My wife is a former bando. As such we tailgate on Adams Field and the beginning of every home game starts for us by following the band in after they’re doing Series. If you haven’t yet done this, it’s a part of the gameday experience not to be missed.
On the ensuing walk is one of my favorite moments of coming to Spartan Stadium. As you walk towards the Sparty statue the stadium comes into view from behind the trees and that’s the moment it all comes together. I’m no longer part of pedestrian crap like having a job or worrying about paying bills. The next 3-4 hours belong to me, my friends and my family.
Last night we round the bend and the very first thing I see is HOLY SCOREBOARDS. I had intentionally avoided going to see them in person so my first experience would be last night. People say the pictures don’t do their size and grandeur justice. People were right.
Through a ticketing snafu we ended up sitting detached a couple rows over and up from our main block of friends and I got to watch the game with my wife and a couple friends from out of town. The last time she and I watched the game alone was probably MSU-Hawaii in 2004 and she fell asleep at 2:30, like a reasonable person should. The scoreboards were beautiful and amazing and frankly distracting at times. We watched our new Quarterback lead his new receivers against a Boise State opponent that had no business at Spartan Stadium and the whole game just felt surreal.
It was like watching a game in an alternate universe where what I know about Michigan State football offensively felt broken. MSU ran on third and short to wild success. The sure handed receivers were trying to catch a buttery football all game. Maxwell managed to avoid getting sacked, but probably would have been safer to get sacked a couple times. The PUNTER got a late hit penalty. (I actually thought this was kind of badass.)
The most amazing thing about it though is outside of the fact that Bell CANNOT tote the ball 44 times a game all season, nothing about the offense was statistically broken. Except turnovers obviously, but that can be fixed. 10/19 on 3rd down? In 14 games last year MSU did that once. Time of Possession of 39 minutes I suspect that’s a Dantonio record as well. The defense stayed fresh and only allowed three earned points.
The challenge as fans was adjusting to something new. This was not the Michigan State team we had come to know and love the last two years. It also wasn’t the Michigan State team of 2009 with the offensive sputters or the 2008 Ringer throws to Ringer who passes back to Ringer or even the 2007 Ringer/Caulcrick Offensive Victory march. This was just something altogether different and different is bad and scary and new. The newness is certainly not over yet either, what we saw on offense last night is unlikely to reflect the polished product of 2012, but it won’t be what we’ve seen before.
1-0. On to Central.
It’s fall of 2007, Fall Out Boy was popular, The Office was still funny and Mark Dantonio brings his cliché-driven coachspeak to the mike in his inaugural season. MANBALL wasn’t invented yet as a term but come hell or highwater Mark Dantonio was bringing it back to East Lansing. The temptation to drop some App State LOLZ right here is so completely inviting, but I’ll resist. Barely.
Oh yes, this crap was popular five short years ago.
MSU had it’s QB of the future in Brian Hoyer and he was taking over the reins of the new MSU Offense. He had played intermittently in the 2006 John LOLOLOLOLOLOL going away season and after John L was shitcanned got to play two full games. In those games MSU took the leash off and let Hoyer throw at will. In fact Smith said after one of the games:"We ran the ball 15 times," Smith said, "and it was 15 times too many. We probably should have thrown it another 15 times and maybe we would have gotten the win." This just in: John L can be a dick sometimes. He and Arkansas deserve each other. Long story long, Hoyer’s experience was intermittent combined with two games none of the MSU staff gave a rip and two shits about.
MSU also returned two of the better running backs in the Big Ten in Ringer and Caulcrick. An extremely athletic mismatch of a tight end in Kellen Freeman-Davis and a bunch of unproven receivers. In 2006, MSU lost Matt Trannon(Who ALSO PLAYED BASKETBALL!), Kerry Reed and Jerramy Scott to graduation. Despite how completely shittastic John L was at recruiting Offensive Linemen, MSU returned a pretty average to maybe slightly above average offensive line in 2007.
Sound familiar? It should.
Obviously the point of all this is that while MSU is returning a serious lack of experience at the skill positions the MSU staff has been here before. Not so very long ago even. Maxwell is obviously less experienced than Hoyer was, but, both QBs were renowned for their accuracy coming out of high school. The offensive line is shaping up to be the best since 2007 with the 60 some starts between returning players. Bell is every bit as good and better than Caulcrick was, Caper and Hill will combine to be a reasonable facsimile of Ringer’s production. If you trade Bell for Ringer in terms of WOW factor and accept CaperHillr for Caulcrick as the steady change of pace back, the rushing attack could be just as effective. Bennie Fowler has already been drawing comparisons to Devin Thomas. Dion Sims is another freakishly athletic Tight End in the mold of KFD. KFD was a bit trimmer and lithe but watching linebackers try to tackle Sims is like watching nine year olds trying to tackle a full grown man.
So How Did MSU Do in 2007?
MSU finished 2nd in the Big Ten and 29th nationally in total scoring offense at 33.1 ppg. They finished 3rd in the conference in rushing offense and 25th nationally. Coincidentally or maybe not so much, this was the only year of the Dantonio era where MSU was MORE likely to run on 3rd and 3 or less than pass. Passing Offense: MSU finished sixth in the conference and 62nd overall, so that stung a bit. Turnover margin was 2 on 18 Offensive turnovers in 2007 and 7 on 18 Offensive turnovers in 2011. So if MSU can turn the ball over 18 times or less in 2012, they’ll do just fine at negating the impact of turnover margin.
MSU managed to make do in 2007 with plays designed to take advantage of their strengths. Devin Thomas was plenty fast and they got him rushing yards by running 27 end arounds that averaged 6.56 per carry. Jeez even KFD had 6 end arounds that year. You could set an egg timer on the 50 yard playaction bomb on 1st and 10 of the third drive. The offense was simple, use the run to open up the pass and I’ll bet you one hamburger that’s how MSU opens on Friday night.
For all the fretting about how the Offense will come together in 2012, this isn’t new territory for MSU. They already did this back in 2007 and with a much less impressive defense backing up the Offense. If MSU can recreate it’s success in 2007(33.1 ppg most of the Dantonio era) fans won’t have to hope for a very good season in 2012, they’ll be smelling the roses and enjoying life.
Starters: Le’Veon Bell, (Larry Caper and Nick Hill)
Departures: Edwin Baker and Joel Foreman(LOLOLOLOLOLOLOLOLOLOL end around against Indiana LOLOLOLOLOLOLOL)
Well, there’s good news and bad news. The good news is that the Running Back position will improve significantly in 2012, the bad news is that it’s because regression to the mean would demand improvement. In the 2011 season, MSU averaged an underwhelming 3.95 yards per carry and finished 11th in the Big Ten in total rushing. More importantly, on third and 2 MSU would line up in the power I and hand off to one of their TWO FULLBACKS OUT OF THE TRIPLE WISHBONE AND --- what? MSU would throw over 50 percent of the time on 3rd and 3 or less? Ugh. The excellent news is that as the workload shifted from Baker to Bell throughout the 2011 season, the running game improved dramatically. In fact, in the last six games of MSU’s season the ground game averaged 4.3 ypc/144 ypg vs the first eight games of the season where they averaged 3.70ypc/133 ypg.
Much of that late season improvement can be attributed to the emergence of Le’Veon Bell. Bell started the 2011 season as the complimentary back to Edwin Baker and as the season wore on he continued to get more PT and continued improving. Bell finished the 2011 season with 5.21 YPC average and 13 TDs. He also emerged as a legitimate receiving threat grabbing 35 passes for 267 yards. In the 2012 outlook for Bell, he was ranked the fifth-best running back in the Big Ten pre-season by ESPN(although the list included Silas Redd who will be playing at USC this year). He’s a Doak Walker preseason watch list selection as well. As you know Bell has a weird combination of elusiveness and bruising ability, like he can hurt you or he can sidestep you. That’s a blend not often seen at Running Back. Way Too Early Prediction: Le’Veon Bell will end up second team All-Big Ten this year behind only Montee Ball. That dude won the award for All Big Ten when he decided not to enter the NFL draft.
<-- Larry Caper sets up a field goal runs over Troy Woolfolk to beat UM in 2009. 2011 was an interesting year for Larry Caper. He played in 11 games, primarily as MSU’s third down back. He averaged 3.87 ypc and caught 10 passes for 86 yards. Showed great hands and more important looked great as a pass blocker on third down. He spent a few games of the 2011 season concussed after the Nebraska game and again in the Spring game this year. Provided his noggin stays healthy, he’ll see an expanded role in the offense as he and Nick Hill consume all of Edwin Baker’s carries from 2011. Caper has a running style that is quicker than Bell and moves nice and fluidly. He’s obviously not quite as beefy, but at 220, he’s still a load to bring down.
Nick Hill saw a lot of mop-up duty in 2011 aiding in defeating mighty juggernauts such as Youngstown State, FAU, CMU and Indiana. More importantly he returned 38 kicks for 999 yards in 2011 and showed that he has the quicks to be the lightning to Le’Veon Bell’s thunder. He actually reminded me a bit of DeAndra Cobb, where you could run the delayed draw and watch Nick Hill go right up the middle for 78 yards and a touchdown. He had 29 carries for 113 yards and no receptions. It’s difficult to tell how the coaches will work Hill and Caper into the fold together.
Bell is the clear number one back, but the coaches haven’t hinted whether they’re going to try and feed three guys carries again in 2012 or whether they’ll try to pick two guys and go. If the coaches go three guys I’d expect to see Bell and Hill on first and second down and then Caper on third down. If the coaches go two guys it’ll be Bell and someone else. Another thing helping this group is that the interior Offensive Line has improved quite a bit since 2011 as well. Chris McDonald and Travis Jackson return at RG and Center, Joel Foreman is replaced by Blake Treadwell who’s flat nasty on the football field. Running between the tackles should become quite a bit easier this year.
The Other Guys
The two guys most likely to see the field are Jeremy Langford and Nick Tompkins. Jeremy Langford was recruited as an athlete from the same school as Keshawn Martin. The rumor has been that Langford was faster in a straight line, but Keshawn was like a Wonkavator in every direction. Langford played third string corner last year and had an interception return for a touchdown. Nick Tompkins is a true freshman this year and picked MSU over offers like Wisconsin and Georgia Tech, he like Hill has that one-cut and gone type speed. These are the two guys next most likely to be tapped.
Tony Fant and Marcus Horne join the team this year as walk-ons. Tony Fant comes to MSU from Loyola High School where he averaged 10.2 ypc and picked up 9 TD’s his senior year. Horne is a greyshirt from Wisconsin who turned down a Single Redeemable Offer Anywhere in the MAC to come play football at Michigan State. Horne and Fant Jr. both have the kind of stories where you root for them to succeed.
The position of Running Back may not be amazing in 2012, but it will improve and substantially. It will certainly evolve into a position of consistency which will give Maxwell some additional breathing room on 2nd and 6 type plays. The three backs all bring different styles to the table, Bell is strong and fluid, Caper is sturdy and Hill is quick as a cat. There’s a formula for dinging all of the Big Ten defenses with those three styles it’ll just be a matter of health and blocking. I expect MSU to finish more middle of the pack this year in Big Ten rushing(think 4-6th) and that 2012 to be MSU’s strongest rushing year since 2007.
The beginning of Spring Ball is a bit like buying a lottery ticket. You leave with the feeling that your team could be the next national title winner and that one dude at that really key position gained/lost the weight that will make your football team a national title contender. Really though, what you’ve invested yourself in is the right to daydream about how the talent will improve from last year to this. Maybe, just maybe this is the year your team clinches a rose between their teeth or more? Right now everyone’s a winner still and there’s promise and hope budding all over the damn place. It’s a good thing that spring football isn’t in a season of death like winter, or that would be some iconoclastic shit, man.
Dantonio kicked off Spring Ball officially with a presser early this afternoon at the Clara Bell Smith Center. As with all Spring Ball pressers, there’s a cautionary warning to an obvious starter, this year’s victim was Le’Veon Bell. There’s hyperbole:
Q. You have a couple linebackers sitting out of contact for the spring. But as a position group, it seems this is probably as deep a group of linebackers that you have. Any thought of three four? COACH DANTONIO: Yeah, in terms of the three four, we can mess around with that and look at it, but the reality is we have just as many defensive linemen as we do linebackers. When you start throwing in guys we red shirted last year, Joel Heath is 6-6, 275 pounds right now, he looks just like Will Gholston. You have William back. You have (Shilique) Calhoun on the other side who is going to be a phenomenal player here. He backs upMarcus Rush who is a red-shirt freshman. You have Tyler Hoover moved inside, he's 297, 300 pounds. Rashad looks to come back. Rashad White is in shape. You have Damon Knox in there at 280. Scarpinato at 280. So we're built for the four three. But our linebackers, three guys are red-shirt freshmen. LT (Lawrence Thomas) will not go through spring, and he's 280 pounds, so who knows where he's going to end up. He'll find his way on to the field somewhere.
Q. You have a couple linebackers sitting out of contact for the spring. But as a position group, it seems this is probably as deep a group of linebackers that you have. Any thought of three four?
COACH DANTONIO: Yeah, in terms of the three four, we can mess around with that and look at it, but the reality is we have just as many defensive linemen as we do linebackers. When you start throwing in guys we red shirted last year, Joel Heath is 6-6, 275 pounds right now, he looks just like Will Gholston.
You have William back. You have (Shilique) Calhoun on the other side who is going to be a phenomenal player here. He backs upMarcus Rush who is a red-shirt freshman. You have Tyler Hoover moved inside, he's 297, 300 pounds. Rashad looks to come back. Rashad White is in shape. You have Damon Knox in there at 280. Scarpinato at 280. So we're built for the four three. But our linebackers, three guys are red-shirt freshmen. LT (Lawrence Thomas) will not go through spring, and he's 280 pounds, so who knows where he's going to end up. He'll find his way on to the field somewhere.
So yeah, you better watch out, we have players comparable to two NFL first-rounders(if Gholston isn’t a first rounder it’s because his cousin screwed it up for him) backing up Rush and Gholston. I’d love to be wrong in my cynicism, but this is the kind of hyperbole that gets ratcheted into July 2011 wondering if Anthony Rashad White will leave as a junior for mid-first-round money. DeAnthony Arnett’s waiver is officially filed with a red rubber stamp. MSU will hear back in around three weeks. Speaking of Gholston, he heaps some pretty hearty praise on Ken Mannie in an interview with Howard Griffith.
The Inaugural Twitterbag!
Earlier today I put out the word on Twitter I was looking for questions for our very first Twitterbag. There was a bit of confusion about who was asking since the guy who’s helping run the twitter account answered some of the questions with 140 characters or less. We’re still ironing this out a bit, give us sometime. This is going to be a feature of the blog from here on out, however, if you want to send your e-mail questions or comments the old-fashioned way, flip me an e-mail at email@example.com. On to the twitterbag!
How do you see Lawrence Thomas being used this year?
At 6’4 and 265 it was still possible to envision a Courtney Upshaw-like LB existence for him, but at 280 that’s simply not going to happen. As Dantonio stated in today’s press conference MSU is stacked like pancakes at Defensive End I almost wonder if there’s time to retool him as a 3 technique Defensive Tackle? This of course is provided he’s not injured in the fall, since he has yet to be healthy at a time where football or some facsimile thereof is being played, this is becoming a legitimate question. Dantonio doesn’t seem to force position changes on a kid, he tends to show them the shortest path to the field is in another area, the same will be true of Thomas.
I am of the mindset that after redshirting in 2011 and missing all of Spring Ball that Thomas will not see significant time in 2012. Mop-up duty at linebacker or maybe rotational duty on an injured Defensive Line.
Who is your early prediction for starting WRs for first B1G game? I'm guessing Lippett and Arnett, with Fowler in the slot?
Well a quick point of teaching on this. If Fowler is healthy, he’ll most likely play the X spot, which is the B.J. Cunningham position of 2011. At 6’2 and 210 he, Caesar and Mumphery who is up to 6’0” and 208 are going to have the easiest time beating their jam while they are right up on the line of scrimmage. Lippett and Arnett will probably trade off between the Z spot which is typically WR2 in a pro-style offense and the Slot Receiver/ Y Spot which sits even farther off the LOS than the Z receiver. Arnett has classic slot receiver written all over him, not very big(5’11” and 170) and can shake the paint in a can just by looking at it. Which leaves Lippett in the Z spot unless Burbridge can 1.) Qualify and 2.) Outperform Lippett.
Keith Mumphery got lots of praise from Dantonio today: “I think Keith Mumphery is a guy that's ready to explode on to the scene.” To me, this just means he has lots of raw talent. It also means that he’s probably been one of Maxwell’s most consistent targets since his arrival on campus. We don’t know a lot about him though.
So my bet is Caesar/Fowler/Mumphery at the X, Lippett at the Z and Arnett in the Slot.
Is Chris Norman the next Wally Pipp?
Chris Norman is sitting out this portion of Spring Ball with an undisclosed injury, Wally Pipp is the poor bastard who got hurt and passed by Lou Gehrig. The inference being of course that Taiwan Jones, Norman’s replacement will pass by Norman in Spring Ball and not look back. While Jones has looked five horns on his head beastly on Special Teams, Norman’s experience both individually and as a corps of three Linebackers playing together on last year’s defense is too much for Jones to take the job away from him.
How much will Trenton Robinson be missed?
Will touch on this in the defensive spring ball discussion, but the short answer is lots in the passing game and not much in the run game.
Heck breaks down a what a Stunt play is and how it works using MSU footage magnificently. The Munn Minute is looking for site feedback, stop by and tell Matt what you do and don’t like about the site. Banks of the Red Cedar recaps the Basketball Season, so does Pete over at the Only Colors.
The Spartans have received their first commitment for the 2013 class in the form of Gerald Holmes, a running back from Flint, Michigan. Holmes is very much under-the-radar, at this point. None of the recruiting sites have rated him, yet, and he only has offers from Central Michigan and Toledo. The only other data available on Holmes is about his size. He is approximately 6 feet tall and weighs about 200 lbs, which suggests that Holmes is slated to become the successor to Larry Caper or Le'Veon Bell.
In fact, there are moments in his high school video highlights when Holmes looks a little like Caper and a little like Bell. Here's Bell as a senior in high school (unable to embed video, unfortunately), and here's Caper as a senior in high school:
And here's Holmes' as a junior in high school:
We can see that Holmes is not quite as big as either Bell or Caper, yet. In his senior year Bell was listed as approximately 6'2" and 215-220 lbs (currently he is listed as 6'2" and 237 lbs.) and Caper was listed as 5'11" and 215-220 lbs (currently he is listed as 5'11" and 223 lbs.). But Holmes is only a junior in high school, so it's quite possible that he could grow a little taller and that he could add some weight in the next 6 months or so before he enters his senior year.
In the videos we can also see that Holmes is probably in between Bell and Caper in terms of speed. He looks faster than Bell but not quite as fast as Caper. When you consider that guys like Monty Madaris and MacGarrett Kings looked a little faster in their senior year highlights relative to their junior year highlights, it's possible that Holmes could get closer to playing at Caper's speed by his senior year. Of course, we'll have to wait for Holmes' senior year highlights to come out before we can re-examine his speed.
We can also see that in terms of power, Holmes runs more like Bell. He doesn't get brought down by arm tackles and there are even moments where he tries to hit tacklers before they hit him (check out 1:37). Holmes is not yet as punishing a runner as Bell; in Bell's video we can see that many tacklers just bounced off of him and in many cases they just get out of the way. But Holmes is pretty physical. Holmes also moves a little like Bell. He has a similar array of moves, including a nice spin move (at about 0:50).
One concern I have about Holmes is that in a lot of the highlights he's running outside the tackles, kind of like Larry Caper. In the Big Ten he'll find he doesn't have the speed to do that -- perhaps even Caper is struggling with that. A bigger concern may be that we can't tell if Holmes can do all the little things well, the way Bell was able to do right away as a freshman. As the video below points out, Bell was able to contribute right away because he was good at running, catching, and blocking. I should note, though, that Holmes does make some nice catches and blocks in his highlights. But it's hard to know from highlight videos if he can do everything consistently well.
So the upshot is that there's a lot to like about Holmes. There is a good possibility that he could end up around the same size as Caper and perhaps even Bell, and there is a good possibility that he'll end up slightly less speedy and agile than Caper. If so, he should eventually end up with at least 3 stars and perhaps even move up to 4-star territory. On the other hand, there is always the possibility that he could struggle to add size and speed, and that would pretty much mean that he ends up a 2-star recruit.
So now the Spartans have recruited 3 running backs in the last year, and I wouldn't be surprised to see them go after another big back. They are well stocked with the smaller, quicker running backs (Nick Hill, Nick Tompkins, Marcus Horne), but they'll be losing Larry Caper this year and Le'Veon Bell the next year (if he doesn't leave early for the draft). The only big back they have coming in is Holmes, so adding one more big back could be in the offing.