Something To Prove: Michigan State’s offense
By Zac Ellis
Throughout the offseason, SI.com will spotlight several teams, players and coaches with something to prove heading into the 2013 season. To check out every edition of this series, click here.
Had its offense packed a little more punch, Michigan State’s 2012 season might have played out very differently. Mark Dantonio’s team fielded one of the most stifling defenses in the country last fall, but its attack kept it from living up to lofty preseason expectations.
The Spartans were expected to contend for a Big Ten title in 2012 largely behind the strength of their defense. But fans assumed the offense would at least be competent. The unit featured explosive tailback Le’Veon Bell, who went on to rush for 1,793 yards last season, and quarterback Andrew Maxwell, who was entering his first year as a starter after backing up Kirk Cousins in 2010 and ’11. Four starters returned on the offensive line. No one expected fireworks, but no one expected a complete offensive flop, either.
Yet a flop it was. Michigan State mustered only 359.3 offensive yards per game, 95th in the FBS. The passing game accounted for only 209.9 yards per game; Maxwell didn’t throw for more than 300 yards in a game once all season.
The defense did its job: It allowed the ninth-fewest points per game (16.1) and the fourth-fewest total yards per game (274.38) of any unit in the nation. But it wasn’t enough. Consequently, the Spartans became a middle-of-the-pack Big Ten team, finishing 3-5 in league play and 7-6 overall. They lost five games by a combined 13 points.
Perhaps the 2013 season is a chance for redemption. The good news is the offense returns eight starters, but the bad news is Bell isn’t one of them. Replacing his production, as well as that of tight end Dion Sims, will be difficult. And coordinator Dan Roushar left the team just before spring practice to become the running backs coach for the New Orleans Saints.
Still, change could be a good thing. With new co-coordinators Dave Warner and Jim Bollman taking control of the offense this season, all positions are up for grabs — including quarterback. Maxwell threw for 2,606 yards last season, but he completed just 52.5 percent of his attempts and ended the year with a quarterback rating of 107.1. Backup Connor Cook showed leadership by relieving Maxwell in the Buffalo Wild Wings Bowl and helping lead the Spartans to a victory over TCU — he went 4-of-11 for 47 yards and a touchdown — and signee Damion Terry is expected to enter the competition this fall.
There’s promising young talent on the receiving corps, as sophomore Aaron Burbridge showed flashes of big-play ability in the spring game, hauling in five catches for 113 yards. The team’s two leading receivers last year, Bennie Fowler and Keith Mumphrey, will also both reprise their roles in 2013. But Bell’s departure in the backfield remains an issue. Dantonio will try out plenty of options to fill his void: He moved redshirt freshman Riley Bullough from linebacker to running back this spring, will give carries to returnees Nick Hill and Jeremy Langford and should introduce at least one of the team’s top 2013 recruits (Gerald Holmes, R.J. Shelton and Delton Williams) to the mix.
Last season’s Michigan State team failed to capitalize on its opportunities. But with the defense shaping up to be stout once again, this year’s version of the Spartans could be poised for big things if the offense holds up its end of the bargain.