2012 Michigan State Preview – Offense
Michigan State QB Andrew Maxwell
CollegeFootballNews.com 2012 Preview - Michigan State Spartan Ofense
Preview 2012 - Offense
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What You Need To Know:
Welcome to the power running game. It’s not like the Spartans are going to abandon the passing game, but with a new starting quarterback and with all the top targets from last year gone, it might take a little while to get things going through the air like last season. However, the line will be among the best in the Big Ten with four returning starters and fabulous depth to work into the rotation. Blasting away will be 240-pound running back Le’Veon Bell, who has all the tools and ability to be one of the nation’s breakout players as he gets the bulk of the work behind the great line. Andrew Maxwell is a good-looking quarterback, and Tennessee transfer DeAnthony Arnett leads a receiving corps that will turn out to be fine, but MSU will get physical behind Bell and the line as much as possible.
Star of the offense: Junior RB Le’Veon Bell
Passing: Andrew Maxwell
18-26, 171 yds, 1 TD, 0 INT
Rushing: Le’Veon Bell
182 carries, 948 yds, 13 TD
Receiving: Le’Veon Bell
35 catches, 267 yds, 0 TD
Player who has to step up and be a star: Junior QB Andrew Maxwell
Unsung star on the rise: Sophomore C Travis Jackson
Best pro prospect: Bell
Top three all-star candidates: 1) Bell, 2) OG Chris McDonald, 3) Jackson
Strength of the offense: Line, Power
Weakness of the offense: Receiver Experience, Consistency
The Spartans have to replace vocal leader Kirk Cousins and need junior Andrew Maxwell to be able to handle the work. He has a little bit of experience completing 18-of-26 passes for 171 yards and a score last season, and he appears ready to step up and produce after working as the apprentice, but now he has to prove he can handle himself under adversity and he has to be consistent. The 6-3, 212-pounder fought through a little bit of a knee injury this offseason but it doesn’t seem to be a big deal. All the tools are there with a nice arm and pro passing skills to go along with the size, and with a little bit of time he should shine.
6-4, 215-pound redshirt freshman Connor Cook got in a lot of good work this offseason with Maxwell banged up a bit, and he appears to be good enough and strong enough to be the main man for the near future. A strong passer with good decision-making skills, he’s a good enough athlete to take off from time to time but he’s going to be a passer when he gets his chances. 6-2, 220-pound former Drake transfer Peter Badovinac got in a little mop-up work last year completing one of two passes for two yards and is a solid No. 3 option in an emergency situation, but true freshman Tyler O’Connor could be thrown into the mix if absolutely needed.
Watch Out For … Maxwell to be more than fine. Cousins had worked his way into being the great leader and passer the team needed, and Maxwell has the tools and the ability to be the same sort of producer. He’s an accurate passer with a live arm.
Strength: Size. MSU is great at getting guys who look the part. Maxwell and Cook look like they’re right out of central casting for an NFL pro-style passer, and they can both wing the ball all around the yard.
Weakness: Receivers. It would be a whole different story if Maxwell had last year’s receiving corps to work with, but this year there’s a wholesale change and not a whole bunch of experience to rely on. The quarterbacks are going to have to make the receivers better.
Outlook: The passing game will be strong. It might not be as effective or as consistent as it was last season, but there’s enough speed at receiver to get by and Maxwell and Cook are two good passers who can handle the workload.
Unit Rating: 7
Can Le’Veon Bell put it all together and be the Big Ten’s second-most effective back behind Wisconsin’s Montee Ball? The 6-2, 238-pound junior has always had the power, and he showed he could handle the workload as he took over a bulk of the carries as last season went on running for 948 yards and 13 touchdowns averaging 5.2 yards per carry, while finishing third on the team with 35 catches for 267 yards, but he hasn’t been consistent. Getting the full-time effort has been a little bit of a problem, but he appears to be well motivated and looks ready to come up with a dominant effort behind a strong line. The thump and power are still there, and he appeared quicker than ever this offseason.
5-11, 221-pound senior Larry Caper is a solid veteran who has been a big part of the action since his freshman season. The No. 3 back in the mix last year, he only ran for 116 yards and a score, but he caught ten passes for 86 yards and a touchdown showing off nice hands as a third-down back. This year he’ll be more of a No. 2 runner with slippery moves inside and out.
Sophomore Nick Hill is the true speed back in the rotation and will be used in a variety of ways. At only 5-8 and 190 pounds he’s not that big, but he’s a shifty scooter who can dart in and out of traffic, and he’s not that bad inside for his size. He ran for 113 yards and didn’t break off any big runs, but he has home-run hitting ability as a kickoff returner and should make a bigger overall impact for the offense.
When the offense goes with a fullback, 6-1, 250-pound sophomore Nick Palazeti will step in and should be a blaster of a blocker. A great recruit and a potentially strong short-yardage runner, he has excellent strength and is built to power away on the inside. He’s just athletic enough to potentially be used a bit as a receiver.
Watch Out For … Bell to take things to another level. He has always been promising and he has always been great when given the shot, but now with Edwin Baker gone the job is all his. He should shine with more responsibility.
Strength: A good rotation. Bell is the banger who’ll carry the load, while Caper and Hill will provide a bit more flash and dash. The ground game has the potential to be better than it’s been in years with a great line up front to pave the way.
Weakness: Inconsistency. It’s been this way for the last few years. Last season the ground game was stuffed for 71 yards on 31 carries against Ohio State, and then it rolled for 213 yards against Michigan. After closing out the regular season with 190 yards in the Big Ten title game against Wisconsin, it was held to 73 yards against Georgia in the bowl. A running attack this strong shouldn’t be kept under 150 yards six times like it was last year.
Outlook: It should be the best running game in the Mark Dantonio era. Bell appears ready to do it all in what has the potential to be a breakout junior season. Caper and Hill could easily be a No. 1 back without much of a problem. Overall, expect this to be one of the Big Ten’s most productive backfields.
Unit Rating: 8
It’s going to take a lot of work and a lot of time to get the receiving corps to the level it was at last season, but the hope is for the drop-off to be minimal with the addition of DeAnthony Arnett, a transfer from Tennessee who was allowed by the NCAA to step in and play this season, being given a break because he needs to be closer to his father who’s undergoing a kidney transplant. At 5-11 and 170 pounds he has decent size and a world of talent as one of the nation’s top prospects when he signed on with the Vols, and he came up big right away last year making 24 grabs for 242 yards and two scores. He’s very fast and very good.
The hope is for the two key veterans to be ready to step up into bigger roles. 6-2, 189-pound sophomore Tony Lippett spent half of last year at corner making 18 tackles with five broken up passes, but he also saw a little time at receiver with four catches for 44 yards. This year he’s a wideout with tremendous athleticism and good physical tools. While he might need a little time to be a full-time offensive star, he has great upside, while 6-1, 218-pound junior Bennie Fowler needs to come back healthy after suffering through foot problems. Two years ago he finished with 15 catches and showed good upside, but he didn’t do much of anything last season with just two grabs for 20 yards. When healthy he has No. 1 target potential.
There will be a fight among a slew of untested players for starting time, led by the emergence of sophomore Keith Mumphery, a 6-0, 208-pound deep threat who should be able to stretch the field right away. He only made two catches last year, but one was for 31 yards. He’ll battle for time with promising 5-8, 180-pound redshirt freshman Andre Sims, Jr., one of the stars of the offseason making play after play when given his shot. Very shifty and with great hands, he’ll be deadly in the open field.
At 6-5 and 280 pounds, junior Dion Sims is a huge tight end with the hands and ability to do a little bit of everything. Not just a big blocker, he caught 12 passes for 99 yards and three scores as a huge, reliable target, and he did it with just one hand as he struggled through a wrist injury. Well past the problems of a few years ago involving a stolen computer, and now healthy, he should be a bigger part of the attack, while 6-5, 256-pound sophomore Andrew Gleichert is a good prospect who didn’t do anything last year but should be used from time to time as a receiver.
Watch Out For … the new faces. Mumphery and Sims are excellent prospects who might end up seeing starting time right away, while running back Jeremy Langford Is a 5-11, 199-pound sophomore who’ll be moved to receiver where he should be a key target with a little bit of time. Throw in Arnett, and the big changes might not hurt all that much.
Strength: Prospects. Yeah, the Spartans might lose a ton of talent, but there’s more where that came from. It’s a young group that might struggle a bit right away but will grow and grow into another strong unit.
Weakness: B.J. Cunningham, Keshawn Martin and Keith Nichol. The three former star targets combined to make 171 catches for 2,435 yards and 19 scores. Cunningham was a tremendous go-to target and finished his career as the school’s all-time leading receiver. It won’t be easy to immediately replace all the lost talent.
Outlook: The receiving corps will be fine. No, it won’t be as good as last year’s was, but the production won’t completely tank. Arnett is a great prospect who should immediately become a key part of the attack, but it’ll be up to a slew of young players to rise up when given the opportunity. The numbers will be there, but can this group be as clutch? That remains to be seen.
Unit Rating: 7
The line should be terrific with four starters returning, but led by 6-5, 299-pound senior Chris McDonald, a big, strong right guard who earned honorable-mention All-Big Ten honors after yet another year as one of the team’s steadiest blockers. A blaster of a run blocker, he’s even quicker after slimming down a bit.
While McDonald is a sure-thing rock on one side, the left guard situation is a bit of a question mark with Blake Treadwell the only new starter. The 6-3, 299-pound junior is taking over for Joel Foreman, arguably the team’s best all-around blocker last season, but he’s coming off a knee injury after starting out the year at center. The former defensive line is tough and physical, but he’ll have to battle to hold off hot-shot redshirt freshman Jack Allen, a center prospect who could end up seeing time in the middle but has been too good in practices at guard to move. A top prospect last year, he’ll eventually be a key part of the front five.
While 6-3, 280-pound sophomore Travis Jackson isn’t all that big and he’s trying to beef up a bit, he’s a strong all-around blocker who held his own starting ten times and earning Freshman All-America honors. After starting out his career at 265 pounds, he’s getting big enough to do even more, but as is he’s a good quarterback who should be a strong leader over the next few years. He’ll likely be backed up by Allen and senior Ethan Ruhland, a 6-5, 290-pound guard who has seen enough time to be able to step in if needed anywhere in the interior. He came to MSU as a top prospect, and while he hasn’t played as expected, he’s a good reserve for the rotation.
6-5, 316-pound junior Dan France started out his career on the defensive line but took over a starting tackle job last season. The big, pounding left tackle has a great frame and looks the part. A problem area going into last year, now the job is locked down after France came up with a strong season and should be in line for all-star honors. However, he could move over to guard if needed with 6-7, 315-pound sophomore Skyler Burkland a potential star if he can take over a starting job. The main man at right tackle for the first three games of last year, he got hurt and was out for the season. At the very least he’ll be a great backup.
If Burkland doesn’t end up taking back his right tackle gig, 6-4, 300-pound senior Fou Fonoti will be more than fine after starting 11 games last year and turning into a blaster of a run blocker. The former JUCO transfer from the Cerritos College turned into a perfect fit who isn’t going to give up his starting job without a major fight. Also looking for playing time is 6-6, 325-pound junior Henry Conway, a nice backup who saw a little bit of action after missing all of 2010 with a neck problem. A great prospect when he signed on, he’ll eventually be a starter, but there’s a logjam of talent in front of him.
Watch Out For … Burkland. France was great at left tackle, but will he fill in a left guard spot if Burkland turns out to be too good to keep off the field? Will Treadwell be too strong to move out of a job? It’s a nice problem for the coaching staff to have.
Strength: Depth and options. There might be better offensive lines in the Big Ten, but no one is deeper. The Spartans have at least nine very good options to play around with, but they also have four excellent starters returning after a strong season. The line is virtually injury-proof with players ready to step in when needed.
Weakness: Consistent run blocking. The coaching staff has tried for years to make the line a brutal killer when it comes to pounding out the hard yards, and while the line should be dominant at times, there will be some puzzling issues from time to time getting a push.
Outlook: Considering how mediocre the line was a few years ago, and with a few concerns going into last year, there’s a night-and-day difference this season with excellent veterans and depth at all five spots. There might not be the star power of Wisconsin’s line, and Ohio State and Nebraska will have a good blocking unit, but there might not be a more effective group in the Big Ten and it could be the team’s biggest strength.
Unit Rating: 8.5
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