Three MSU football story lines to watch, beyond the quarterbacks

In football, the story is mostly about the quarterbacks until you have one. At Michigan State, that story isn’t going away, at least not until Andrew Maxwell or Connor Cook or someone else proves, without question, they’re the guy.

I wrote about that competition in my Sunday LSJ column. Here is its for those who missed it in print (or only use the internet for leisure at work): Connor Cook wins the day, as MSU’s QB race comes into focus.

The basic premise is that this race is no longer just up to Andrew Maxwell’s development. Cook’s ceiling may simply be higher.

But there were other moments and players of intrigue during Saturday’s spring game. Here are three that stood out:

1. DeAnthony Arnett’s story isn’t over.

It was hard not to feel good for Arnett Saturday. Whatever his errors, be it in ego or adjustment or youth, MSU’s junior wideout doesn’t deserve the constant and obsessive critical eye he’s received since transferring from Tennessee.

Until Saturday — through last week’s spring game player draft (when Arnett was chosen eighth among underclassman receivers by his teammates) — I thought Arnett was buried so far on the depth chart that he’d be better served redshirting this season, if he stuck around at all.

My perspective lacked patience (though I wasn’t as impatient with Arnett as many of you).

Saturday, he caught two passes for 30 yards, his first a 22-yard touchdown against double coverage on 3rd-and-20 just before halftime. It was a good throw by Cook and nice concentration by Arnett, who looked the ball in and got himself between the ball and cornerback Arjen Calquhoun.

Just as important, I thought, was his next catch, an 8-yard grab in the third quarter, because he was clearly the target of the play for Cook and defensive coordinator Pat Narduzzi’s Green team. He went in motion and then caught a bubble screen, before making a strong move inside for the bulk of the yardage.

On both occasions, Arnett looked like a legit playmaker. MSU needs those. If he continues to show that, it’ll be difficult to keep him out of the mix at wideout.

2. Lawrence Thomas is a critical piece to the defense.

On a defense full of playmakers and without many (if any) real holes, the behemoth redshirt sophomore gives MSU something it doesn’t have — a difference-making athlete on its interior defensive line.

One play stood out Saturday, the sort of play we didn’t see over the center from MSU last season, even from a defensive ranked No. 4 in the country.

On 2nd-and-3, on the White team’s second possession, Thomas pushed aside starting center Travis Jackson to stuff running back Jeremy Langford at the line of scrimmage. It was the type of disruption Jerel Worthy used to cause. And, on a defense that appears to have everything else (including two young, emerging corners to complement Darqueze Dennard), Thomas might be what makes this crew even more staunch than a year ago.

3. Riley Bullough has something to him as a running back.

Mark Dantonio saw it last season, when Bullough was used as a running back on the scout team to prepare for Iowa. The rest of us saw it Saturday. Bullough isn’t simply a big, fast guy. He’s a fairly natural runner.

Playing running back is as much about instinct and hips as it is speed. It’s what made Sedrick Irvin great at MSU 15 years ago and his presumed successor, Shawn Foster, a memory only to those of us who attended Lansing’s Sexton High School. Foster might have completed an 100-meter dash before Irvin found the 50-yard line. But Irvin had wiggle, hips and instinct.

Likewise, Bullough has a knack for running the football. I’m not sure the arrival of touted and sizable backs Gerald Holmes, Delton Williams will be enough to send Bullough back to linebacker to back up his older brother.

He showed too much in 11 carries for 46 yards Saturday. And, it seems, had shown his coaches and teammates too much even before then.

If you missed any of our other spring game coverage, here’s a breakdown of what we saw from the defense and what to expect this season, per colleague Chris Solari, and a similar analysis of the offense, from colleague Brian Calloway, as well as an overview from Joe Rexrode.

And here’s a photo gallery from LSJ photographer Kevin Fowler.

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4 Responses to Three MSU football story lines to watch, beyond the quarterbacks

  1. avatar Spartan 81 says:

    I really like Riley Bullough should have a positive impact this fall.

    • avatar LancelotSpartan says:

      Yeah Riley did look very powerful. It will be interesting to see how the incoming freshman stack up against the talent that is already on the team.

  2. avatar Spartan 81 says:

    Five days left for Payne to make his decision, my guess only Graham it comes Thursday or Friday.

    • avatar ddd says:

      Technically, Adreian doesn’t need to do or say anything if he is returning. If coach Izzo was smart, he’d take him on a long fishing trip for a few days with no cell phones allowed. Come back early Monday AM. (Well, I can dream can’t I?)

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