Three keys for Michigan State in 2016
Leading up to the start of the 2016 season, we’ll preview three key factors for every B1G team to have success.
Here are Michigan State’s:
1. Adjust to Tyler O’Connor’s skill set
Tyler O’Connor is not Connor Cook or Kirk Cousins. Anybody expecting him to come in and challenge single-season passing records is crazy. Remember O’Connor’s grind-it-out, possession battle he led in Columbus? Expect more of those.
No one is doubting the Spartans’ ability to build a game plan around O’Connor’s skill set. MSU has a knack for putting quarterbacks in position to thrive, and even go on to the NFL. O’Connor might not look like a pro-style quarterback all the time. He might not throw the prettiest deep ball, and there might not be many shootouts like years past.
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That’s ok. He’ll give the Spartans a mobile element that they didn’t really have with Cook. They won’t be afraid to move him out of the pocket. The goal, of course, is not to put him in too many positions to take open-field shots.
O’Connor is plenty capable of moving the chains and making timely throws. Still, the offense figures to shift back to a more run-heavy look. In other words, don’t expect O’Connor’s offense to look like Cook’s.
2. Get back to no-fly-zone
Easier said than done, right?
Co-defensive coordinator Harlon Barnett did say that he felt this was the best group of defensive backs the Spartans had from top to bottom since he’s been at Michigan State.
That would be a welcome sight for a group that uncharacteristically finished 76th against the pass in 2015. The first season without Pat Narduzzi was rocky. Part of that was because of injuries, and part of that was because MSU just wasn’t very good.
Michigan State's top three returning defensive backs in snaps played gave up completions on 97 of 147 targets in 2015, along with 8 TDs.
— PFF College Football (@PFF_College) August 29, 2016
This year, the hope is that returners Demetrious Cox, Vayante Copeland, Montae Nicholson and Darian Hicks can provide some stability to that group.
That second half against Alabama exposed every hole in MSU’s secondary. Hopefully that set the tone for a return to form in 2016.
3. Establish new go-to receiver
I’ll save you any more thoughts on how underrated Aaron Burbridge was last year. Without the B1G’s leading receiver, MSU is in need of a new go-to guy.
RJ Shelton will be used a lot to stretch the defense and Josiah Price is a reliable red-zone target. But the Spartans need someone who consistently attracts the defensive backfield’s attention.
Dantonio already likened Monty Madaris to Bennie Fowler. Sophomore Felton Davis could be an option after he showed flashes as a true freshman.
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Everyone has Donnie Corley tabbed as the next MSU star, which he very well could be. The Detroit native is dynamic and versatile, but there aren’t many true freshmen that lead top-25 teams in receiving.
The job of go-to receiver is up for grabs, which isn’t the worst thing. Burbridge didn’t hit 30 catches or 400 yards in a season before he exploded for 85 catches and 1,258 yards in 2015.
MSU has plenty of capable options that can follow Burbridge’s path to stardom. The sooner that guy emerges, the better.