the carries. Both had very nice days but there is more that needs to be worked on for sure. London was held in check for most of the day before working through a pile and breaking a 50 yard run, showing his big play ability.
Holmes was able to gain his yards with a workman-like effort, consistently moving the pile forward. Each played well in pass protection which will go a long way in securing playing time on the field. The running game looked powerful and this came with a split up offensive line, Michigan State looks to be in good shape when it comes to replacing Jeremy Langford this year.
Wide Receivers/Tight Ends: B+
The entire receiving core, including the tight ends, were very solid. DeAnthony Arnett had something of a coming out party, becoming Cook’s favorite target of the day and looked very impressive. Macgarrett Kings Jr. made some nice open field place showing off his athletic ability that the Spartans will need this year.
RJ Shelton, Jamal Lyles and Josiah Price each made contributions with receptions and running plays as well. It was tougher trying to get the passing game going due to the defenses getting so much pressure forcing early throws, but the receiving core as a whole showed they are looking to pick up where the Tony Lippett led group left off last year.
Offensive Line: B-*
This grade comes with an asterisk because in the spring game the offensive line is the position that suffers the most. It is very difficult to have 6-7 players that are worthy of playing time on Saturdays let alone 10. The defenses were able to create a lot of pressure on the quarterbacks which is why the grade is so low but there is no doubt the offensive line is going to be one of the best units in the Big Ten, if not the nation. But for grading purposes, and for solely this game, it is a little bit lower due to the false start penalties and the pressure allowed. I expect this to be the lowest grade the offensive line receives all year.
Defensive Line: A
This group receives the highest grade on the team, what a performance and another unit that will be one of the best in the Big Ten if not the nation. Shilique Calhoun and Lawrence Thomas lived in the backfield, creating havoc left and right. Malik McDowell and Joel Heath clogged the middle making it difficult for any running game to get going. The defensive line is going to be a huge strength this year, which will allow other areas of the Spartan defense to get their footing in the early stages.
Another strength of the Spartan defense will be the linebacking core. A lot of focus was on Riley Bullough and how he would step into his new role of middle linebacker. He answered with outstanding success. Bullough was able to take command of the defense, stuff the middle, make plays on the boundaries and rush the passer, it was a great day for Riley.
Ed Davis, Chris Frey and Darien Harris all looked like they were playing on concrete while everyone else was playing in mud, flying all over the field making plays. This is a very fast and talented linebacking crew, giving Michigan State a very formidable front seven.
Some nice plays were also made by this group and no one was burned, although there were several occasions where there could have been but the throw was missed. The safeties of Demetrious Cox, Montae Nicholson and RJ Williamson all looked very good. Nicholson is everywhere on the field it seems, Cox made some great tackles in run support, and Williamson just missed a pick on a great read.
The corner group also had bright spots with Darien Hicks running down and breaking up what would have been a deep ball, Arjen Colquhoun made several nice coverage plays, and Jermaine Edmondson also looked comfortable playing on an island. There is still work to do in the No Fly Zone, especially at corner, but progress was made against a good passing attack.
Special Teams: C
The return game will not go into effect for this grade due to those plays not being live, this will consist of the kicking game alone, which struggled at times. There were three missed field goals by Kevin Cronin, he is the backup and this is understandable because he is only a kick off specialist, but this shows the importance of getting Michael Geiger back and having his confidence remain, the alternative may not be pretty.
Jake Hartbarger had an Ok day for his first “big” performance as the Spartans punter. He had one punt blocked and another go off the side of his foot. Overall, he still had a 40-yard average for the day, which is not bad but there were those hiccups. Mike Sadler made punting look easy and was a real weapon in pinning teams back deep in their own territory, Hartbarger will have to fill these shoes in big situations this year.