Top Three Takeaways from the MSU Football Spring Game

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Spring is in the air, which can only mean one thing: football is back.

The annual Michigan State Green and White spring game is officially in the books for the Spartans, and it could not have gone better. Spring fever was setting in as families and friends, not to mention students taking a study break, poured into Spartan Stadium to Michigan State football return to action. The excitement led to a record-setting crowd of 51,000.

In front of the green and white faithful, the White team escaped with a slim 14-11 victory over the Green team. Quarterback Brian Lewerke marched his Green team into opponent territory late looking for the game-winning touchdown, until safety David Dowell made the game-clinching interception to seal the deal for the White team.

Students and alumni alike got a solid taste of the outlook of Michigan State’s football program in the foreseeable future. There are several results and factors that they can point to that might make or break the Spartans’ season. Here are my three biggest takeaways from the spring game:

1. Tyler O’Connor is a worthy passer.

The 6-foot-3 senior quarterback was not asked to throw the ball often in the late November clash against Ohio State. He did most of his damage on the ground, converting crucial third and fourth downs by running the option to perfection. He did a solid job of weaving his way through the gaps of the defense. Despite his outstanding performance, many still doubted his throwing ability because of his conservative approach and small sample size.

He proved the doubters wrong Saturday, as he went 10-for-16 for 138 yards and a touchdown through the air. He showed his incredible potential by extending plays with his mobility, which allowed him to make big plays downfield. His great decision making and pinpoint accuracy showed the nation why he has a decisive advantage in the four-way quarterback race.

The other candidates in Damion Terry, Brian Lewerke, and Messiah deWeaver were very inconsistent on Saturday. Terry was missing receivers while throwing on the run and even coughed up the ball a few times. Lewerke and deWeaver also had their fair share of struggles, as their footwork while throwing was suspect, and they were often out of sync when trying to hook up with their receivers. If O’Connor can consistently stay in rhythm and limit turnovers, then it is his job to lose.

2. The young receivers have stepped up.

Michigan State has several voids at the receiver position to fill with the departures of Aaron Burbridge, MacGarrett Kings Jr., and DeAnthony Arnett. But Spartan fans need not worry, because several underclassmen rose to the occasion.

The true freshman receiver duo of Donnie Corley and Cam Chambers proved that the hype was real, as Chambers finished with two grabs for 45 yards and the lone touchdown for the Green team. Despite Corley only having one catch for 18 yards, he was targeted multiple times throughout the game. There were also inexperienced upperclassmen such as Barksdale, Sowards, Madaris, and Macksood that hauled in a few catches to further supply the aerial game.

This progress is huge because it takes pressure off of veterans like the senior trio of RJ Shelton, Josiah Price, and Jamal Lyles. The emergence of these young receivers will also give the new starting quarterback more options.

Of course, the young receiving corps is fighting through growing pains, as they had a few drops and moments of miscommunication. But it’s all part of the growing process for them to develop their game to the next level. This dynamic aspect will be a great complement to the running game, especially off of play action passes if the ground game is on point.

3. The defensive line controlled the line of scrimmage.

Michigan State does not rebuild, but rather reloads. The mold of that statement sticks with the defensive line. They took a major hit recently when it was announced that Craig Evans and Montez Sweat were leaving the team for personal reasons. However, it was nearly impossible to see their absence Saturday because the defensive ends dominated at the point of attack.

This squad was by far the most impressive group of players to watch in the spring game. Malik McDowell is a superstar in the making going into his junior year. He’s expected to have his breakout year this upcoming season, with the help of a reliable supporting cast led by Damon Knox and Kyonta Stallworth. These guys controlled the battle of the trenches by getting a great boost off the line and using their intimidating size and athleticism to their advantage. Reconstructing the offensive line after losing Donovan Clark, Jack Allen and Jack Conklin from last year can only make it easier to penetrate the offensive backfield.

The linebacking corps led by Riley Bullough, which is the heart and soul of the team, will ease some pressure off of the defensive line by contributing to clogging the running lanes and stopping the run. McDowell and company will return the favor by taking some heat off of the veteran secondary by applying pressure on the opposing quarterbacks, which will force them to get out of their comfort zones and make poor decisions.