MSU’s offense: Five key points
Matt Charboneau of The Detroit News analyzes five key points for Michigan State’s offense this season.
It’s always tough to replace a three-year starter, but it becomes especially more difficult when that starter happens to be the winningest quarterback in school history. That’s exactly what is facing fifth-year senior Tyler O’Connor as he steps in for Connor Cook, who helped lead the Spartans to two Big Ten championships and a spot in the College Football Playoff. O’Connor was around for all if it, even providing an assist last season at Ohio State when Cook was out with a bad shoulder, but his playing time has been minimal. He has the knowledge of the offense and the respect of his teammates, but whether he can be effective on the field remains to be seen. The backup spot remains up for grabs entering the season as junior Damion Terry is trying to hold off redshirt freshman Brian Lewerke. Both should see playing time early in the season.
While the quarterback will get most of the attention, replacing three starters – All-Americans Jack Conklin and Jack Allen included – on the offensive line will be as vital. The Spartans could benefit this season from the injuries it faced a year ago as there is a large group of players who have seen action. Fifth-year senior Kodi Kieler will likely make the move from right tackle to center while junior Brian Allen holds down the left guard spot. In offensive line coach Mark Staten’s rotation, however, there could be plenty of shuffling. Sophomore David Beedle should start at left tackle but can play guard while fifth-year senior Benny McGowan plays all three inside spots. Sixth-year man Brandon Clemons is a solid guard while senior Miguel Machado should start at right tackle. Also look for potential playing time for redshirt freshman Cole Chewins and true freshman Thiyo Lukusa.
Through the air
For the second straight season, the Spartans must overcome the loss of the top receiver in the Big Ten as Aaron Burbridge is off to the NFL. Only senior R.J. Shelton returns with any extensive experience, which opens the door for fifth-year senior Monty Madaris and sophomore Felton Davis, along with redshirt freshman Darrell Stewart. The excitement, however, lies in the freshman class. Donnie Corley will certainly be in the playing rotation and should see significant playing time while Cam Chambers, Trishton Jackson and Justin Layne will all have a shot to see the field. The talent is there, though experience is lacking.
Carry the rock
There’s one position the Spartans don’t have to worry about experience or depth and that’s at running back. Sophomores LJ Scott and Madre London return along with junior Gerald Holmes, all of whom played significant roles a season ago. Determining which of the three can be the primary back has been the talk of preseason camp, but there’s a good chance the Spartans head into the season the same way they did in 2015 – by using all three and then riding the hot back. Scott led the team in rushing last season and might have the most upside of the bunch, but each has the ability to carry the load. London started early in the season before an injury slowed him while Holmes started late and is more of a physical back. Scott has it all and was the hero of the Big Ten title game. It all leaves the MSU running game in good shape.
While the running backs should provide plenty of production and there’s potential at wide receiver, the difference could come from a couple of other spots. The Spartans have talented tight ends with fifth-year seniors Josiah Price and Jamal Lyles. Price is the sure thing and has more touchdown catches than any tight end in MSU history. Lyles doesn’t have the numbers Price does, but he’s got plenty of experience and the ability to stretch the field. The Spartans could also get a spark from senior Delton Williams, who has been working at fullback and tailback. He’s not a traditional fullback, but his presence in the backfield could open up Michigan State’s playbook.