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Big Ten spring game recap: Michigan State

The recap series rolls on with Michigan State, which played the annual Green-White Game on Saturday at Spartan Stadium.

A year after quarterback candidates Kirk Cousins and Keith Nichol both passed for 357 yards in a spring game shootout, Michigan State saw a better defensive performance with continued progress from the offense.

Cousins is the Spartans' clear-cut starter and looked the part Saturday, completed 10 of 15 passes for 254 yards and a touchdown. He found Mark Dell for completions of 58, 44 and 27 yards, and Dell had a huge day (4 receptions, 138 yards). There's a lot to like about Michigan State's skill players, and the Spartans have arguably the most weapons of any Big Ten team. Among the standouts Saturday were Dell, wideout Keshawn Martin (6 receptions, 109 yards), tight ends Charlie Gantt (4 receptions, 68 yards) and Dion Sims (3 receptions, 53 yards) and wideout Donald Spencer (3 receptions, 54 yards).

There's a ton of firepower in East Lansing.

A Spartans defense that ranked 112th nationally against the pass last year allowed 534 pass yards in the spring game, which isn't good, but the unit performed decently against the run and emerged with a 17-10 victory in the scrimmage. Top running backs Larry Caper and Edwin Baker didn't do much, and while freshman Nick Hill had a big day with 51 rush yards and a touchdown, his longest run of 31 yards ended with a fumble, forced by safety Jairus Jones and recovered by cornerback Johnny Adams.

The defense saw solid performances from Adams (4 tackles, 2 sacks, fumble recovery), Jones (4 tackles, forced fumble), Greg Jones (4 tackles, 2.5 TFLs, 1.5 sacks), freshman safety/linebacker Denicos Allen (7 tackles, 2.5 TFLs, 2 sacks, 1 pass breakup), redshirt freshman linebacker Steve Gardiner (7 tackles, 1.5 TFLs, forced fumble, 1 sack) and true freshman linebacker Max Bullough (4 tackles, 1 pass breakup). Michigan State's added depth at linebacker should help as the team uses the 3-4 alignment more this fall.

Other Spartans nuggets:

  • Nichol played wide receiver Saturday, recording three receptions for 43 yards, but Michigan State seems to have decent insurance behind Cousins. Backup Andrew Maxwell completed 18 of 34 passes for 244 yards and a touchdown, while freshman Joe Boisture, an early enrollee, went 3-for-3 for 36 yards.

  • The secondary had an interesting day overall, as the cornerbacks and safeties made plenty of plays but also allowed plenty of passing yards yet again. Cornerbacks Adams and Chris L. Rucker combined for three sacks and four tackles for loss, and safety Trenton Robinson added five tackles. There's clearly some depth and ability in the back half for Michigan State, but after the unit significantly underachieved last fall, the jury's still out.

  • The competition at kicker will continue into the fall as Michigan State tries to replace standout Brett Swenson. Kevin Muma connected on his only attempt Saturday, a chip shot from 19 yards out, while Dan Conroy hit from 31 yards out but missed a 35-yard attempt.

  • Michigan State didn't generate much pass rush from its front four Saturday and still needs to identify an edge rusher or two before the season. The Spartans' top priorities right now look like defensive end, the right side of the offensive line and solidifying things in the secondary.