2010 Michigan State Preview - Offense
Michigan State QB Kirk Cousins
Michigan State QB Kirk Cousins
Posted Jul 27, 2010

CollegeFootballNews.com 2010 Preview - Michigan State Spartan Offense

Michigan State Spartans

Preview 2010 - Offense

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What You Need To Know: The Spartan offense would like to be balanced and gave almost equal time to both the running and passing games, but the air attack should be the star. Kirk Cousins has the starting quarterback job all to himself, and he should be in for a great year with a big, fast receiving corps to throw to and a solid line up front. Three starters have to be replaced on the line, but the newcomers are strong and the pass protection, after finishing first in the Big Ten in sacks allowed, will continue the production. Four young, talented backs will form a dangerous rotation with sophomores Larry Caper and Edwin Baker the main options, while former quarterback Keith Nichol has taken over the outside receiver spot and looks the part as the leader of a talented group.

Returning Leaders
Passing: Kirk Cousins
198-328, 2,680 yds, 19 TD, 9 INT
Rushing: Larry Caper
120 carries, 468 yds, 6 TD
Receiving: B.J. Cunningham
48 catches, 641 yds, 4 TD

Star of the offense: Junior QB Kirk Cousins
Player who has to step up and be a star: Junior OT Jared McGaha
Unsung star on the rise: Senior C John Stipek
Best pro prospect: Junior OG Joel Foreman
Top three all-star candidates: 1) Foreman, 2) Cousins, 3) TE Charlie Gantt
Strength of the offense: Passing Game, Pass Protection
Weakness of the offense: Consistency, Backup QB Experience


Projected Starter: After going through a quarterback battle last year, and splitting a little bit of time with Keith Nichol, 6-3, 202-pound junior Kirk Cousins is the unquestioned starter and the leader of the offense. One of the Big Ten's leading passers, he completed 60% of his throws for 2,680 yards and 19 touchdowns with nine interceptions, and he showed a little bit of mobility netting 60 yards on the year and running for 75 yards against Michigan. With good size and a nice arm, he has the look of a pro-style quarterback who can put the ball anywhere he wants to, and he gets on hot streaks where he gets deadly accurate throwing just one pick over a six-game stretch and completing 22-of-25 throws for 353 yards and two scores against Western Michigan. An honorable mention All-Big Ten pick, he has the talent, the experience, and the tools to be a statistical superstar, and now he has to show he can come through clutch in the big games on a regular basis.

Projected Top Reserves: Redshirt freshman Andrew Maxwell has stepped up into the No. 2 job with a live arm and the smarts to know the offense and know what he's doing any time he'll be thrown into the fire. While he's a skinny 6-3 and 200 pounds, he's a pure pro passer with the ability, at least in practices, to keep the mistakes to a minimum and keep the offense moving in a game-manager sort of role.

6-5, 195-pound Joe Boisture is an Elite 11 Camp prospect who comes in with the ability and the potential to be special. Considered one of the nation's top pro-style quarterbacks, he has a quick, polished release, great size, and is deadly accurate. He has a pro arm and he has the potential to grow into an NFL prospect if he can bulk up a bit and get stronger.

Watch Out For … Cousins to blow up. Last year he had to keep relatively low key considering it was a two-quarterback battle and he was part of the offense instead of being the main man. Now he's the No. 1 guy without any question and he should blossom because of it. While the pressure is on now to carry the offense, in another way, the pressure is off because the job is his.
Strength: Pro passer. It's Michigan State. There will always be very tall, very talented pro passers who can get the ball all over the field. Cousins looks the part, Maxwell has the tools, and Boisture has the upside.
Weakness: Backup quarterback. While Maxwell and Boisture are extremely talented young prospects, the coaching staff isn't exactly going to be pumped up to hope a possible Big Ten title run has to fall into the hands of an unproven player. No one wants to move Keith Nichol from receiver back to quarterback.
Outlook: Cousins has the job to himself and now he should go from being a decent passer to an all-star bomber who carries teams to wins. The backup situation will be great, but it'll be important to get everyone a little bit of time just in case Cousins goes down. In an emergency, Keith Nichol can go from being the top receiver on the X to a dual-threat quarterback.
Unit Rating: 8

Running Backs

Projected Starters: Sophomore Larry Caper might not have been the big-time recruit in last year's class that Edwin Baker was, but he turned out to be the team's leading rusher even though he ended up with just 468 yards and six scores. He didn't hit the 100-yard mark with his high game of 95 yards and a score against Illinois, and he wasn't a workhorse never running for more than 16 yards. At 5-11 and 200 pounds, he's a thin back who moves well inside and out, and he has just enough speed to tear off a few big runs now and then. Tough, he could be a 20-plus carry back if needed and he has the hands to potentially be used more in the passing game after making just three catches for 47 yards.

A pure blocker, 6-3, 235-pound senior Josh Rouse is back at fullback after missing all of last year with a toe problem. The former linebacker has made a mark on special teams and has shown enough athleticism to get a few passes thrown his way making a seven-yard scoring grab against Michigan in 2008, but he won't be a part of the passing game and he won't be a runner.

Projected Top Reserves: The star of last year's recruiting class, true sophomore Edwin Baker didn't do much early on and there was a thought he could redshirt, but he stepped in midway through the season and finished second on the team with 427 yards and a score. He got over a minor knee problem to handle the ball around 12 times a game finishing with his best performance of the year with 97 yards and a score against Texas Tech in the bowl, and he looked the part as a back who can bust out with more work. At 5-9 and 199 pounds, he's not all that big but he has a great combination of speed and power with great balance and a slippery running ability through the trash. Wanted by Texas and Georgia, he's expected to eventually be a star with more work.

6-2, 230-pound Le'Veon Bell is a big, tough true freshman who should be terrific around the goal line. He scores 34 times on the ground over the last two years and now he's expected to carve out a role right away. He's not a fullback; he's a thumping tailback with the potential to be a workhorse at some point early in his career.

New recruit Nick Hill is only 5-6 and 182 pounds, but he's a blazer. Tough to find because of his size, he darts in and out of traffic and can tear off big yards in chunks both as a runner and a receiver. Not light, he's a tough runner who can take the ball inside and out and can be used in a variety of ways including as a kick returner.

Watch Out For … the true freshmen. While Bell and Hill won't overtake Caper and Baker, they're a thunder and lightning tandem that could provide a spark and be used in the rotation right away.
Strength: Young talent. There should be a terrific rotation for the next several years with two sophomores and two true freshmen in the rotation. They're all talented, they can all move, and they can combine to provide a steady ground game that balances out the attack.
Weakness: Yards. Caper led the team last year with a mere 468 yards while the ground game finished a mediocre 73rd in the nation. The line is better at pass protection than it is at run blocking, and with a great passing attack, the ground game could be ignored at times.
Outlook: It's not like the running game was ignored; the passing attack was simply better. MSU ran it 419 times and threw it 423, but the production was spotty and there wasn't enough pop or explosion. That should change with the four good young prospects about to form a terrific rotation and with Caper and Baker experienced enough to know what they're doing.
Unit Rating: 7.5


Projected Starters: It has been an interesting career for Keith Nichol , and he's only a junior. A superstar quarterback recruit, he broke Michigan State's heart by choosing Oklahoma at the last possible second, but he lost out in the battle for the starting job against Sam Bradford and quickly fell behind others in the pecking order. He wasn't going to see the light of day as a QB, so he transferred to MSU and was a factor early on last year with 195 yards and two scores with two interceptions against Wisconsin (although most of those yards came on one huge garbage time play) and 179 yards against Illinois while showing off his running ability as a far more mobile option than Kirk Cousins. But Cousins took over the job, the rotation stopped, and the 6-3, 202-pound Nichol needed to find a spot. Moved to receiver for the bowl game, he caught two passes for 11 yards, and now he's a full-blown wideout working at the outside X position with surprising deep speed and natural hands.

One of the top recruits of 2008, junior Keshawn Martin came up with a decent first two years with 29 catches for 543 yards and five scores averaging 18.7 yards per grab. Along with growing as a receiver, he has turned into a decent punt returner and an amazing kickoff returner averaging 28.6 yards per career try. The 5-11, 185-pounder is lightning quick and isn't afraid to be used as a running back with 219 yards and a score last year, and is tough enough to work as an across-the-middle receiver at the Z.

While the running game might have been mediocre last year, senior tight end Charlie Gantt did his part as a good run blocker while also coming up with a nice season for the passing game with 22 catches for 348 yards and two scores. Extremely steady, catching around two passes a game over the course of the year, he has his role. At 6-5 and 255 pounds he has good size and is a tough matchup across the middle and around the goal line.

Projected Top Reserves: While he's not likely to be listed as a starter throughout the year, junior B.J. Cunningham might as well be considered a No. 3 target after finishing second on the team with 48 catches for 641 yards and four touchdowns. At 6-2 and 206 pounds, he has excellent size and the speed to work at the outside X and the toughness to play at the inside Z. While he might not be spectacular or flashy, he's dependable and steady good for around five catches a game.

Is Mark Dell ever going to play up to his potential? The 6-2, 197-pound senior was a superstar recruit who showed a few flashes of greatness, ripping off 202 yards and a score against Cal in 2008 and 121 yards on six grabs against Notre Dame last year, but he hasn't been consistent and he hasn't done enough to use his size and next level speed at the outside X finishing third on the team for 26 catches for 449 yards and a score in 2009. He'll work behind Keith Nichol.

6-2, 205-pound redshirt freshman Donald Spencer spent last year being tried out at safety, and now he'll go back to wide receiver where he's more of a natural. Extremely athletic and great speed and size, he should be a deep threat when he gets his chances in the rotation.

Working in the tight end rotation, if he can get past a knee problem, is junior Brian Linthicum, a fast 6-5, 245-pound pass catcher with surprising toughness for the ground game. The transfer from Clemson is more like a big wide receiver than a thumping blocker, he caught 20 passes for 266 yards and two touchdowns averaging 13.3 yards per catch.

Watch Out For … Nichol. He has had an interesting career that hasn't been able to take off quite yet. While he's still probably a better quarterback than he'll ever be as a receiver, he looked the part this offseason and should be a No. 1 target who fills the void left by Blair White.
Strength: Size. Smallish, jitterbug-quick targets need not apply. The Spartans are full of 6-2, 200-pound targets who can all get physical and can all run. Martin is the smallest of the top options and he's still 5-11.
Weakness: A proven No. 1. Nichol might be it and Martin has the talent to become a go-to star, but White seemed to come up with all the big plays in the key moments. He caught 22 more passes than Cunningham, the No. 2 receiver.
Outlook: It's all there to be great with several very talented prospect waiting to shine, five of the top six receivers returning, great pass-catching tight ends, and Nichol, who looks like he's about to break out. The yards-per-catch should hover around 14 and all the targets should combine to make over 25 touchdown catches.
Unit Rating: 7.5

Offensive Line

Projected Starters: After starting out his career at Bowling Green, senior D.J. Young was terrific at right tackle taking over the starting job early on and being the main man for 11 games. The 6-5, 310-pounder has the size and he has the experience, and now he'll move over to the left side where he should be an anchor as the main tackle in the scheme.

With Young moving over, junior Jared McGaha should finally step into a starting role after spending last year as a part-time guard and a special teamer. One of the team's most versatile blockers, McGaha has just enough quickness to work on the outside where he'll be a good run blocking right tackle, where he was expected to play coming out of high school.

Needing to be a rock and a possible anchor is junior left guard Joel Foreman, one of two returning starters up front and a honorable mention All-Big Ten performer. At 6-4 and 306 pounds he's built like a tackle, but he's a guard who's a tough interior blocker who fought through an ankle problem to be a rock. Mobile, aggressive, and with great finishing skills, he mixes it up for the running game and will be the one the team works behind.

One of the team's high risers on the offense is new starting center John Stipek, a 6-5, 292-pound fireball who was thrown into the mix for three starts last year and was strong. The senior is a bit tall for a center, but he's feisty and has shown the ability take over as a leader for the front.

Sophomore Chris McDonald spent last year mostly working on the scout team, but he was a terrific recruit two years ago as a tough interior pass rusher for the defensive line and a strong blocking option for the offensive front. He settled in at guard where he'll take over on the right side for the next three years, but at 6-5 and 295 pounds and with good feet, he could slide over to tackle if absolutely needed.

Projected Top Reserves: Redshirt freshman Nate Klatt was considered one of the nation's top center prospects last year and was the star of the recruiting class. With the emergence of John Stipek in the middle, the 6-4, 290-pounder will have to wait his turn before taking over the job next year. Very smart and tremendously strong, he has all the tools to be an all-star before his career is up.

The hope was for senior J'Michael Deane to take over the right tackle job last year and got a start, but he hurt his leg and missed all but three games. The 6-5, 312-pounder from Canada is a bit raw and is still a work in progress, but he has great size and tremendous athleticism to grow into a great option, but he'll have to fight for time in the rotation on the right side.

Very big, junior Antonio Jeremiah fluctuates between around 335 and 360 and is the biggest blocker on the line. Originally a nose tackle, he was used in short yard situations to gum up the works and finished the year with eight tackles, but now he'll move over to the offensive side where he'll get time at right guard as a blaster of a run blocker.

Watch Out For … Stipek. He might not be the player Joel Nichman was, and he's not the player that Klatt is going to be, but he's a scrappy veteran who is ready to be a key cog in the middle of a not-that-bad line.
Strength: Pass protection. After giving up 82 sacks in the previous season, this was a huge area of improvement. Part of the reason the Spartans led the Big Ten in passing is because of a line that provided the time. MSU led the league in sacks allowed giving up just 14 on the year, and while there are three new starters up front, the production isn't expected to tail off.
Weakness: Blasting away. This isn't the type of line that will line up and blow the helmet off the defensive line. With some exceptions this is a lean, athletic bunch that moves well but isn't going to bury anyone in the ground game.
Outlook: While this won't be the Big Ten's best line and there aren't any obvious all-stars outside of Foreman, this will be a good, sound line that forms a nice rotation even though it's busy trying to replace three starters. There's good size without being too bulky, and there's a nice mix of veterans and newcomers to the starting mix to create a front five that should keep the quarterback clean, but won't get all that physical for the ground game.
Unit Rating: 7

- 2010 Michigan State Preview | 2010 Michigan State Offense
- 2010 Michigan State Defense | 2010 Michigan State Depth Chart
- Michigan State Previews  2009 | 2008 | 2007 | 2006