Preview 2017: Michigan State Spartans

Preview 2017: Michigan State Spartans

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Preview 2017: Michigan State Spartans

Preview 2017: Michigan State Spartans


Previewing and looking ahead at the Michigan State season – and what you need to know.


Contact @PeteFiutak

2017 Michigan State Preview: Can MSU Find IT Again?
2017 Michigan State Schedule & Analysis
– Michigan State Previews: 2016 | 2015

What You Need To Know About The Michigan State Offense

Sort of lost in the nightmare of last season was that the offense was actually better in several ways than the one that went to the College Football Playoff in 2015. The O two years ago couldn’t run the ball a lick, couldn’t convert a third down try, and averaged 386 total yards and just under 30 points per game.

Last year’s O couldn’t score – averaging 24 points per game – but it averaged ten more yards per game, ran a bit better, and moved the ball stronger. So what was the difference? More turnovers. Last year’s offense wasn’t nearly as careful with the ball.

This year, there has to be more pop while hoping for the defense to do its job a lot better. At least there’s experience to rely on – except up front.

The Spartans get back star Brian Allen in the interior, but three starters have to be replaced from a group that was okay for the ground game and did a decent job in pass protection. With the three-headed monster of L.J. Scott, Gerald Holmes and Madre London pounding away, as long as the line is okay, the Spartans will run well.

The quarterback is still a question mark, but Brian Lewerke is a mobile young player with great upside, while Damion Terry is a decent veteran. The big problem? The top four targets gone from the receiving corps.

Biggest Key To The Michigan State Offense

Score. The Spartans have to do a better job of putting the biscuit in the basket. During the program’s rise into a powerhouse under Mark Dantonio, the offense started to roll in 2013 – averaging 29 points per game – roared for 43 points per outing in 2014, dipped to around 30 a game going to the CFP in 2015, and last year couldn’t close, averaging just 24 per game.

Why? There were a few more turnovers, but more than anything else, the Spartans couldn’t get in the end zone. In 2014, they scored six 72% of the time they got inside the 29, and 69% in 2015. Last year? 57% of the time with nine of the 24 red zone TDs coming against Furman and Rutgers.

What You Need To Know About The Michigan State Defense

Totally inconsistent, the Spartan defense had its moments – doing a nice job against Ohio State and holding up until late against Michigan – but it had a hard time getting off the field, it wasn’t good enough against the run, and it didn’t make enough key plays in big moments.

This year’s defense it loaded with veterans though, with all four projected starters back up front – now it has to get behind the line. The Spartans couldn’t get to the quarterback, generating just 11 sacks on the season with five of them coming in the first three games and three against Ohio State. MSU went a seven-game stretch with just two sacks, after coming up with 37 two years ago.

The safeties are gone – needing to replace Montae Nicholson and Demetrious Cox – but there are decent options at cornerback, and the linebacking corps should be a strength around Chris Frey.

Biggest Key To The Michigan State Defense

Do the defensive coordinators have to be better? It can’t be as easy as Pat Narduzzi, is it? The production has fallen off the map since current Pitt head man and the former Michigan State defensive coordinator left two years ago.

The D actually wasn’t that bad in a lot of ways compared to two years ago. After giving up 350 yards and 22 points per game in the CFP year of 2015, MSU’s D gave up 365 yards and 28 points per game last year. However, under Narduzzi, the Spartans finished No. 1 in the nation against the run – and eighth overall – in 2015, and finished second in the nation in total D in 2014.

Okay, co-coordinators Mike Tressel and Harlon Barnett. Get that groove back.

Michigan State Will Be Far Better If …

It doesn’t screw up. One of the keys to the 2015 Big Ten Championship season was the lack of major mistakes. The penalties weren’t there, and the team finished fourth in the nation in turnover margin. For a team that wasn’t nearly good enough in any phase last year, it couldn’t afford to get flagged for well over six times a game and finish a -5 in turnover margin.

The Spartans won the turnover battle twice last season, going a +2 against Notre Dame and Rutgers. Take a wild guess which two FBS teams MSU beat last year. By comparison, the Spartans won the turnover margin 29 times from 2013 to 2015.

Best Michigan State Offensive Player

OG Brian Allen, Sr. – L.J. Scott is the team’s best offensive player when he’s on, but he’ll be part of a three-headed monster again. It’s Allen who’s the one paving away for everyone on the inside. The Big Ten all-star isn’t massive, but the 6-2, 305-pounder is a good technician with the toughness to start every game. The line desperately needed something and someone it could work around and rely on, and Allen became it. Now at either guard or center, this is his line.

2. RB L.J. Scott, Jr.
3. QB Brian Lewerke, Soph.
4. RB Gerald Holmes, Sr.
5. QB Damion Terry, Sr.

Best Michigan State Defensive Player

LB Chris Frey, Sr. – Promising in his first two seasons, Frey stepped up as the main man for the linebacking corps as a junior with a team-leading 96 tackles with four tackles for loss. There might not be anything flashy about his game, but considering all the problems last season, he still stood out in a positive way.

He’s not all that big at 6-2 and 233 pounds, but he’s versatile and he can pop, coming up with a season-high 13 tackles against BYU and ten against Maryland. The pass rushing ability is there from the strongside, and for a defense that didn’t generate any pressure he might be needed early on.

2. LB Andrew Dowell, Jr.
3. CB Vayante Copeland, Jr.
4. DE Demetrius Cooper, Sr.
5. S Khari Willis, Jr.

Key Player To A Successful Season

QB Brian Lewerke, Soph. – Or Damion Terry. No one was asking any of the Michigan State quarterbacks to win like Connor Cook did, but five different players threw a pass last season – one of them was RB R.J. Shelton – with everyone combining to hit just 57% of their throws for 2,668 yards and 19 touchdowns with 11 picks – and with three wins.

Cook was never deadly accurate, but he didn’t throw a ton of picks, and as The Guy, he had the resume. Lewerke provided a bit of a spark with his running ability, but it was passing that stood out this spring. Whether it’s Terry or Lewerke, the offense has to start scoring again – and that’s going to be on the No. 1 QB.

The Michigan State Season Will Be A Success If …

The Spartans come up with a nine-win regular season. They proved they could handle the road work before in ultra-successful campaigns under Dantonio. But for a program trying to get its groove back, winning the Big Ten East is a tall order with away games at Michigan, Minnesota, Northwestern and Ohio State, along with home games against Iowa and Penn State. Even so, going 9-3 should be par for the course in a rebound year – and then go for ten in the bowl game.

Key Game To The Michigan State Season

Oct. 7 at Michigan – Okay Spartans. You want to really and truly prove that 2016 was a total aberration? Beat Michigan at Michigan and take the rivalry back. Even in a disastrous season, the Spartans gave the Wolverines a tough fight in a 32-23 loss – moral victory, schmoral victory. Win in Ann Arbor in the second game of the Big Ten season, and all might be right with the world again.

2016 Michigan State Fun Stats

– 4th Quarter Scoring: Opponents 117 – Michigan State 59
– Sacks: Opponents 27 for 150 yards – Michigan State 11 for 71 yards
– Penalties: Michigan State 77 for 724 yards – Opponents 50 for 463 yards

2017 Michigan State Preview: Can MSU Find IT Again?
2017 Michigan State Schedule & Analysis
– Michigan State Previews: 2016 | 2015

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