Michigan State's LJ Scott and Brian Allen talk about the running game, and Connor Heyward talks about returning kicks and punts. Matt Charboneau, The Detroit News
East Lansing — Michigan State receivers coach Terrence Samuel is encouraged with the progress of his corps in the Spartans’ turnaround season.
And, a number of the receivers are freshmen or sophomores, including true freshman Hunter Rison who hauled in two third down passes to move the chains in MSU’s 30-27 win at Minnesota Saturday to keep the No. 18 Spartans (5-1) unbeaten in Big Ten play (3-0), already surpassing their win totals overall (3) and in conference play (1) from a year ago.
Rison — son of former MSU legendary receiver Andre Rison who helped the Spartans win the Rose Bowl 30 years ago — had a 13-yard reception in the opening quarter to set up Matt Coghlin’s 42-yard field goal to pull them even at 3, then grabbed Brian Lewerke’s 17-yard toss in the third quarter to set up a 25-yard field goal for a 23-6 cushion.
“The biggest thing you notice with Hunter is that he runs his route aggressive and he blocks aggressive and in Coach Dantonio’s program, those type of kids, they play,” pointed out Samuel of Rison who played at Ann Arbor Skyline. “You know when he gets out there he’s going to give you 110 percent of himself, and with his connection with the program, his father and everything, you know he’s proud when he gets out on that field.”
And, Rison’s not afraid to tell Lewerke that he’s open … just like Andre did back in ’87 when he played with quarterback Bobby McAllister.
“You have to believe that you’re open every time you run a route, you’re blessed to have an opportunity to catch the ball, you just want the quarterback to throw it your way so you can make your daddy feel proud,” Samuel said.
Samuel feels Lewerke is confident throwing the ball Rison’s way.
“The biggest thing is the confidence that Brian has in him,” Samuel said. “I see it every day, I see he (Rison) has the ball skills, I see he has the hunger to get open, the biggest thing is knowing that your quarterback feels comfortable throwing you the ball in that type (third down) of situation.”
Junior Felton Davis leads the Spartans with 24 receptions for 300 yards and sophomore Darrell Stewart has 21 catches for 237 yards; tight end Matt Sokol, 11 receptions and Rison and sophomore Trishton Jackson, nine apiece.
Oh, and Samuel feels for Jackson (West Bloomfield) who has had a case of the drops this season, starting with the Western Michigan game in Week No. 2 and continuing in later games.
“You just try to breathe confidence in the individual, that’s the only thing you can do as a coach is just try to make sure that he understands that, ‘Hey, these things happen and you have to bounce back, you have to move forward, just keep driving to play your best game when your best game is needed.’
“You want success for the guys you coach so it bothers me and hurts me to see him struggle, but these are the types of things you have to deal with in life. It’s just a matter of him accepting that he’s got to come back stronger from this situation. He’ll grow from it. I’ve had some guys that have dropped balls before that have come back.”
So, what does Jackson have to do to return to form that had him come up with eight receptions in the spring game?
“The biggest thing is just finding that same rhythm he had when he was going through the spring when everybody was noticing his speed and his ball skills and things of that nature, just finding that confidence and rhythm that he had before.”
Jackson didn’t play against Minnesota because of an undisclosed injury, but Samuel said, “He’s going to play,” when asked if he would play against Indiana Saturday.
And yes, Samuel likes where his group of young receivers are, especially compared to 2012 when MSU receivers dropped 66 passes.
“It’s just a growth process and like I said, the guys are coming,” Samuel said. “They’re a little bit ahead of the curve right now, but they’re young. Considering where, you know what the media thought my young receivers were in 2012 and where these young receivers are, I think we’re doing OK.”
True freshman receiver Cody White (Walled Lake Western) recovered an onside kick after Minnesota pulled within 30-27 late in the game.
“He works hard and everything you ask, there’s no complaints, there’s no negativity, it’s all about working hard with Cody, and I think this entire group works hard as far as my wide receivers are,” Samuel said.
“I don’t have that brooding personality. Everybody in there, they work hard, they push each other, they laugh, they joke and they seem to get a lot out of that positivity.”