Defense plays starring role in Green and White game
East Lansing — Over the last five seasons, Michigan State has built itself into not only a national contender, but a team possessing one of the best defenses in the country.
So it was probably no surprise during Saturday's annual Green and White game that defense dominated.
Only one touchdown was scored — that from an offensive lineman — as the White team defeated the Green team, 9-3, as Spartan Stadium in front of an announced crowd of 48,000, a spring game record at Michigan State.
"We need to progress every day," said senior defensive end Shilique Calhoun, who was credited with 2-1/2 sacks but was around the quarterback all game. "The biggest thing (moving forward) is don't get complacent. People want to talk about you when you're doing well but we need to keep them talking. You're constantly trying to do well and constantly trying to improve. It's not just the defensive line either, it's the whole defense as a unit. We want to go full-speed in practice, too, and show the offense what we got. We want to improve as a whole team."
It's typically tougher for the offense in a spring game setting as the offensive lines are split, as are the skill players.
But the defense was, as well, and it made its share of plays on both teams. Five sacks were recorded, but both teams were pressuring the quarterbacks, including senior Lawrence Thomas, who played primarily tackle but will also play at end.
"It is a combination of both probably," Michigan State coach Mark Dantonio said. "I think we have a very good offensive line and they do get split in these games. We have depth in our front seven and have numbers on both fronts, actually. We had a couple of players out. Shilique Calhoun is a very good defensive end. LT and Malik (McDowell) were all on the white team. They had the starting defensive tackles, more or less. Shilique made his presence known for the Green team. We should be good up front. Should be, have been, should be."
Senior quarterback Connor Cook was effective when he had time to pass and opened the game with a nice 24-yard strike to DeAnthony Arnett, marching the White team inside the 20-yard line. That's when things got interesting, as they can only do in a spring game.
Offensive lineman Donavon Clark caught a swing-back pass from Cook and rambled 15 yards to the 3-yard line, and on the next play center Jack Allen lined up in the backfield and took a handoff into the end zone for the only touchdown of the game.
"It's something I'm going to hold on to forever," Allen joked. "I'll be able to say I scored a touchdown in the spring game. But it's just surreal, really. Fat guys don't usually get to carry the ball. I get to touch it every play, but usually just for a half of a second and then it's gone."
The White team added a 30-yard field goal from Kevin Cronin, who was kicking for both teams with Michael Geiger sitting out after off-season hip surgery, and Cronin got the Green team on the board in the second half with a 32-yard field goal.
Cook was 11-for-22 for 105 yards while Arnett had five catches for 51 yards for the White team. Gerald Holmes ran the ball well, picking up 48 yards on 11 carries.
"I think our offensive line on the White team did great," Cook said. "I thought Gerald Holmes ran very hard and wideouts made some plays downfield. Obviously, I would have liked to throw the ball a little bit better, put the ball in spots where guys can go get it and make plays, but we were very generic by design with a lot of the play calls that we had. A lot of new plays that we ran, we put in for the spring game. Early on, a lot of guys were pretty confused as to what we were running because we never really talked about some of the plays that we were running. Overall, guys had fun and that's the main thing."
The Green team struggled offensively as quarterback Tyler O'Connor was 6-for-16 for 51 yards and threw an interception. Madre London carried nine times for 70 yards, including a 50-yard gain on the only scoring drive.
There's little doubt the offense will be a more cohesive unit when it's all together in the fall, but the play of the defense on Saturday can't be ignored.
The Spartans are adjusting to life without former defensive coordinator Pat Narduzzi, and the play in the spring game is a sign they are on the right track.
"As a defensive guy, I think that if guys are playing fast and if guys are playing physical then it's a win for us, a win for the defense," linebacker Riley Bullough said. "Overall, I think the coaches are happy and I think the players are happy. The spring game is a little bit different, you kind of want to put on a show for the fans that come out. Obviously we don't have our first defense against our first offense, so it's kind of hard to tell what's going on at some points. Overall, I think today was a successful day."