2013 Michigan State Preview – Offense

Posted May 20, 2013

CollegeFootballNews.com 2013 Preview - Michigan State Spartan Offense

Michigan State Spartans

Preview 2013 - Offense

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What You Need To Know: The Spartans won't have Le'Veon Bell around to carry the offense anymore. The painfully inefficient passing game will have to start pulling its weight, and it'll start with the receivers catching everything coming their way. On the plus side, all the top wideouts are back, and while the quarterback situation has to be settled, there's plenty of talent and enough experience to expect more from an offense that finished last in the Big Ten and 112th in the nation in passing efficiency. Losing Bell hurts, but the rotation of smallish, quick backs could combine to do even more. The biggest positive is a line that should be among the best in the conference if everyone can stay healthy. With the return of tackle Fou Fonoti, technically, five starters are back for a unit that should be a force for the ground game.

Returning Leaders
Passing: Andrew Maxwell
234-446, 2,606 yds, 13 TD, 9 INT
Rushing: Nick Hill
21 carries, 48 yds, 1 TD
Receiving: Keith Mumphrey
42 catches, 515 yds, 1 TD

Star of the offense: Senior OT Fou Fonoti
Player who has to step up and be a star: Senior QB Andrew Maxwell and/or sophomore QB Connor Cook
Unsung star on the rise: Sophomore WR Aaron Burbridge
Best pro prospect: Burkland
Top three all-star candidates: 1) Fonoti, 2) OG Dan France, 3) WR Aaron Burbridge
Strength of the offense: Offensive Line, Experience
Weakness of the offense: Passing Efficiency, Skill Position Star Power


Senior Andrew Maxwell had tough shoes to fill and an nearly impossible task, taking over for Kirk Cousins while having to deal with a brand new receiving corps. He came into last year with a little bit of experience, but he struggled completing 53% of his passes for 2,606 yards and 13 touchdowns with nine picks. To be fair, the receivers couldn't seem to catch the ball, but he did have Le'Veon Bell to hands off to and he wasn't asked to do too much more than move the chains. There were moments when he broke out, particularly on a late drive to bring the Spartans back on the road against Wisconsin, but with four interceptions in the final two games of the regular season against Northwestern and Minnesota, and with the passing game not improving, he sat down for a key stretch in the bowl game after going 6-of-15 for 28 yards. At 6-3 and 209 pounds he has the size and he has the tools, but now it all needs to come together to take a firm grip on the starting job.

If Connor Cook can step up his play, the job might be his. The 6-4, 215-pound sophomore didn't get much work during the regular season other than mop-up duty against Central Michigan, and while he only completed 4-of-11 passes for 47 yards in the bowl game against TCU, he came up with the game-winning touchdown. He has good size and a wee bit more mobility than Maxwell, but he's hardly a runner. The starting job should be his in 2014, but his time could be now.

6-3, 212-pound redshirt freshman Tyler O'Connor is another big passer who fits the MSU mold. A strong scout teamer, he has the arm and the accuracy, but he's a better runner than Maxwell and Cook and could add a different look.

Watch Out For … Damion Terry, who could be the answer sooner than later. One of the team's top recruits, the 6-4, 220-pounder is deadly accurate with great drive on his passes and a nice touch on his deep throws. He has the maturity to handle the pressure right away if needed, and unlike Maxwell or Cook, he can run a bit. The leader of a Pennsylvania state championship team, he has the "it" factor.
Strength: Big, strong passers. If you're not at least 6-3 and 205 pounds, there's no need to apply. The Spartans are great at getting guys who look the part, and they have a roster of quarterbacks who look like they're right out of NFL central casting. All the MSU passers can wing the ball around the yard.
Weakness: Production. Again, the receivers had a lot to do with it, but the MSU passing game was shockingly bad considering the ground game did all the heavy lifting. The Spartan quarterbacks need to connect on 60% of their passes and keep the picks to a minimum, and they didn't do either.
Outlook: This could be the key to the 2013 Big Ten season. Maxwell has the experience, and he could thrive if the receivers gave him any help, but he had a bad knack of throwing picks and couldn't keep things moving. Cook hasn't proven himself yet, and Terry is a true freshman. There's more promise than proven production, but there's a world of talent and upside.
Unit Rating: 7

Running Backs

The call went out for Le'Veon Bell to become the workhorse, and boy did he. The problem was that no one else got in much work, including Nick Hill, a night-and-day different runner than Bell with blazing speed and 5-8, 193-pound size. He's not that big, but he's a shifty scooter who can dart in and out of traffic while adding a different dimension to the attack. He finished third on the team in rushing, but he couldn't get on the field running just 21 times for 48 yards and a score. Mostly a kick returner last season, he did a nice job, but once he's back from a groin problem he needs to become a factor in the backfield.

Junior Jeremy Langford adds a bit more size at 6-0 and 206 pounds, but he's mostly been a special teamer running for 23 yards in his limited time. A jack-of-all-trades, he started out his career as a corner, moved to receiver and now is a key running back in the rotation. 5-9, 185-pound redshirt freshman Nick Thompkins is more like Hill with flash and speed. He can be used as a receiver as well.

In an interesting move, linebacker Riley Bullough is moving over to the offensive side to become a bruising running back. The 6-2, 232-pound redshirt freshman could still end up on defense next to his brother, Max, but with his size and shiftiness, he could add the power missing with the loss of Bell, and he could serve in a fullback role. 5-11, 248-pound sophomore Travon Pendleton will handle the fullback duties with tremendous strength and drive-blocking ability, while 6-1, 250-pound junior Niko Palazeti will see time with the power and ability to be used both as a runner or a receiver. A great recruit for the program a few years ago, he has the skills, but now he has to use them.

Watch Out For … R.J. Shelton and Gerald Holmes. The speedy and talented Shelton was somehow able to get away from Wisconsin and soon could become a do-it-all playmaker for the attack. At 5-11 and 190 pounds he's built like a wide receiver or a defensive back, but he's strong through the hole with the ability to crank out yards in chunks. At 6-1 and 205 pounds, Holmes is more of a banger with the toughness to grind out yards, there's a slight chance he could turn into a whale of a linebacker with a little more bulk, but the coaching staff could use him right away for the ground attack.
Strength: A rotation. It's not going to be just one guy handling the running game this year with several backs adding a little something different. There will be more raw speed and athleticism to the ground attack, and even though Bell was a nice receiver, the backs will be more explosive for the passing game.
Weakness: Pittsburgh Steeler running back Le'Veon Bell. 382 carries, 1,793 yards, 12 touchdowns and 32 catches for 167 yards and a score. There might not have been a more valuable player in college football last season.
Outlook: The ground game will desperately miss Bell, but it might be more productive. Yes, Bell cranked out 1,793 yards and 12 touchdowns, but the offense only finished with 1,942 with 13 scores. It will take a village to put together the ground attack, and there aren't any sure things, but there are enough fantastic options to expect a better overall year.
Unit Rating: 7


The receiving corps went through a few growing pains, to be kind, but junior Keith Mumphrey was able to rise up with a decent year leading the team with 42 grabs for 515 yards. However, he only caught one touchdown pass and he wasn't the deep threat he needed to become averaging just 12.3 yards per catch with a long of just 37 yards. At 6-0 and 208 pounds he's built well and he can fly, but now he has to make more big plays. He'll combine at the Z position with senior Bennie Fowler, a 6-1, 212-pound physical target who came back from some foot issues to finish as the team's second leading receiver with 41 catches for 524 yards and a team-leading four scores. His biggest moment was catching the overtime winner against Wisconsin, but he has the talent and the upside to make far more big things happen.

Junior Tony Lippett spent the first part of his career at corner before moving to the offensive side making 36 catches for 392 yards and two scores. A blazer with 6-3, 185-pound size, he'll see time at the X position where he'll need to start taking the top off of defenses. More steady than spectacular, he was good for a few catches a game, but he needs to start stretching the field a bit more. He'll be backed up by redshirt freshman Monty Madaris, a 6-1, 199-pound speedster who came to MSU last season as one of the nation's top receiver recruits. With great hands and terrific deep speed, he'll find a role somewhere in the rotation in a hurry.

6-1, 195-pound sophomore Aaron Burbridge looked like a potential star this offseason. He cot in a little bit of work in his first season making 29 catches for 364 yards and four scores, and on raw talent he has the upside to be the No. 1 go-to guy the offense has been looking for. His growth was stunted early on last year because of a knee injury, but he has "breakout star" potential. Also looking to blow up is DeAnthony Arnett, an interesting story who started out his career at Tennessee but transferred closer to home to be with his ailing father. The 5-11, 175-pound junior has a world of talent as one of the nation's top prospects when he signed with the Vols, but after making 24 catches for 242 yards and two scores as a freshman, he came up with just three catches for 69 yards last year. The talent and upside are there to become dangerous.

Big tight end Dion Sims bolted early for the NFL after tying for third on the team with 36 catches for 475 yards and two scores, but he led all top receivers with 13.2 yards per grab. 6-5, 255-pound junior Andrew Gleichert is nowhere near the same receiver or talent, but he's a sound, smart blocker who brings the walk-on energy to the position. He'll work in a rotation with 6-5, 260-pound Paul Lang, an academic all-star who's build more like a big wide receiver than a bruising tight end. He caught three passes for eight yards, but he scored against Michigan.

Watch Out For … Trey Kilgore, a terrific recruit who could find role early on. The 6-1, 180-pound Kilgore has all the tools including good smarts and route running ability. The former quarterback is a natural wideout. He needs to come through with the other star recruit for the receiving corps, Jay Harris, turning down his scholarship for a deal to become a professional rapper.
Strength: Experience. All the top wide receivers from last season are back, and now the hope is for a year of time logged in to translate into more production. Mumphrey, Fowler, Lippett and Burbridge all know what they're doing.
Weakness: Production. It seemed like there wasn't a key drop this receiving corps didn't like to make. It wasn't a miserable year for the receivers, but there was a huge drop-off from the tremendous corps that helped carry the 2011 Spartans to the Big Ten title game.
Outlook: The potential is there for a far better, far more consistent season. This group didn't completely tank, but it was almost never clutch and it killed the offense time and again on important third downs. The raw talent is there and the experience isn't an issue. Now the negative has to become a plus.
Unit Rating: 7

Offensive Line

The line that turned out to be terrific last season gets everyone back, helped in a big way by the return of senior Fou Fanoti, a former JUCO transfer who started out the season at right tackle before suffering a foot injury and getting knocked out for the season. On the plus side, the NCAA gave him an extra year of eligibility and now the one time Cerritos College star will bring his 6-4, 298-pound size and good pass blocking abilities to the left side. If he's really moving to left tackle and doesn't go back to his old spot, then 6-6, 315-pound senior Dan France will get the call at right guard. A two year starter at left tackle, the former defensive lineman is a big pounder who's better suited for the interior and should shine in his new spot. He might not have quite the right frame for it, but he'll shove away for the ground game and be more than fine against the stronger inside pass rushers.

6-7, 315-pound junior Skyler Burkland was the main man at right tackle two years ago before getting knocked out for the year out with a broken ankle, and he missed the opener last season with a hand injury, but he stepped in and got the job done when Fonoti was injured. He has an excellent frame and is tough to get around, and now, if he can stay healthy, the job should be his for the next two seasons.

Starting center Jack Allen turned into one of the biggest surprises on the line, taking over a starting spot on the inside at center and seeing a little time at guard. The 6-1, 295-pounder is built for the middle and will likely take back the job once he gets healthy after missing the offseason with a shoulder problem. Smart, tough and a good quarterback up front, even as an underclassman, the line will be his for the next three seasons, but he missed time this offseason banged up. 6-3, 280-pound junior Travis Jackson filled in and at the very least will be a key backup after returning from a broken leg suffered in the middle of last season. Physical for his size, he's good, but he's not Allen.

Senior Blake Treadwell returns to his left guard job where he turned into a rock last season. A question mark going into the season as the only new starter, he started off his career as a defensive lineman, suffered a knee injury, moved over to the O as a possible center and then turned into a key blocker at guard starting seven times. The 6-3, 300-pounder is one of the team's most physical blockers.

Watch Out For … Dennis Finley. The Spartans only signed one true offensive lineman, but he's going to be a great one. The 6-6, 270-pound Finley has lots and lots of room to grow with the potential to add 25 pounds without blinking an eye. A future starter at right tackle – most likely – he's a great athlete who moves like a big tight end.
Strength: Experience. Four starters return up front, and in reality, it's five with Fonoti back in the picture. The problems with injuries and the shuffling done at times last year will pay off with a great group of veterans that should form a killer unit for the ground game.
Weakness: Backup experience. There's a ton of young talent waiting in the wings, but it's not seasoned. The Spartans are more than fine for years to come, but with three projected starters done after next year, the more the reserves can get in, the better.
Outlook: This was expected to be among the Big Ten's best lines last season, it was, and now almost everyone is back. There isn't the star power of some of the other top lines in the conference, but it's rock-solid from side-to-side with great blasting ability for the ground game while being good enough in pass protection to make the O go. As long as big injuries don't strike right away, this will once again be a tremendous plus.
Unit Rating: 9

- 2013 Michigan State Preview | 2013 Michigan State Offense
- 2013 Michigan State Defense | 2013 Michigan State Depth Chart