Spring Preview: Spartans looking to bounce back

Any way you slice it, the 2012 season was a disappointment for Michigan State. The Spartans were coming off back-to-back 11-win seasons—with a trip to the Big Ten title game in 2011—and were thinking big entering last season. Alas, MSU flopped to a 7-6 mark that saw the Spartans lose five home games (0-4 in Big Ten) and come up short in myriad close games. In fact, MSU lost five games by a combined 13 points. An erratic offense was at the root of the Spartans’ woes. As a result, Mark Dantonio shook up his staff.

BTN provides live coverage of Michigan State’s spring game at 2:30 p.m. ET Saturday on BTN/BTN2Go only.

BACK IN 2012 …

Day Date Opponent Time TV Result
Fri. Aug. 31 vs. 24 Boise State 8:00 PM ET  ESPN W 17 – 13
Sat. Sep. 8 at Central Michigan 3:30 PM ET  ESPNU W 41 – 7
Sat. Sep. 15 vs. 20 Notre Dame 8:00 PM ET  ABC L 3 – 20
Sat. Sep. 22 vs. Eastern Michigan 3:30 PM ET  BTN/BTN2 W 23 – 7
Sat. Sep. 29 vs. 14 Ohio State 3:30 PM ET  ABC L 16 – 17
Sat. Oct. 6 at Indiana 12:00 PM ET  BTN/BTN2 W 31 – 27
Sat. Oct. 13 vs. Iowa 12:00 PM ET  ESPN L 16 – 19
Sat. Oct. 20 at 23 Michigan 3:30 PM ET  BTN/BTN2 L 10 – 12
Sat. Oct. 27 at Wisconsin 3:30 PM ET  ABC/ESPN2 W 16 – 13
Sat. Nov. 3 vs. 21 Nebraska 3:30 PM ET  ABC/ESPN2 L 24 – 28
Sat. Nov. 17 vs. Northwestern 12:00 PM ET  ESPN2 L 20 – 23
Sat. Nov. 24 at Minnesota 3:30 PM ET  BTN/BTN2 W 26 – 10
Sat. Dec. 29 vs. TCU* 10:15 PM ET  ESPN W 17 – 16

KEY LOSSES

Offense: RB Le’Veon Bell; G Chris McDonald; TE Dion Sims

Defense: CB Johnny Adams; E William Gholston; T Anthony Rashad-White

OUTLOOK ON OFFENSE

2012 Offense (FBS Rank)
Yards: 4671 (89)
Passing Yards: 2729 (81)
Rushing Yards: 1942 (70)
Points per game: 20.0 (110)
Yards per game: 359.3 (97)
Touchdowns: 27 (111)
Field Goals: 23 (7)

The offense must replace RB Le’Veon Bell’s production after he opted to turn pro early. The big back essentially was a one-man gang and the sole source of offense. And Larry Caper also is gone. The duo combined for 400 carries and 1,901 yards last season. This was an important spring for Jeremy Langford, Nick Hill and Nick Tompkins to establish themselves as viable options. No one really stepped up. In fact, converted linebacker Riley Bullough has been a spring star.

Look for the running back battle to continue in the fall when incoming freshmen tailbacks—R.J. Shelton, Gerald Holmes, Delton Williams–make their presence known in preseason camp. This spring also has been critical in terms of development for QB Andrew Maxwell, what with Jim Bollman taking over as co-coordinator (Dave Warner is the other co-coordinator) and play-caller after Dan Roushar left to coach running backs with the New Orleans Saints. Maxwell endured his ups and downs last year in his first year as the starter. Connor Cook and Tyler O’Connor have had their moments this spring. Cook and O’Connor would bring an added athletic dimension to the offense—which may be welcomed—more so than Maxwell. No doubt, the quarterbacks would be helped if the receivers improve.

Players like Tony Lippett, Aaron Burbridge, Keith Mumphery, Bennie Fowler and Andre Sims, among others, need to step up. Few have starred. A.J. Troup is a guy who has made a move this spring. Watch him on Saturday. What about tight end? Insiders like Josiah Price and Juwan Caesar.

OUTLOOK ON DEFENSE

2012 Defense (FBS Rank)
Yards: 3582 (4)
Passing Yards: 2290 (7)
Rushing Yards: 1292 (7)
Points per game: 16.3 (9)
Yards per game: 275.5 (4)
Touchdowns: 16 (2)
Field Goals: 24 (123)

The back seven is in nice shape. In fact, the linebacking corps, which should be among the best in the Big Ten with the likes of Max Bullough, Denicos Allen and Taiwan Jones, will be outstanding. But the line must replace William Gholston and Anthony Rashad-White. Shilique Calhoun looks primed to take over for Gholston. He could be a stud.

Others who figure in upfront are James Kittredge, Denzel Drone, Lawrence Thomas and Micajah Reynolds for a unit that has a new coach in Ron Burton. Thomas is a guy to keep an eye on. He’s a former linebacker and fullback who has turned heads on the interior of the line. Gotta like the secondary. Trae Waynes has emerged as Johnny Adams’ replacement at a corner spot. Darqueze Dennard—who has been out–is the other projected starting corner. Ezra Robinson is a young corner to watch. And the safety duo of Isaiah Lewis and Kurtis Drummond looks strong.

Three-year starting K Dan Conroy is gone. Who will step up? Kevin Muma and Kevin Cronin are the top candidates. It has been an especially important spring for Muma, who has handled the kickoff duties for the last three years. But he hasn’t created significant separation, allowing Cronin—a walk-on–to make a move. But remember: true freshman Michael Geiger, the No. 1-rated high school kicking prospect, is set to join the competition in preseason camp.

2013 SCHEDULE

Day Date Opponent
Sat. Aug. 31 vs. Western Michigan
Sat. Sep. 7 vs. South Florida
Sat. Sep. 14 vs. Youngstown State
Sat. Sep. 21 at 4 Notre Dame
Sat. Oct. 5 at Iowa
Sat. Oct. 12 vs. Indiana
Sat. Oct. 19 vs. Purdue
Sat. Oct. 26 at Illinois
Sat. Nov. 2 vs. 24 Michigan
Sat. Nov. 16 at 25 Nebraska
Sat. Nov. 23 at 17 Northwestern
Sat. Nov. 30 vs. Minnesota

***

About Tom Dienhart BTN.com senior writer Tom Dienhart is a veteran sports journalist who covers Big Ten football and men’s basketball for BTN.com and BTN TV. Find him on Twitter and Facebook, read all of his work at btn.com/tomdienhart, and subscribe to his posts via RSS. Also, send questions to his weekly mailbag using the form below and read all of his previous answers in his reader mailbag section.

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