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The 2011 Michigan State Spartan Offense -- Five Questions

Dear offensive line, more holes like this please.  Signed, Pete.
Dear offensive line, more holes like this please. Signed, Pete.

5.  Will the offense really pass more on first downs under Dan Roushar?

I doubt it.  Last year Michigan State passed a little more than 61% of the time on first downs.   Even when you remove both of Michigan State's losses from the equation (when MSU passed on 83% of their first downs), the offense still threw the ball on 58.6% of all first downs. The only trend towards favoring the run on first downs last season was when Michigan State played Northern Colorado, Florida Atlantic, or Western Michigan.  So while Roushar may say he wants to pass more in the early downs this season, I doubt that status quo will change much unless the Spartans find themselves ahead early and often in several games.

4.  How much time will Andrew Maxwell see this season?

In a perfect world somewhere between none and 75 pass attempts.  He needs to get meaningful snaps in this season not involving sacrifice to the Crimson Tide.  Hopefully this can come in the first half of games against Youngstown State and Florida Atlantic.  If he has more than 75 pass attempts, that almost certainly means that Kirk Cousins has gone down with some sort of injury, and that means PANIC.  It's not that Maxwell wouldn't be an effective quarterback for MSU, it's that the gap between him and Cousins is wide enough that there would be a bit of dropoff I believe.

In short, hopefully Maxwell seems some meaningful time under center.  But not too much.

3.  Brian Linthicum, Dion Sims, and Garrett Celek were all listed as co-starters on the preseason depth chart.  Who will see the most time?

This answer will be short.  Brian Linthicum has the most experience, co-starting with Charlie Gantt last season.  It'll be hard to keep him off the field.  Dion Sims looked like a juggernaut without peer in the spring game, shrugging Isaiah Lewis aside on the way to a touchdown in April.  I can't imagine him under utilized.  This leaves Garrett Celek, who might find himself mitigated to two tight end and goal line sets which, given Michigan State's offense, should still find him on the field a decent amount.

2.  Edwin Baker, Le'Veon Bell, Larry Caper and Nick Hill are Michigan State's running backs.  How many carries will each one have?

The carries for Baker, Caper, and Bell broke this way last season:

Carries,  2010-11 season
Baker 207 58.8%
Bell 107 30.4%
Caper 38 10.8%
Total 352


Which is strange, because I thought Caper had more carries last season and Bell had less.  Bell had two-thirds of his carries in the first six games of the season before his injury worsened, so if you look at the split after six games, it looks like this:

Carries through six games, 2010    
Baker 97 49.0%
Bell 71 35.9%
Caper 30 15.2%
Total 198


A couple notes, Caper was injured until the Notre Dame, so he might've had more carries earlier in the season.  Caper's carries also dropped off the second half of the season; he only had eight in the last seven games. I'm not sure whether the coaching staff sees Caper as primarily a third down back, but I'm not sure that's the case either -- Caper only had one more reception (12) than Bell did last season.  If I had to venture a guess, I'd say that Baker's the feature back, with Bell coming in second and Caper and Hill doing spot duty. I see the percentages from the running backs as:

Baker: 55%

Bell: 30%

Caper: 10%

Hill: 5%

This doesn't take into account trick plays.  In fact, I'd wager Keshawn Martin has more carries this season than Nick Hill.

1.   Our offensive line's going to be OK, right?  RIGHT?

HeckDorland had a very good post on the offensive tackles a couple days ago which I'll point you towards, but I'll summarize for you -- there's going to be some quagmires, some moments of dominance, and a lot of in between, with both quagmire and dominance happening on the same play at times.

The offensive line starters who returned are the definition of solid.  Joel Foreman is one of the best guards in the nation, and Chris McDonald is one of the upper-tier guards in the Big Ten.  Although not currently a starter, Jared McGaha has made five starts before, including two at left tackle.  His other starts came at right guard.  While Fou Fonoti hasn't played in the Big Ten before, he does have game experience in junior college, and that's better than nothing.

As for the other players in the mix on the offensive line...I'd say they're raw, but athletic.  Travis Jackson and Blake Treadwell are both in the mix at center.  While Jackson is the smaller of the two, (275 lbs. to Treadwell's 295 lbs.) 275 pounds, while not optimal, is an acceptable weight for a center in the Big Ten, and as of today Jackson is on the top of the depth chart at center.

The tackles are dodgier.  Redshirt freshmen Dan France and Skyler Burkland (left and right respectively) would start if a game were to be played today.  Burkland looks like he's in better shape than France to keep his starting position currently, as evidenced by this quote by offensive line coach Mark Staten a few days ago:

They're still competing. I thought the left tackle was one way. Dan France, who came over from the defensive side, really, really stepped forward [in the spring]. Then he -- I don't want to say he got overwhelmed, but I don't know what happened. Then Jared McGaha, the senior, kind of started stepping it up a little bit. So they're still battling there.

Unfortunately, the left tackle is often the player charged with protecting the quarterback's blind side.  Yay? 

Ultimately though, I agree with Heck.  They're going to be a lot of frustrating moments.  There'll be more false starts than usual.  However, I believe that those moments will be offset by ones where holes open up wide enough to run Baker, Bell, and Caper through concurrently.  They will buy Kirk Cousins time.  Ultimately, I believe they'll be good enough to allow the offensive skill players to compete, even if Cousins has to run for his life on more than one occasion.  If they can keep Cousins healthy throughout the season, MSU will compete in every game this season.