2008 Opponent Preview: Michigan State

Michigan State Offense:
Brian Hoyer wasn’t terrible last year, but in several games, he wasn’t particularly far from it (Boston College, though that was almost entirely on the coaching staff). Both of his primary backups from last year return, in the form of Nick Foles and Conner Dixon. Each only played in the first game last year, so Foles will be a redshirt freshman in 2008, and Dixon a redshirt sophomore.


Michigan State Quarterbacks Passing 2007
Name Comp Att % Yds TD Int Yds/Att
Brian Hoyer 223 376 59.31 2725 20 11 7.25
Nick Foles 5 8 62.50 57 0 0 7.13
Connor Dixon 3 5 60.00 37 1 0 7.40
Michigan State Quarterbacks Rushing 2007
Name Att Yds TD Yds/Att
Brian Hoyer 47 -105 1 -2.23

Hoyer is a competent game-manager, but when asked to throw when the Spartans could be running, he sucked (see: BC). He is nothing to fear for opposing defenses, and if they can stop the run, Hoyer won’t win games for them. However, if the ground game can remain consistent, he should be a liability. Behind him, there is little help (especially since Keith Nichol won’t be eligible until 2009).

Last year, State employed something of a “thunder and lightning” approach to sharing carries, a term of which I am starting to get quite sick. Javon Ringer was the speedy guy, and he will return for his senior season. Jehuu Caulcrick, the between-the-tackles guy, has graduated. Depth player Brett Kahn also departs. AJ Jimmerson is not as big as Caulcrick was, but the junior will hope to get some of the inside carries. Andre Anderson got a few carries in the first game of the year, but redshirted for the Spartans.


Michigan State Running Backs Rushing 2007
Name Att Yds TD Yds/Att
Javon Ringer 245 1447 6 5.91
Jehuu Caulcrick 222 872 21 3.93
AJ Jimmerson 19 44 0 2.32
Brett Kahn 3 20 0 6.67
Andre Anderson 8 16 1 4.00
Andrew Hawken (FB) 2 2 0 1.00
Michigan State Running Backs Recei
ving 2007
Name Att Yds TD Yds/Att
Javon Ringer 35 295 0 8.43
Andrew Hawken (FB) 10 81 1 8.10
Jeff McPherson (FB) 4 43 1 10.75
Jehuu Caulcrick 5 36 0 7.20
AJ Jimmerson 2 14 0 7.00
Andre Anderson 1 -5 0 -5.00

Ringer is one of the better running backs in the conference, but it remains to be seen if he can carry a significant majority of the load. If some of the younger guys can step up, this area should be a strength for the Spartans. Its development will be key to offensive success (see: quarterbacks).

Devin Thomas was a two-year wonder for the Spartans, going pro after one good year in green and white (he caught only 6 passes in 2006). Starting TE Kellen Davis is also gone. Stepping into primary roles for the receiving corps will be sophomore Mark Dell and senior Deon Curry. Other players will have to emerge that didn’t get significant playing time last year, or Hoyer might be in big trouble.


Michigan State Receivers 2007
Name Rec Yds TD Yds/Rec
Devin Thomas 79 1260 8 15.95
Kellen Davis (TE) 32 513 6 16.03
Mark Dell 20 220 2 11.00
Deon Curry 24 200 1 8.33
Terry Love 9 84 0 9.33
Eric Andino (TE) 5 44 2 8.80
Blair White 3 25 0 8.33
TJ Williams 1 16 0 16.00
Carl Grimes 1 10 0 10.00
Dwayne Holmes (TE) 1 6 0 6.00
Michigan State Receivers Rushing 2007
Name Att Yds TD Yds/Att
Devin Thomas 27 177 0 6.56
Kellen Davis 6 43 0 7.17
Mark Dell 2 24 0 12.00
Ryan Allison 1 23 0 23.00

I think Thomas’s high number of carries last year was a way for Dantonio to get the ball into his best playmaker’s hands, rather than a sign that he loves to have WRs run the ball. The majority of their damage will be through the air. With a couple young guys stepping in to replace the top couple pass receivers from last year, MSU needs them to step up. They wono’t be specatular, like Thomas was last year, but State fans are hoping they can be consistent performers.

Michigan State loses 3/5 of their starting line from last year, with Pete Clifford, Kenny Shane, and John Masters graduating after five years in Green and White. On the right side, Roland Martin and Jesse Miller are back at guard and tackle, respectively. Martin will shift over to the left guard position for his senior year. The left tackle slot will be filled by junior Rocco Cironi. Center and right guard will be filled by juniors Joel Nitchman and Brendon Miller.

The MSU offensive line was fairly successful last year, paving the way for the nation’s #25 rushing attack, though they were #77 in the nation in keeping Hoyer off the turf. They look to take big steps back in both categories, losing significant personnel, including the left tackle, from their own ranks, while the team’s second-leading rusher is gone as well. Javon Ringer probably won’t be as successful this year, and with new receivers and worse protection, Hoyer will probably get hit quite a bit more as well.

Offensive Analysis:
Javon Ringer should be the cog that makes the Spartan machine go, though he seems poised to get more carries this year than he has at any point in his career, and isn’t necessarily built to take a big pounding. Hoyer won’t win any games on his own, and though he may be able to lose one or two, it is more likely that he will be a game-manager. He lost his top couple targets, and the Spartans don’t have a lot of experience returning in the wings to fill in. With a mostly-new offensive line, including the left tackle, there could be trouble up front for MSU. Expect a step back in terms of offensive production.

Michigan State Defense:

Defensive Line:
5th-year snior Justin Kershaw is the only returning starter along the defensive line. The other starter, sophomore Oren Wilson, will replace Ogemdi Nwagbuo. Wilson got some playing time last year, but is still a very young player. Replacing the D-line’s two leading tacklers at defensive end will be senior Brandon Long and junior Trevor Anderson. Anderson didn’t accumulate any stats last year.


Michigan State Defensive Line 2007
Name Tackle TFL Sacks
Ervin Baldwin 58 18.5 8.5
Jonal Saint-Dic 47 14.5 10
Justin Kershaw 34 5 1.5
Ogemdi Nwagbuo 31 4.5 1
Brandon Long 18 4 2
Oren Wilson 10 0.5 0
Antonio Jeremiah 6 1 1
Michael Jordan 3 0.5 0
Colin Neely 3 0.5 0
John Stipek 2 0.5 0
Reggie Graham 1 0 0

Jordan is l
isted on the spring depth chart as a backup TE. Stipek is listed on the spring depth chart at OG.

Ouch. Three of the top four tacklers are gone, including the self-nicknamed “Sack Master” Jonal Saint-Dic (side note – most of his sacks came against the outstanding offensive lines of Bowling Green, Pitt, and Notre Dame). A couple other guys who were listed at DL are now on the spring depth chart on offense. The players remaining to fill holes here mostly have very few tackles (read: have played almost exclusively on special teams). This looks to be an area of weakness (or at least improving over the course of the year) for the Spartans.

Among the starters at linebacker, only Kaleb Thornhill has departed. He will be replaced in the middle by junior Adam Decker. On the outside, Greg Jones and Eric Gordon return after big freshman years (Gordon as a redshirt). Backing up the starters will be redshirt sophomore Jon Misch, and juniors Josh Roush and Brandon Denson.


Michigan State Linebackers 2007
Name Tackle TFL Sack Int
Greg Jones 78 8.5 4.5 0
Kaleb Thornhill 64 10 2 0
Eric Gordon 62 7.5 1 1
Jon Misch 22 0.5 0.5 0
Brandon Denson 10 0 0 0
Josh Rouse 9 1.5 0 0
Devin Pritchett 2 0 0 0

Jones and Gordon had an exceptional year for a pair of freshmen. If they continue to improve, they could be huge players for the Spartans down the line. Regardless, Thornhill was regarded to be the best linebacker for State last year. If Adam Decker can step in and fill the void, the outside backer’s should be free to make some plays. The troubling aspect of this is that Decker didn’t accumulate any stats last year, despite being listed as the backup at the position.

Defensive Backs:
Kendell Davis-Clark returns for his senior season as the team’s #1 corner. Ross Weaver is gone at the other corner spot, and will be replaced by Ashton Henderson. Travis Key, Otis Wiley, and Nehemiah Warrick rotated playing time at safety last year (Wiley was the nominal backup to Key, but also played as the nickel back). Key and Warrick are gone, leaving Wiley to start at strong safety. At free safety, Roderick Jenrette will take over after playing primarily on special teams last year. Chris Rucker, Jeremy Ware, Marcus Hyde, and Dan Fortener are the primary backups in the defensive secondary.


Michigan State Defensive Backs 2007
Name Tackle TFL Sack Int
Kendell Davis-Clark 86 5.5 4 0
Travis Key 69 1 0 0
Nehemiah Warrick 61 1 0 0
Otis Wiley 49 1 0 4
SirDarean Adams 47 4.5 0 2
Chris Rucker 24 0 0 1
Ross Weaver 19 2 0 0
Ashton Henderson 18 0 0 0
Rob Tabatchnick 17 3 1 0
Roderick Jenrette 15 0 0 1
Marcus Hyde 2 0 0 0
Jesse Johnson 1 0 0 0
Mike Bell 1 0 0 0
Jelani Namtambu 1 0 0 0
Dan Fortener 1 0 0 0
Jeremy Ware 1 0 0 0

Though Davis-Clark was the secondary’s leading tackler last year, there is always a sense of discomfort when that honor goes to a corner – it usually just means he can’t cover a receiver to save his life. This, in effect, means State lost its two best DBs. Considering they weren’t even particularly good, that could spell trouble in the secondary. Ross Weaver was listed as a sophomore last year, but is nowhere to be found on MSU’s spring depth chart. If he comes back, I doubt Michigan fans would lament his return.

Defensive Analysis:
Losing very important pieces on the DL and in the secondary should spell trouble for the passing game. If the new D-linemen can hold their own against the run, State’s linebackers should be able to make some plays. However, with youth and inexperience all over the defense, expect to see a step back from the Spartan defense as well.

Special Teams:

Aaron Bates returns as punter, though he was kinda crappy last year. Brett Swenson wasn’t particularly good last year, either, hitting on a Gingellian 68% of his field goals (just kidding, Gingell was 3/9).


Michigan State Kicking 2007
Name FGM Att % Long XPM Att %
Brett Swenson 15 22 68.12 46 53 54 98.15
Michigan State Punting 2007
Name Punts Yds Avg
Aaron Bates 69 2742 39.74

Expect improvement from both specialists, if only because there is nowhere to go but up.

Overall Analysis:
I came into this preview expecting to see State poised to make another run to the upper-middle of the Big Ten, but they lost so many key pieces that I don’t think that is likely. I think MSU will take a step back in 2008, with both the offense and defense struggling a bit. Dantonio is a good coach, which Spartans fans should count on as the factor that will get them into a bowl game again.

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1 Comment so far

  1. Anonymous says...

    Mich State got a pretty good receiver recruit last year from the state of Michigan. I think his name was Fred Smith, or something like that. Both UM and OhioSt were after him real bad, so that tells me he might be good enough to come in and play right away, or at least after a few games.

    As you know, receiver is one position where Freshman often play, and even excel.

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