It might not feel like spring outside, but for Michigan State’s football team, things are wrapping up with Saturday’s annual Green and White game at Spartan Stadium.
It will be the 14th of 15 spring practice dates for the Spartans and they’ll kick things off at 5 p.m., a later start than most seasons.
“It’s just a great opportunity to come out, it’ll be an afternoon game — there’s a baseball game on as well, got the youth clinic,” Michigan State coach Mark Dantonio said. “You get a chance to watch the 2018 Spartans which you got to make up your own assessment. There’s going to be some good, some bad, there always is, but what I look for is guys playing hard, playing with a lot of excitement and I think we’ll do that.”
The format will follow the same as last season’s with the offense taking on the defense in a modified scoring system. The Spartans used to draft teams and play a regular game, but it was tough to field two full teams for the entire two hours.
This approach gives fans a chance to see first team vs. first team, giving them a good idea of where the team stands coming off last season’s 10-3 mark that included a victory over Washington State in the Holiday Bowl.
Here are five things to watch entering the game:
LJ’s light workload
Depth at running back hasn’t been an issue for the Spartans almost since Dantonio took over in 2007. However, entering the 2018 season there is a significant lack of experience behind LJ Scott, who is back for his senior season. He’ll be primed for a big season, but don’t expect him to get a ton of work on Saturday.
The real story will be who else gets carries. Connor Heyward should get plenty of work as he enters his sophomore season looking to take on an expanded role in the offense. After that, expect to see the likes of walk-on Alante Thomas and former safety Austin Andrews to get some work. The rotation could change by preseason camp as redshirt freshman Weston Bridges is expected to recovered from an ACL injury and freshmen Elijah Collins and La’Darius Jefferson arrive on campus.
QB locked in
Another position that has no debate as to who the starter will be is quarterback where Brian Lewerke will be building off an impressive sophomore season when he racked up 3,352 total yards, second-most in MSU history. But with the graduation of Damion Terry and the transfer of Messiah deWeaver, the Spartans are left with a backup that has yet to play in a college game.
Redshirt freshman Rocky Lombardi has the inside track for that job and has continued to draw rave reviews throughout spring practice while early-enrollee Theo Day has also had some good days and will get his share of work on Saturday.
Center of attention
It’s hardly the most glamorous position on the offense, but in some ways the center might be the most important. The Spartans return tons of experience this season on the line expect or center, where Brian Allen is gone and preparing for the NFL.
Saturday’s game will give a good chance for his replacement to establish himself. Included in that mix are Brian Allen’s brother, Matt, who is entering his sophomore season and is getting plenty of work with the first team. Also in the battle are junior Tyler Higby, who has started 13 games at left guard, and Jordan Reid, who played in 13 games as a true freshman, mostly at right tackle.
Replace and roll
There won’t be a lot of changes on the defensive side of the ball, but there will be some holes to fill at defensive end and linebacker. With Demetrius Cooper graduating, there is a starting defensive end spot open opposite Kenny Willekes. Junior Justice Alexander has been a spring standout and Saturday’s game will be a chance for him to stand out. Also, keep an eye on sophomore Brandon Randle, who is also playing outside linebacker, as well Jacub Panasiuk and Dillon Alexander.
The linebacker position is pretty solid, but minor injuries this spring could offer plenty of playing time for the likes Byron Bullough and Tyriq Thompson, as well as Randle.
Time to shine
Seven early enrollees have gone through their first spring with the Spartans, and outside of offensive lineman Dimitri Douglas, who is out with an injury, most should get some work in the spring game. Day will likely see at least a few series on offense, as should wide receivers Javez Alexander and Julian Major. On defense, most of the attention has been on defensive backs Kalon Gervin and Xavier Henderson while linebacker Edward Warinner should also play.
With 19 of 22 starters returning, getting on the field will be difficult, but a good showing on Saturday could be a springboard to playing time this fall.
MSU spring game
Kickoff: 5 p.m., Saturday, Spartan Stadium, East Lansing
TV/radio: BTN/WJR 760
Notable: MSU players and coaches will conduct the annual youth clinic on April 7, from 12:30-2 p.m., on the practice fields just south of Spartan Stadium.