Three things to watch for in Michigan State's spring game
When: Saturday, 3 p.m. ET
TV: Big Ten Network
WHAT TO WATCH FOR
-The obvious quarterback battle
Just in case you forgot, there’s a bit of a quarterback battle brewing in East Lansing. Tyler O’Connor and Damion Terry are both vying to replace Connor Cook, albeit with different styles.
O’Connor is the more experienced candidate, and some believe he’s ready to take on the duties as a senior. Perhaps that’s why he’s considered the early leader. O’Connor wasn’t necessarily the main reason the Spartans won at Ohio State, but he made enough throws and he avoided the key mistakes to make sure they didn’t lose. Considering the deep returning backfield, that might be all the QB in East Lansing is asked to do.
Both are mobile, but Terry’s mobility is his strength. He presents a different look than what opponents are used to seeing from MSU’s factory of pro-style quarterbacks. That’s not to say Terry is exclusively a runner, but the game-plan will be noticeably different when he’s on the field.
Saturday will give MSU fans a chance to see the two battle in a game-like atmosphere, and not in complementary roles of each other like they were in against Maryland and Ohio State. Some might’ve already picked a favorite. Ultimately, Mark Dantonio’s choice is the only one that matters. We know that even if one candidate does stand out, Dantonio won’t name a starter for another several months.
-Donnie Corley’s debut
Besides the quarterback battle, the talk of MSU’s spring has been the play of versatile early enrollee Donnie Corley. Dantonio believes that the 6-3, 190-pound wideout will eventually play both ways for MSU. Corley is that good. But before he turns into the second coming of Tony Lippett, he’ll look to do his damage at receiver and on special teams.
Teammates and coaches raved about the fact that he led the team sprints and that he took a reverse 60 yards to the house in a scrimmage. His conditioning level is supposedly off the charts, which is likely why he’s even a candidate to play both ways.
On Saturday, there will be plenty of people anticipating the four-star receiver’s debut. It seems inevitable that he’ll see time early and often. With another impressive showing Saturday, the hype will be sky-high for the true freshman.
-MSU’s defensive line
It seems like the trio of Shilique Calhoun, Joel Heath and Lawrence Thomas were in East Lansing forever. Their 93 combined starts suggest that they were. Now that they’re all gone, there’s a changing of the guard.
Malik McDowell, who might’ve been right about his claim that he’s the best defensive lineman in the country, is the unit’s only returning starter. MSU’s depth took a hit when Craig Evans and Montez Sweat left the team for “personal reasons.” Fortunately, the Spartans have some who are more than capable of stepping up.
Assuming the NCAA grants him a sixth year of eligibility, defensive tackle Damon Knox is the veteran leader of this group. He’ll benefit from playing alongside a force like McDowell. So will defensive ends Demetrius Cooper and Evan Jones, both of whom are expected to start. Talented second-year tackles Raequan Williams and Cassius Peat will get increased reps and will also be worth watching.
This unit could prove to match the talent of the 2015 group, but for now, it lacks the depth. Saturday should serve as an early indicator of how ready MSU’s new-look defensive front is to step into some major roles.