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Defense Wins First Spring Football Scrimmage Strong safety Travis Key intercepts two passes, returning one 78 yards for a touchdown.

EAST LANSING, Mich. – Under mostly cloudy skies and temperatures in the low-50s, first-year Michigan State head coach Mark Dantonio sent his team through a 158-play scrimmage in Spartan Stadium on Saturday, March 31 to conclude the second week of spring practice. Utilizing a modified scoring system, the defense (White team) held on to win the nearly three-hour scrimmage, 71-70.

The scrimmage format provided the defense with 16 different scoring opportunities, while the offense had 10 ways to put points on the scoreboard, including the traditional touchdown and field goal.

The Spartan defense came up with stops on each of the first 13 possessions, including three takeaways (two fumble recoveries and one interception) and a safety. Through the first 13 possessions, the offense produced just three first downs.

The first- and second-team defense kept the running game in check most of the scrimmage, as Javon Ringer (5-9, 202, Jr.) and Jehuu Caulcrick (6-0, 255, Sr.) combined to rush for 43 yards on 24 carries. Neither Ringer nor Caulcrick broke a run for longer than 9 yards.

Brian Hoyer (6-2, 212, Jr.), who took all the snaps with the first-team offense, started the scrimmage with a hot hand, completing 12 of his first 13 passes for 129 yards, but turnovers and penalties plagued the offense early.

“I was very pleased with the intensity, especially from our defense,” Coach Dantonio said. “Those guys came ready to play; tackled well and forced some turnovers. The defense played with a lot of emotion and had success stopping the run. They did a great job of limiting Javon Ringer’s rushing yards, especially on first and second down.

“Offensively, we got solid quarterback play from Brian Hoyer, but we must hold on to the football after taking a hit down field and we can’t hurt ourselves with penalties. We will work at eliminating the unforced errors.

“With the way things played out today, we were reminded that football is a four-quarter game. Our offense lacked intensity early but as the scrimmage progressed, the guys competed.”

The first-team offense finally came to life as Hoyer capped a five-play, 51-yard drive with a 41-yard scoring strike to Terry Love (5-11, 173, Sr.).

On its next series, the first-team offense drove to the White 25-yard line but on a fourth-and-2 play, Hoyer’s pass deflected off tight end Eric Andino’s hands and into the arms of strong safety Travis Key (5-10, 185, Sr.), who returned the interception 78 yards for a touchdown. Key’s interception return accounted for 12 points with the modified scoring system and gave the defense a 47-19 lead.

Two possessions later, the third-team offense got some points back as John Van Dam’s (6-3, 218, Sr.) 20-yard completion to tight end Charlie Gantt (6-4, 240, R-Fr.) set up Brett Swenson’s (5-8, 160, So.) 34-yard field goal.

Hoyer managed his second scoring drive as his 9-yard screen pass to Caulcrick led to another Swenson field goal, a 33-yarder.

Second-team quarterback Connor Dixon (6-4, 191, R-Fr.) sparked a furious rally as he opened a two-minute drill with a 60-yard TD run. Dixon also completed a two-point pass to Andino (6-4, 246, Sr.) as the offense pulled to within 13 points, 70-57.

On the second play of the first goal-line series, Hoyer rolled right and fired a 10-yard TD toss to Andino, and Swenson’s successful conversion cut the offense’s deficit to six at 70-64.

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On the first play of the next goal-line series, A.J. Jimmerson (5-10, 202, So.) scored on a 6-yard run off right tackle to tie the score at 70.

Coach Dantonio did not permit the extra-point attempt, but said the offense could win the scrimmage with another scoring drive. The offense began the next series at midfield and with the aid of a defensive personal foul penalty, the Green found itself in field-goal range. Swenson came on to attempt a 50-yard field goal, but the kick sailed wide left, giving the defense a 71-70 victory.

“Overall, I’m pleased with the scrimmage,” Dantonio said. “The players played with emotion and we saw some good hitting. We put the coaches in the press box and on the sidelines, trying to create as many game-like situations as possible. Coaches just don’t call plays, they call plays based upon game situations. We also wanted to play everybody to create competition at all positions.

“I’m really happy with what we accomplished in this first scrimmage, and I think we took a stop forward as a team. This game is played with intensity and emotion. If we can capture those two elements 12 times this season, we’re going to be successful.”

Hoyer finished the scrimmage 23-of-37 passing for 211 yards, two TDs and two interceptions. He completed throws to eight different receivers.

“I really like Brian’s presence in the huddle; he’s definitely in control,” Dantonio said. “He’s got a great arm, and he does enough to get out of the pocket and create opportunities down the field.”

Dixon paced the ground attack with 14 carries for 88 yards. Brandon Denson (5-11, 211, So.), who saw some action with the second-team offense, rushed five times for 62 yards, including gains of 18 and 30 yards. Jimmerson picked up 37 yards on 13 attempts.

Love had a scrimmage-best six receptions for 83 yards. Deon Curry (6-1, 199, Jr.) caught five passes for 26 yards, while Gantt finished with four catches for 53 yards.

Defensive end Ervin Baldwin (6-2, 270, Sr.) recorded seven tackles, including two for losses (11 yards), while free safety Dan Fortener (6-1, 190, So.) also produced seven stops. Key contributed six tackles to go along with his two interceptions. SirDarean Adams (6-0, 230, Sr.) also made his presence known at outside linebacker, registering five tackles, including one for a 5-yard loss, and two pass break-ups.

“Ervin Baldwin had his best practice to this point,” Dantonio said. “He had his motor running today, and he made some plays in the offensive backfield.

“I was pleased with the play of our safeties, Dan Fortener and Travis Key. Those guys know what to do, and they put themselves in position to make plays.

“You definitely notice No. 27 (SirDarean Adams) on the field. We were hoping that would happen with his move to linebacker from the secondary. SirDarean Adams can do a lot of the same things Cie Grant did for Ohio State. SirDarean is an explosive player, who made plays. He also can be an effective blitzer from that position.”

A couple of red-shirt freshmen – safety Marcus Hyde (6-0, 202) and linebacker Eric Gordon (6-0, 225) – turned some heads on the defensive side of the ball. Hyde made 11 tackles and forced a fumble, while Gordon tallied 10 stops, including a 6-yard sack.

Michigan State concludes its 15 spring practices with the Green-White intrasquad game on Saturday, April 21 at 1:30 p.m. in Spartan Stadium.

Props to John Lewandowski, MSU SID