Fortunately, a change in the weather is in the offing, and it appears to be here to stay. In the Greater Lansing area that signifies one thing: the Michigan State Spring Game.
Coach Mel Tucker, redshirt junior quarterback Payton Thorne, redshirt senior wide receiver Jayden Reed, and the rest of the Spartan squad will hit the field at 2 p.m. on Saturday for Michigan State’s annual spring game at Spartan Stadium. In the lead-up to Tucker’s third season, the team will play its second spring game following a 2020 break and a 2021 spring game limited to 6,000 supporters.
This year, the game is entirely open, free to the public, and surrounded by considerably more hype than the previous spring. That’s how Tucker feels too. Attendees can take their seats as early as 12:30 p.m. if they choose.
“I recall our first spring game at Georgia, we had 97,000 people there,” Tucker remarked. People couldn’t get in, so the fire marshal had to come to tell them. They were standing in the aisles. So I’d love to see it. Come on out and let’s watch some ball, there’s no reason not to.”
Those planning on attending are encouraged to bring books as part of a book drive for the Lansing Public School District. With every book donated, you’ll receive one drawing ticket good for two complimentary tickets to the Michigan State-Ohio State game in October of next year.
MSU’s spring game will be televised by the Big Ten Network and webcast live on the Spartan Media Network for those who can’t make it.
What to expect:
It’s possible that the term “spring game” is deceptive. Just like last spring, there will be no scrimmage between the green and white. Rather, Saturday will consist of a 15-period practice.
To others, it may be a disappointment compared to the game-style approach under former Head Coach Mark Dantonio. The public got a taste of the hard, detail-oriented Tucker-led practice last spring. At every MSU practice, Tucker expects the same level of pace and intensity as on the game day, and that won’t change this weekend.
But if it were up to Tucker, it wouldn’t be this way. The Spartans’ spring has been plagued by injuries, particularly to the offensive line. It hasn’t simply affected the trenches either. Reps across the board, such as those for running backs, have been trimmed back during team exercises.
“I would want to be able to play a typical game if we could,” Tucker added. “But our numbers won’t allow us to accomplish it.”
Positions to watch:
Line of scrimmage
The offensive line was already projected to be a work in progress going into the spring. It was a steady and experienced bunch last year. But with the departures of three regular starters in graduate student A.J. Arcuri, redshirt senior Kevin Jarvis, and graduate student Matt Allen as well as crucial contributors like redshirt senior Blake Bueter and graduate student Luke Campbell, a remade offensive line is in the future.
Only five Spartans on the spring roster have played in a game. Offensive guard Matt Carrick, who is in his sixth season, and offensive tackle Jarret Horst, who is in his fifth, both decided to remain for one more season. Senior offensive guard J.D. Duplain broke out in 2021 and aims to build upon it. Senior Nick Samac aims to become the regular starting centre. Redshirt junior offensive tackle Spencer Brown showed flashes in his first career start in the Peach Bowl.
Individual talent is always vital on the offensive line, however, synergy is just as, if not more, essential. Spring ball provides an opportunity to strengthen that. But as MSU has moved through the spring with at times as low as seven available linemen, it has missed part of the opportunity.
Tucker explains that “normally, you do your solo periods first, then your group periods, and then your team.” “And so we’ve had to blend some of the group periods in between the team periods throughout the practice so that we can keep the O-line fresh. We’ve instituted some T.V. timeouts throughout practise to give those folks a blow.”
It is unknown at this moment who will and won’t be accessible on Saturday, but those who can give it a shot will be on show. Several young players who might not otherwise get much playing time are doing so to the surprise of the coaching staff.
Michigan State fans got their first peek at junior running back Kenneth Walker III last spring, the birth of a green and white star. Effrem Reed, the new running backs coach hired by the Spartans, will be charged with taking over for Walter Camp Player of the Year.
Despite not playing in a game in his lone season of eligibility, redshirt freshman Davion Primm has been one of the most talked-about players this spring.
“The one thing that sticks out the most about Davion, his body has changed a lot so he’s able to handle a lot more, but the mental element of the game, he understands that a lot more,” Reed said on Thursday. “He can slow things down, and he is doing so on the field. So he’s able to process a lot more and he’s playing faster and making plays.”
Wisconsin transfer running back Jalen Berger was bruised up early in the spring but appears to be emerging late. The squad held its second scrimmage of the spring last Thursday and Berger “popped a couple of runs” despite not being at full strength for the first practice. A four-star prospect in high school, the potential is there for Berger to be a significant player early in the season.
The Spartans still await the summer arrival of Colorado transfer Jarek Broussard, but still, have enough to work with. In addition to Berger and Primm, MSU returns junior Jordon Simmons, redshirt senior Harold Joiner, redshirt senior Elijah Collins and redshirt sophomore Donovan Eaglin — all players who received carries in 2021.
The linebacking core was one of the more solid groupings when healthy, anchored by senior Quavaris Crouch and redshirt sophomore Cal Haladay. Both are back for 2022 and want to build off the foundation they created last fall.
However, Crouch has been a non-participant in spring practice and missed three games last year with injuries, revealing a dearth of depth in defensive coordinator Scottie Hazelton’s two-linebacker scheme. Hazelton has subsequently held his title but turned to an emphasis on the linebackers.
As a result, the Spartans were able to nab two strong linebacker transfers in UNLV senior Jacoby Windmon and Mississippi State fifth-year Aaron Brule. Crouch, Haladay, Windmon, and Brule, all feature unique skill sets that Hazelton claims can be weaponized.
“There are a couple of people in that room with the capacity to rush and you’d say ‘Okay, you can get down there on third down and go rush or we can blitz this, s or we can employ this,’” Hazelton said. “That helps the team overall just get more pressure.”
Then there is junior Darius Snow. Although he’s labeled as a safety, he’s played safety and nickel back for the past two seasons. However, he’s been hanging with the linebackers this spring in hopes of adding to his already varied profile.
Snow improved every week last fall and won over the fanbase with his humorous play style. It’s been all nice compliments from the team on his time with the linebackers, leaving a fascinating mystery for what Michigan State has in store.
“It’s probably the best fit for him right there,” Hazelton added. “There’s a lot of the same concepts that they use so he hasn’t missed a beat moving there. That was fantastic.”