If Michigan State hopes to clinch its first Rose Bowl berth since 1988, head coach Mark Dantonio's squad must be able to improve on a subpar offense that plagued the squad in 2012.
The Spartans never could field a potent offensive unit last season, as they averaged just 4.8 yards per play, which ranked No. 110 in the FBS. Despite Dantonio doing a great job of increasing the athleticism throughout the roster in his tenure, last year's disappointing 6-6 regular season fell squarely on the shoulders of a sputtering offense that just never quite could get in sync and struggled in the red zone.
US PRESSWIREMark Dantonio's Spartans averaged just 4.8 yards per play on offense in 2012.
And there is plenty of change on the horizon for MSU as the team continues to move through spring practice, which began this past Tuesday and concludes with the spring game on April 20.
Offensive coordinator Dan Roushar left to take on an NFL job, so Dave Warner and Jim Bollman will now share in the task of revamping a unit that loses bruising running back Le'Veon Bell, who was a workhorse during his time in East Lansing (Warner will be the lead play-caller). And any improvement offensively starts at quarterback, a position that is open after Andrew Maxwell underwhelmed in his first season as the starter, as he completed just over 52 percent of his passes with 13 touchdowns and nine interceptions.
It's no surprise that the 6-3, 212-pound Maxwell will have to fend off some competition this spring and possibly in preseason camp after redshirt freshman Connor Cook came in to lead the Spartans to a win over TCU in the Buffalo Wild Wings Bowl last season. Dantonio has stated that Maxwell, Cook and redshirt freshman Tyler O'Connor will get their chance to show their worth despite the fact that Maxwell started spring with the No. 1's. But while the job is technically Maxwell's to lose, Dantonio and his offensive staff will give a thorough evaluation to the position, complete with the signal-callers taking some hits in scrimmages.
While plenty of attention has been paid to the lack of production at quarterback, MSU has issues across the board on offense, including the need to get improved play on the line, consistency at receiver and a new top tailback to emerge.
Several changes have been made along the line according to the first spring depth chart, including longtime left tackle Dan France being listed as the starter at right guard. Fou Fonoti and Travis Jackson are back as the projected starter at left tackle and center, respectively, after recovering from leg injuries. Meanwhile, Skyler Burkland is the top right tackle and Blake Treadwell is listed as the starting left guard.
The Spartans had problems catching the football in 2012, as dropped passes didn't exactly help Maxwell's production under center. Spring drills are providing a fresh start and a big opportunity for someone to emerge as a top receiving option. Keith Mumphery, Bennie Fowler, Aaron Burbridge and Tony Lippett will, of course, be in the mix. But former Tennessee transfer DeAnthony Arnett will get a chance to put behind an uneventful 2012 as well. This corps is talented, but consistency is a huge issue.
And who replaces Bell, who was the one known quantity for this offense last fall? Nick Hill is the team's top running back on the spring depth chart, followed by junior Jeremy Langford and redshirt freshman Nick Tompkins. The staff is high on the 5-8, 190-pound Hill, but can he be an every-down back or will this be a committee situation? It will certainly be tough to replicate Bell's production from the last few years. The Spartans will also have three freshmen arriving this summer.
Michigan State went 7-6 in 2012, including five losses by a total of 13 points. The defense, which will once again be very good despite needing to fill a few holes, did its part last year, giving up just 4.4 yards per play, which was good for fifth in the FBS. Had the offense been a little more productive, Dantonio and Co. could have taken advantage of a down year in the Big Ten.
Can the Spartans score enough points in 2013 to bounceback from a subpar year in 2012? That will only happen if there is stability under center, the ground game doesn't suffer too much of a setback and the receivers don't suffer from a case of the drops every week.
For the MSU defense, which has exceeded expectations in recent years, that's not asking a lot.