I attended Michigan State from 1994-1996, and became a fan of the scrappy Spartans. Here’s a preview of what to look for from the Michigan State offense.
Returning Starters (5): Le’Veon Bell, junior RB. Dan France, junior LT. Travis Jackson, sophmore C. Chris McDonald, senior RG. Fou Fonoti, senior RT.
Scouting the Offense: The Spartans run a balanced offense. At its best,it wears defenses out and opens up the vertical passing attack. At its worst, the offense bogs into a dink and dunk passing attack like last year. The idea is to pound the ball with a deep core of running backs running behind a line driving defenders backwards. Then as the safeties creep up, they hit you over the top with a deep play-action pass. Case in point, the offense two years ago.
Strengths: Bell started the final 6 games the season and barely missed 1, 000 yards. All five projected starters started at least 3 games. (the LG Blake Treadwell opened the season as the starting center) There’s depth too as backup LT Skyler Burkland opened the season at RT last year, and backup C Ethan Ruhland started against Minnesota. Arthur Ray, Jr., another backup guard, saw action in a few games. Dion Sims rotated last season with seniors Brian Lithicum and Garrett Celek. Senior Larry Caper will be the backup. He led the Spartans in rushing three years ago.
Weaknesses: Andrew Maxwell might be potentially better as a QB than Cousins was, but can he replace the leadership? Can Maxwell go into Ann Arbor and win as Cousins did? Not only that, but his receivers are mostly new, as junior Bennie Fowler is the veteran of the group and he didn’t play much last year. Sophomore transfer DeAnthony Arnett had more receptions last year, 24, than the rest of the receivers combined, 21, and that included Dion Sims.
Player to Watch: Junior RB, Le’Veon Bell. Much like Javon Ringer four years ago, he’ll be asked to carry the offense. Bell is a big, durable back capable of making his own hole, and also knows how to read his blocks. He should have a monster season.
Could Surprise: Junior TE Dion Sims. Sims is a big target that can stretch the seam, an element the Spartans were missing most of last year. He could post big numbers off play-action passes. He also helps the ground game, as he’s a solid in-line blocker.
On the Spot: Junior WR Bennie Fowler. i could pick any receiver but he’s got the hardest task. Not only is he coming off an injury he’s been slow to recover from, but he must fend off a host of young, fast receivers that didn’t come to East Lansing to sit. He has been playing with Maxwell the longest, so he has that edge, but if he can’t stay healthy, he could find himself getting buried on the depth chart.
Overview: It’s easy to forget that Maxwell’s been in East Lansing for four years now. He knows the offense, and as the primary backup the past two years, he’s seen extensive reps with fellow backups Sims, Fowler, and sophomores Keith Mumphrey and Tony Lippett. They are quite familiar with each other at this point. With that said, the passing attack will have time to jell as a veteran line should be able to clear holes for Bell and Caper until Maxwell gets comfortable and his receivers get experience.