Spartans passing game looks to get more vertical

Matt Charboneau
The Detroit News

East Lansing — A year ago, Michigan State's offense was a record-setting group.

The Spartans established marks in seven categories, including points (559), total offense (6,510) and touchdowns (70).

So even though Michigan State scored more than 30 in its first two games this season, it's a unit that is looking for more.

"I guess we're about where we thought we would be," co-offensive coordinator Dave Warner said Wednesday. "I think you look at two weeks and we've been fairly productive. I think you look more specifically at this past week where we were challenged a little more and I would have liked to have seen more explosive plays, especially in the passing game. That is something we want to continue to try and do, probably throw the ball downfield more."

Part of it has been the defenses Michigan State has faced, but through two games it one pass play longer than 25 yards — a 56-yard completion to Aaron Burbridge in the opening victory over Western Michigan.

Warner has been happy with his receivers — Burbridge and Macgarrett Kings Jr., especially — and they'll continue to be targeted often. Burbridge has surpassed 100 yards each game.

"He's done it all," Warner said. "I think he's been able to separate and get open in both weeks of predominantly man coverage and he's been able to separate and get open against those guys. Bottom line, he's doing what we need him to do which is get open and make the tough catch."

The receiving corps also will see some new blood this week as true freshman Felton Davis is expected to play, a move Warner says is for this season as much as the future.

Everything, however, hasn't been perfect on offense.

Quarterback Connor Cook has described his play as average, and Warner admitted Michigan State needs to do a better job closing games after two straight three-and-outs late against Oregon.

Still, Warner is confident in the unit's ability to score.

"Overall we're where we want to be and certainly we want to continue to grow," he said.

Backup battle

It's been a couple of seasons since anyone wondered about who might play quarterback at Michigan State.

But with Cook in his final season, it will be an issue soon.

Which leads to which player is the No. 2 quarterback now. Junior Tyler O'Connor is listed there on the depth chart, but sophomore Damion Terry is the only one with game experience this season.

"It would depend on the situation," Warner said of who might step in. "Tyler O'Connor had a very good preseason — and if we got into a situation where Connor Cook got hurt, Tyler O'Connor would go into the game, for the duration. But certainly Damion Terry is a guy we can slide in there for certain spots."

Most of Terry's work has been as a wide receiver, but he took a snap against Oregon and was dropped for a loss trying to run inside the 5.

"We want to get him on the field," Warner said of Terry. "We want to get him on the field in various ways, and lining him up at wide receiver is one way to do that."

Evans contributes

Redshirt freshman defensive tackle Craig Evans was in Dantonio's doghouse as recently as last spring, but things are changing for the 6-foot-2, 320-pounder.

He has seen consistent action the first two games and will continue to be part o0f the rotation on the interior of the line.

"He is just warming up," defensive line coach Ron Burton said. "He is a kid that has flashed. We are looking at consistency and being able to play more up-field right now. He has shown the ability."