EAST LANSING, Mich. - Second-year Michigan State head coach Mark Dantonio sent his team through an 89-play "controlled" scrimmage on Saturday, April 12, as the Spartans completed the 12th of 15 allotted spring practices. Despite a steady, light rain and temperatures in the low-40s, the team spent the first 58 plays outdoors before finishing the scrimmage in the Duffy Daugherty Football Building indoor practice facility. Utilizing a modified scoring system, the defense retained the Green (home) jersey for the final week of spring practice and on into preseason camp by winning the second scrimmage, 46-40.
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 dominated the early action, coming up with stops on the first eight possessions including one takeaway (fumble recovery). Through the first eight possessions, the offense produced just three first downs.
"Well, we went outside and it felt like a November day," Dantonio said. "The field was slippery and muddy, but you have to learn how to play in the elements. That's the one thing that we've missed this spring is playing outside, so we were determined to go out there. We got in about 60 plays out there.
"The defense played very well, especially early on. The offense moved the ball well in the two-minute situations. When we can inside, it provided a little change of pace. The guys played fast on both sides of the football. A number of guys made plays, including Andre Anderson, who had a big run.
"Most importantly, I liked the way the players competed, and the outcome wasn't decided until the final series. It came down to the end and the offense had a chance to win, but the defense made some big plays down near the goal line."
The first-team offense came to life midway through the scrimmage, as Brian Hoyer (6-2, 212, Sr.-5) directed a 10-play, 70-yard scoring drive during a two-minute (end-of-half) drill. Hoyer completed all five pass attempts for 56 yards during the series, including a 20-yard strike to Blair White (6-2, 202, Jr.) on a third-and-4 play and a 22-yarder to Mark Dell (6-2, 185, So.), who made an over-the-shoulder, sliding grab to set up a first-and-goal at the Green 5-yard line. Three plays later, A.J. Jimmerson (5-10, 202, Jr.) scored on a 2-yard run behind right tackle Jesse Miller (6-6, 320, Sr.-5).
The second-team offense also had some success during its two-minute drill, as Nick Foles (6-5, 243, R-Fr.) managed a 13-play, 55-yard drive. His 14-yard completion to Chris D. Rucker (5-10, 172, R-Fr.) gave the offense a first-and-10 at the Green 15, but the drive stalled and Matt Haughey's (5-9, 170, Sr.) 32-yard field-goal attempt sailed wide left.
Following the two-minute (end-of-half) series, the scrimmage moved indoors with the offense leading 23-18.
It took the defense just two plays to regain the lead, as safety Otis Wiley (6-2, 210, Sr.) stepped in front of tight end Charlie Gantt (6-4, 256, So.) to intercept Hoyer's second-and-8 pass attempt from his own end zone. Wiley's interception, worth nine points according to the modified scoring system, gave the defense a 27-23 advantage.
Two plays later, the offense took a 32-27 lead on Andre Anderson's (5-9, 188, R-Fr.) electrifying 97-yard touchdown run. Anderson broke Johnny Adams' attempted tackle near midfield and raced the remainder of the distance untouched.
"After running against him during our winter-conditioning program, I knew Johnny Adams was a fast kid," Anderson said. "But I had no idea that he was behind me until I looked back and saw him closing. I have to credit my workout partner, Javon Ringer, who has pushed me to spend more time in the weight room. That's the reason I was able to break Johnny's tackle."
With the score tied at 40, the result of a two-minute (end-of-game) drill would determine the scrimmage outcome. The first-team offense started the final possession with a first-and-10 at the Green 32. Hoyer kept the drive alive with a 2-yard quarterback sneak on a fourth-and-1 play from the Green 23. Three plays later, fullback Andrew Hawken (6-2, 238, Jr.) raced around right end for 17 yards to set up a first-and-goal at the 4-yard line.
With its back against the wall, the defense responded as linebacker Eric Gordon (6-0, 220, So.) and Wiley combined to throw Anderson for a 5-yard loss and forced Hoyer into throwing an incompletion. On third-and-goal from the 9, the defense was flagged for holding, giving the offense a first-and-goal at the 4.
On first down, defensive end Trevor Anderson (6-2, 255, Jr.) harassed Hoyer into throwing an incompletion. On second-and-goal, Gordon and Greg Jones (6-1, 222, So.) teamed to stop Hawken for no gain on a screen pass. On third-and-goal, Anderson was tripped up for a 1-yard loss by linebacker Adam Decker (6-2, 233, Jr.). Linebacker Brandon Denson (5-11, 216, Jr.) secured the victory for the defense by tackling Hawken for a 1-yard loss on a fourth-down reception.
In limited action, Hoyer completed 10-of-18 throws for 63 yards. Foles and Kirk Cousins (6-3, 197, R-Fr.) each took snaps with the first- and second-team units. Foles hit 11-of-18 passes for 82 yards, including a 23-yard completion to Gantt, while Cousins connected on 5-of-8 tosses for 28 yards.
"Brian Hoyer has had a solid spring," Dantonio said. "He has a great presence on the field and shows great leadership ability.
"Despite the cold, windy and rainy conditions, I thought both Nick Foles and Kirk Cousins played pretty well at times. They both need to learn how to handle the pressure and stay poised in those situations. We'll evaluate the film, but the competition has been good for both of them this spring."
With 1,000-yard rusher Javon Ringer (5-9, 200, Sr.) being held out of contact drills this spring, Anderson got the bulk of the carries in the second scrimmage, rushing 14 times for 98 yards. Jimmerson gained 23 yards on eight attempts.
Chris D. Rucker had a scrimmage-best four receptions for 39 yards as 13 different receivers caught at least one pass. Dell had three catches for 30 yards.
Jones paced the first-team defense with nine tackles, while linebacker Ryan Allison (6-3, 220, Sr.) registered nine stops for the second unit, including one for a 2-yard loss. Decker produced six tackles, including three for losses (5 yards), while cornerback Kendell Davis-Clark (5-11, 204, Sr.) made five solo stops and blocked an extra-point attempt. Defensive end Brandon Long (6-4, 240, Sr.) recorded two sacks for 12 yards.
"This is just his fourth practice at MIKE (middle) linebacker, but Greg Jones is making a lot of plays out there," Dantonio said. "We've put him in a position to make some plays and he's responded. Greg played a full year on the outside, so he's comfortable moving inside.
"Ryan Allison is playing well. Today, you saw him running down people all over the field. He's a big, explosive guy. At 220-plus pounds, Ryan runs very, very well. He's still learning the position, but he's very active."
"We might be a little undersized at some positions, but we have a lot of guys that can run and hit," Long said. "Our defense has grown a lot since the beginning of spring ball. We're really beginning to mesh as a unit, and we're playing with a lot of energy and intensity."
Michigan State has two practices scheduled (April 15 and 17) before concluding 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.
Prior to the spring game, MSU's coaching staff and players will conduct a free youth football clinic (no registration required). Children, ages 8-12, are invited to attend the youth clinic from 10-11:30 a.m. on the grass practice fields behind the Duffy Daugherty Football Building, located at the corner of Chestnut Road and Shaw Lane. Clinic participants and their parents are requested to enter the practice fields through the gate on Shaw Lane. Over the last five years, more than 2,000 children have participated in the annual youth football clinic.
The purpose of the clinic is to introduce youngsters to the game by stressing fundamentals. No football gear is required. From 11:30 a.m.-12:15 p.m., Coach Dantonio and his players will be available for an autograph session for clinic participants. In addition, clinic participants will receive a coupon for a complimentary hot dog and soft drink to be redeemed at a concession stand in Spartan Stadium during the spring game.
Additional Scrimmage Notes and Quotes:
• Chris L. Rucker (6-2, 194, So.) showcased his ability as a two-way player during the second scrimmage. Rucker contributed two tackles and a pass break-up while playing his customary cornerback position and caught one pass for 6 yards in limited action at wide receiver.
• Josh Rouse (6-3, 235, Jr.), who spent the first eight practices at middle linebacker, saw action at fullback in the second scrimmage, rotating with Hawken and Jeff McPherson (6-1, 245, Sr.-5).
• Wiley contributed two tackles to go along with his interception.
"Otis Wiley has had a tremendous spring," Dantonio said. "He's such a great athlete, and he's really elevated his play. You can see him being a leader out there, and he knows how to play that position. Otis is a 210-pound safety that can run and hit."