Michigan State Football: Three offensive observations

Michigan State is often thought of as a defensive team first and foremost. They will shut you down with a tough, physical defense and the offense will be able to put just enough points on the board to get the job done, usually by running the ball down your throats. That is not the case this year.

The 2014 version of Michigan State football still has the stingy defense, but this year they also have an offense with the potential to be explosive and put plenty of points on the board. Fans got a good look at what the Spartan offense can be this year in last week’s win over Jacksonville State.

The Spartans scored 45 points and put up 565 yards of total offense in week one and will have to do more of the same against Oregon if they want to pull out the win on the road against one of the nation’ top offenses. Let’s look at a few things, good and bad, that stood out from week one and how they can carry over to Saturday’s game against the Ducks.

Connor Cook in Control

A year ago Cook was part of a three-way battle for the starting quarterback job that nobody seemed to want to win. A year later he is the unquestioned field general for Michigan State’s offense and its most important piece.

Cook looked fantastic in the season opener completing 12 of 13 passes for 285 yards and three touchdowns. He took a late shot on his knee on his first series of the season after delivering what would be his first TD pass of the year but came back out and showed no signs of slowing down.

Beyond the numbers, Cook looked like someone in complete control of his offense. He was calm in the pocket, created extra time, made the right reads and delivered a perfect ball almost every time. He also made several pre-snap reads and adjustments that led to big plays.

Here is the second touchdown pass of the game where Cook finds Tony Lippett wide open and Lippett takes the ball all the way in for a 71-yard score.

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Seems like a pretty easy throw to a wide open receiver right? Sure but there was more going on. As Cook comes to the line he can see that JSU is using press-coverage on Lippett. Just before the ball is snapped the safety on that side of the field starts to streak towards the line, indicating a safety blitz. Cook recognizes the blitz and, knowing Lippett will be covered one-on-one, wants to go to where he has the advantage. Now it just so happens that, in a huge mix-up for JSU, the cornerback also blitzes and Lippett is wide open.

What is important is that Cook was able to recognize things quickly and diagnose the situation ahead of time so that he knew where the advantage was once the ball was snapped.

Here is another example. This is Cook’s third touchdown pass of the day, this one to A.J. Troup. MSU is first and ten at the 17 yard line. The play call in the huddle was likely a run but when Cook gets to the line and looks at the defense he checks off and audibles to another play.

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Cook sees that the defense is geared up to stop the run with eight in the box and only one deep safety playing 10 yards back. Cook knows he will have one-on-one coverage somewhere and once the safety on the left side sells out on a blitz, Cook throws the fade to Troup in single coverage, who uses his size advantage to haul in the touchdown.

Plays like this speak to the maturity and development of Cook as a quarterback. After almost a full year as a starter and a full spring and fall camp working with the number ones on offense, this is the type of development you hope to see.

Cook will need to be in top form this weekend as the Spartans will need to put plenty of points on the board to try and keep up with Oregon’s high powered offensive attack.

Running Game a Work in Progress

Michigan State managed to put up 211 yards on the ground against Jacksonville State and averaged 4.2 yards per carry, but it wasn’t as impressive a performance as the numbers would suggest. At times the offensive line struggled to get a push up front, something they should have had no trouble doing against an FCS opponent that allowed almost 200 yards rushing per game a season ago.

Jeremy Langford finished with 57 yards on 11 carries for an average of 4.4 yards per carry. Langford left the game late in the first half after limping off the field for a second time with an apparent ankle injury. Langford should be ready to go this week against Oregon but after having his carries limited in fall camp and seeing him limp off the field twice last Friday, you have to wonder how effective he will be.

On the plus side, we actually saw some positive stuff from Nick Hill on Friday. Hill finished with 11 carries for 49 yards and two touchdowns. He also had one catch for nine yards. Hill averaged 3.8 yards per carry but if you take out one run that lost eight yards because Jack Allen completely missed a block, Hill averaged 5.7 yards per carry.

Here we see Hill showing the type of running skills that we always hoped he would.

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This is a great run because it involves Hill doing everything you want your running back to do. The play looks like it’s designed to go right but there is a huge hole on the left side cutback lane. Hill finds the hole and gets into the second level. Once there he gets a nice block from Tony Lippett on the corner and then spins right out of the safety’s tackle attempt. He then gets his speed back up and beats the rest of the JSU defense to the endzone.

Hill also broke a tackle on his one catch of the game, which turned it from a possible loss to a nine yard gain.

Michigan State will need a solid running game this week at Oregon. Controlling the clock will be a factor in this game for MSU and running the ball is a good way to do that. Winning time of possession obviously keeps Oregon’s offense off the field but a solid running attack can also ice the game late, as we saw several times last season.

Deep and Talented Receivers

It was only a few years ago that the MSU receivers were something holding back the Spartan offense. Now they are one of the best and deepest position units on the entire team. We saw that on display last week.

Tony Lippett is one of the key offensive players returning in 2014

Tony Lippett has emerged as MSU’s top receiver

Tony Lippett, who has emerged as the leader and number one receiver, had a huge game with four catches for 167 yards and two touchdowns.

We saw A.J. Troup make his first career catch for a touchdown on that fade from Cook. Troup finished with three catches for 38 yards but that TD catch showed that his size makes him a legit weapon in the red zone.

Keith Mumphery only had one catch but it was for 43 yards. He became the Spartans big play receiver last year and looks to be picking up right where he left off.

We also saw R.J. Shelton and Aaron Burbridge show off their versatility. Burbridge caught one pass for eight yards but also had two carries for 18 yards, including a 15 yard run that set up the Troup touchdown. Shelton caught one pass for five yards and had two carries for 19 yards with a long of 17 yards.

Michigan State will likely continue to use Shelton and possibly Burbridge in both the running and passing game in order to utilize their speed. Macgarrett Kings also had a carry for 17 yards but given his injury I doubt they run anything specifically for him this week.

 

The Michigan State offense looked pretty good last week, albeit against inferior competition. They will need to continue to have an explosive passing attack this week as well as get more out of their running game. Getting in a shoot-out with Oregon is usually a recipe for a loss, but this MSU offense might be able to carry the load for once and hope that their defense can come up with just enough plays to win the game.