EAST LANSING, Mich. - Under mostly cloudy skies and temperatures in the low-50s, second-year Michigan State head coach Mark Dantonio sent his team through a two-hour, 94-play "controlled" scrimmage in Spartan Stadium on Tuesday, April 3, as the Spartans completed the eighth of 15 allotted spring practices. Utilizing a modified scoring system, the defense retained the Green jerseys by winning the scrimmage, 58-42.
The scrimmage format provided the defense with 18 different scoring opportunities, while the offense had 11 ways to put points on the scoreboard, including the traditional touchdown and field goal.
The Spartan defense came up with stops on 13 of the first 14 possessions, including four takeaways (all fumbles).
"It certainly showed that this was our first full practice outdoors this spring," Dantonio said. "I don't think that it's surprising that the defense won the first scrimmage because we have more experience returning on that side of the ball. In addition, the younger players on defense are slightly ahead of their counterparts on offense.
"We tried to cover a lot of different game-like situations. Things got a little heated up at the end of the scrimmage, but I don't think the guys played with as much emotion as I would have liked from the outset.
"We need to evaluate the film, but it was a competitive scrimmage, especially with our scoring system. The offense had its moments, but the defense won the bulk of the series. Ultimately, the four fumbles cost the offense the scrimmage."
Returning starter Brian Hoyer (6-2, 212, Sr.-5) took all the snaps at quarterback with the first-team offense and completed 12-of-23 throws for 138 yards.
"Offensively, Brian Hoyer was very sharp, but our receivers dropped too many balls," Dantonio said.
On his second series, Hoyer hit 3-of-4 passes for 42 yards while managing a nine-play, 70-yard scoring drive. His 21-yard completion to Mark Dell (6-2, 185, So.) on a third-and-7 play set up Ashton Leggett's (5-11, 232, R-Fr.) 15-yard TD run. Leggett broke two tackles at the line of scrimmage en route to giving the White team its only lead of the scrimmage at 16-11.
Red-shirt freshmen Nick Foles (6-5, 243) and Kirk Cousins (6-3, 197) shared snaps with the second-team offense. Foles connected on 4-of-11 tosses for 71 yards, while Cousins completed 5-of-13 passes for 27 yards.
"We made it tough for our young quarterbacks," Dantonio said. "We made them live for today's scrimmage, and they took some shots. Nick Foles and Kirk Cousins got banged around pretty good, but both made some plays."
Trailing 44-26, Foles directed a four-play, 33-yard scoring drive. His 21-yard completion to fullback Andrew Hawken (6-2, 238, Jr.) gave the offense a first-and-goal at the Green 8-yard line. Two plays later, A.J. Jimmerson (5-10, 202, Jr.) scored on a 1-yard run over left guard.
The second-team offense produced points on its next possession as the White team pulled within five points at 44-39 on Brett Swenson's (5-8, 160, Jr.) 46-yard field goal.
Trailing 52-42 in the final two minutes, Hoyer put together an impressive 13-play, 48-yard drive. He kept the drive alive with a 16-yard strike over the middle to Dell on a fourth-and-10 play. Five plays later, Jimmerson turned a screen pass into a 17-yard gain and a first-and-10 at the Green 14. On the next play, the defense was flagged for holding a receiver in the end zone, giving the White team a first-and-goal at the 2 with less than 30 seconds left. Defensive end Trevor Anderson (6-2, 255, Jr.), a transfer from Cincinnati, responded by sacking Hoyer for a 10-yard loss. Following two straight incompletions, safety Otis Wiley (6-2, 210, Sr.) batted away Hoyer's fourth-down pass attempt, intended for Blair White (6-2, 202, Jr.) in the near corner of the end zone.
With 1,000-yard rusher Javon Ringer (5-9, 200, Sr.) being held out of contact drills this spring, Jimmerson got the bulk of the carries in the first scrimmage, rushing 17 times for 42 yards. Leggett picked up 36 yards on eight attempts, while Andre Anderson (5-9, 188, R-Fr.) rushed 10 times for 14 yards.
"A.J. Jimmerson had a nice day, making plays as a both a runner and pass receiver," Dantonio said. "Ashton Leggett made some great runs, but he put the ball on the ground too many times."
Dell had a scrimmage-best four receptions for 56 yards as 11 different receivers caught at least one pass. Hawken had three catches for 40 yards.
Safeties Roderick Jenrette (6-1, 200, Jr.) and Dan Fortener (6-1, 197, Jr.) each recorded eight tackles and a pass break-up. Linebacker Greg Jones (6-1, 222, So.) posted six stops, including a 7-yard sack, and recovered a fumble. Anderson produced five tackles from his defensive end position, including two sacks for 17 yards, while linebacker Eric Gordon (6-0, 220, So.) made five stops, including one for a 3-yard loss, and forced a fumble.
"Our best players played very well today on the defensive side of the football," Dantonio said. "Both Greg Jones and Otis Wiley (two solo tackles and two pass break-ups) played extremely well. Trevor Anderson is a very good player, and he made his presence known late in the scrimmage."
Freshman defensive end Tyler Hoover (6-7, 275, Fr.) registered three solo tackles in the first scrimmage.
"Tyler Hoover had an opportunity to scrimmage about 40 plays today, and it was exciting to see him make some plays out there," Dantonio said. "There's no question that Tyler is going to be a very good player for us."
The Spartans have three practices scheduled (April 6, 8 and 10) before conducting their second "closed" scrimmage on Saturday, April 12.
"Over the next seven practices, we'll look for the seniors to continue to establish themselves as team leaders," Dantonio said. "In addition, we're going to continue to ask our young guys to elevate their play.
"In the second scrimmage, we're going to look for improved execution, especially on the offensive side of the football. We'll continue to evaluate the back-up quarterback situation as well as solidify the offensive line (positions). We also really need to find a go-to receiver. We've got some playmakers at the position, but they need to develop some consistency in catching the ball in traffic. Obviously, we have some incoming freshmen that will challenge for playing time when they report for August camp.
"Defensively, the players need to continue to do what they're doing. We have a pretty good situation right now because the veterans really know the system. They know what to do, so they can play fast. We have a number of guys running around and making plays."
Michigan State concludes its 15 spring practices with the Green-White intrasquad game on Saturday, April 19 at 1:30 p.m. in Spartan Stadium. Admission is free.