Michigan State began spring football with serious questions on offense and supreme confidence on defense. After Saturday's Green-White Game, not much has changed.
The defense scored two touchdowns and Andrew Maxwell hit A.J. Troup for a 46-yard score as the White team beat the Green 24-17 in the spring's final scrimmage. But for every plus, there was a potential problem to be addressed.
Mark Dantonio's Spartans, a disappointing 7-6 last season, came in with concerns at quarterback, running back and receiver. Despite a few flashes amid sunshine and snow flurries, many of those battles for starting spots and backup roles will continue in August.
"I think you always like to have things set and say, 'Here are my guys at all these positions,'" co-offensive coordinator Dave Warner said. "But at the same time, it's going to provide a lot of competition through the summer and drive guys to prepare a little harder for August, when jobs will be won."
Maxwell was 9 for 20 for 110 yards to cap his second spring as the probable starter. Those numbers would have been better without five of the game's nine drops. Meanwhile, backup Connor Cook was 10 for 26 for 217 yards and a score for the Green, and Tyler O'Connor was 3 for 6 for 59 yards with two interceptions.
Aaron Burbridge caught five of the Green's throws for 113 yards. Bennie Fowler had four grabs for 84 yards, including a pickup of 63. And DeAnthony Arnett had a 22-yard touchdown catch in traffic. But the play of the day was Troup's simple hitch-and-run that helped the White scored the final 10 points.
"The one I was really sick over was when I overthrew Keith Mumphery on the deep post," Maxwell said. "But I thought we did a good job of battling back. Coach D always says, 'Weather the storm.' You've got to ride it out. That's what we did. And I feel I've done everything I could do to make my case to be 'The Guy.'"
There wasn't a clear-cut winner in the fight to replace workhorse running back Le'Veon Bell, an early entrant in the NFL draft. Converted linebacker Riley Bullough carried 11 times for 48 yards for the Green, while Nick Hill rushed nine times for 21 yards, including a 7-yard touchdown run, and had a 44-yard reception. Nick Tompkins ran for 43 yards, including a 30-yard pickup, and Jeremy Langford gained 31 yards on 10 tries for the White.
"My mom is the one who always wanted me to play offense," Bullough said of a move in the last week of spring ball. "When I told her I was going to play some tailback, she was really excited. My uncle (Bobby Morse) played fullback here. But I plan on having a meeting with the coaches in the next couple of weeks. Offense is definitely a lot of fun for me."
In a "Bullough Brothers" package installed a couple of hours before the game, Riley hit middle linebacker Max on a 12-yard crossing route they had thrown hundreds of times in high school. But Max said he isn't switching to tight end. He's determined to lead a defense that is even better than last year's elite unit.
"I'm really proud of my brother," Max said. "He's a guy who has excelled at whatever he has done, offense or defense, basketball or football. But I'm sticking at linebacker. With so many of the same guys back, we don't want to be as good as last year. We want to be better. And we will be."
After a moment of silence to honor victims of the Boston bombings and with a special helmet tribute in their honor, the defense scored on a 25-yard interception return by safety Chris Laneaux and a 41-yard fumble runback by linebacker Kyler Elsworth.
The defense scored 14 of the first 17 points, making everyone wonder if next fall would be as frustrating as the last one. But with several starters missing on both sides of the ball, the offense put up 24 points in the last 20:55, a total it exceeded just three times last season.