Big Ten: Denzel Drone

The timing couldn't have been much better for Michigan State's Shilique Calhoun to turn a corner -- both literally and figuratively.

Michigan State needed a rally in the Buffalo Wild Wings Bowl against TCU and, as usual, relied on its defense for a lift. The Spartans' most talented defensive lineman, junior end William Gholston, was playing his final college game. Leading 14-13, Michigan State needed a stop in its own territory. Calhoun, already with a tackle for loss to his credit, beat TCU tackle Aviante Collins around the edge and dropped quarterback Trevone Boykin for his first career sack. Although TCU converted a long field-goal try, Michigan State only needed three points to answer and got the game-winning field goal from Dan Conroy moments later.

"Before the sack, I felt like I was underachieving," Calhoun told ESPN.com "I didn't feel like I played to the best of my abilities. But after that performance, it showed me I could go a lot harder and work more. It kind of catapulted me into this year.

"It's given me a lot of pride in my game, a little more than I had before."

[+] EnlargeShilique Calhoun
Matt Kartozian/USA TODAY SportsShilique Calhoun showed his pass-rushing potential in Michigan State's bowl win over TCU.
The charismatic Calhoun doesn't seem like a guy who lacks confidence, but the bowl game gave him the boost he needed entering a crucial offseason. When Gholston announced a week later that he'd forgo his final season and enter the NFL draft, Calhoun went from a promising young reserve to a likely starter at end opposite Marcus Rush.

"There would be a lot more playing time," he said. "I’d be a little more exhausted. That was the first thought."

To prepare for a bigger role, Calhoun had to add weight in the winter. He's about 255 pounds these days and hopes to be around 260 for the season.

Calhoun knows the added weight can help his game, as long as it doesn't come with a cost.

"The best aspect of my game is my speed, so for me to lose that, it would be a crucial mistake," he said. "With this style of play at Michigan State, it's a great opportunity for me to make plays with my speed.

"As long as I can maintain it, I’ll continue to gain weight."

Calhoun typically lines up on the field side, where he has to cover more green against dual-threat quarterbacks and the like. Michigan State has built its defense around speed, and Calhoun fits the scheme extremely well.

The redshirt sophomore opened the spring listed as a starter on the depth chart, but several others are in the mix at end, including veteran Denzel Drone and young players like Jamal Lyles and Joel Heath.

"I want it to be a dogfight, I want to fight for my position," said Calhoun, a standout on the scout team in 2011 who finished with six tackles, 2.5 for loss, and two pass breakups last fall. "Competition makes me work a lot harder, and I don't want to ever stop working hard. There's guys who are working just as hard as me. I want them to keep pushing me because I want to keep working hard."

Calhoun sees a similar attitude throughout Michigan State's defense, which has ranked sixth and fourth nationally the past two seasons.

"The coaches, my teammates, we're all striving to get better," Calhoun said. "Last year was a good year, yes, but we need to be better ... until we’re No. 1, and even then, we're not going to stop trying to be the best."
Michigan State fans would understandably disagree, but the Big Ten overall wasn't hit that hard by early departures to the NFL draft this year. Only six Big Ten underclassmen declared for the draft (Note: Purdue linebacker Dwayne Beckford already had been dismissed from the team).

Let's take a quick look back at the winners and losers of the early entries and how the decisions impact several teams going forward.

1. Biggest winner: Michigan. Almost everyone expected Wolverines left tackle Taylor Lewan to enter the draft after earning Big Ten Offensive Linemen of the Year honors and other accolades as a junior. Lewan had been projected by many as a top-15 pick, if not a top-10 pick, and his departure seemed like a foregone conclusion after he held up well against Jadeveon Clowney in the Outback Bowl. But Lewan delivered the biggest draft decision surprise -- and a delightful one for Michigan fans -- when he announced Jan. 9 that he'd return to Ann Arbor for the 2013 season. He provides a huge boost for a Wolverines offensive line that endured an up-and-down season and loses three starters. Lewan sought advice from former Michigan star tackle Jake Long, who opted to remain in school for his senior season and ended up becoming the No. 1 overall pick in the 2008 draft.

[+] EnlargeLe'Veon Bell
AP Photo/Carlos OsorioMichigan State will certainly miss the production of running back Le'Veon Bell.
2. Biggest loser: Michigan State. The Big Ten had a smaller than normal group of early NFL departures, but Michigan State accounted for 50 percent (3-of-6) as running back Le'Veon Bell, tight end Dion Sims and defensive end William Gholston all made the jump. None of the early exits comes as a major surprise, as Bell led the nation in carries (382) and ranked third in rushing average (137.9), Sims flashed next-level potential and Gholston clearly has the physical skills to succeed in the NFL. But the departures of both Bell and Sims really sting an offense that lacked consistently productive players. Bell accounted for 92.3 percent of Michigan State's rushing yards and 38.4 percent of MSU's total yards, while Sims had 36 receptions for 475 yards and two touchdowns despite missing time with an ankle injury. A Spartans offense that struggled mightily for most of the season enters the offseason with even more question marks.

3. Head-scratchers: Lewan's decision comes as a major surprise, as few saw him slipping below the middle of the first round in the draft. He could end up leading Michigan to a Big Ten championship and a Rose Bowl berth as a senior, and improve his draft stock in the process, like Long did in 2007 when he earned unanimous All-America honors. But Lewan certainly is gambling a bit, as an injury or a drop in performance could hurt his future earning potential. Michigan State coach Mark Dantonio reportedly was "taken aback" by Bell's decision to leave, and some thought Gholston would have benefited from another season after falling short of preseason expectations. But aside from Lewan, the players who left were mostly expected to leave.

4. The replacements

  • Michigan State likely will look to a combination of backs, including Nick Hill and possibly some incoming recruits, to fill the massive production void left by Bell. Three players backed up Sims this fall -- Paul Lang, Andrew Gleichert and Derek Hoebing -- and recruit Dylan Chmura joins the mix. The Spartans are in better shape at defensive end with returning starter Marcus Rush, veteran reserve Denzel Drone and Shilique Calhoun, who performed well in the bowl win against TCU.
  • The expected departure of defensive tackle Johnathan Hankins means Ohio State must replace all four starting defensive linemen from 2012. The Buckeyes have recruited well up front and must hope young interior linemen like rising sophomore Tommy Schutt and rising junior Michael Bennett can fill the gaps. Adolphus Washington played some tackle as a true freshman but seems to have a future at defensive end, while Joel Hale could help Schutt and Bennett replace both Hankins and Garrett Goebel.
  • Wisconsin loses a standout junior center to the NFL draft for the second straight year as Travis Frederick departs. Redshirt freshman Dan Voltz likely will step in after backing up Frederick, unless Wisconsin decides to move Ryan Groy to center, where he started late in the 2011 season.
  • Illinois must fill both defensive tackle spots after junior Akeem Spence declared for the draft. Austin Teitsma is projected to move into a starting role after recording 15 tackles as a reserve last fall. The Illini also need younger tackles like Teko Powell and Vontrell Williams to emerge as they try to build depth along the line, typically a strong point for the team.
First, Dion Sims, then Le'Veon Bell and now William Gholston.

[+] EnlargeWilliam Gholston
Mike Carter/US PresswireDefensive end William Gholston made things official Saturday with a letter to Michigan State fans.
Michigan State went 3-for-3 with its juniors considering a jump to the NFL draft. All three men have decided to skip their senior seasons and turn pro.

Gholston, a defensive end, will join Bell and Sims in the 2013 NFL draft. He made things official Saturday with a letter to Michigan State fans which reads in part: "In the days since our Buffalo Wild Wings Bowl victory, I have decided to forgo my senior year at Michigan State and declare for the 2013 NFL Draft. While I know I still have a great deal to accomplish, I am very excited about the challenges that the future holds and I promise to always represent the University with class, dignity, and professionalism. From Coach [Mark] Dantonio, to our entire staff, to my incredible teammates, to each of you unbelievable fans that back us each and every day, I just want to say thank you from the bottom of my heart."

The 6-7, 285-pound Gholston will try to impress NFL talent evaluators with his physical freakishness and next-level potential after a somewhat disappointing 2012 season. Gholston recorded 59 tackles, including 13 for loss and 4.5 sacks, and added 10 pass breakups, five quarterback hurries, a forced fumble and a safety. A decent season for sure, and Gholston earned second-team All-Big Ten honors from the media, but he didn't match the lofty expectations placed on him after his dominating performance against Georgia in the 2012 Outback Bowl.

He'll need a good predraft performance to help his stock, but he certainly has the physical tools to do so.

His departure shouldn't hurt Michigan State as much as Bell's or Sims', as the Spartans boast much more depth on the defensive side of the ball. MSU has an experienced defensive end in Marcus Rush and other options like Denzel Drone and Shilique Calhoun.
Arguably no Big Ten defender received more offseason hype -- Big Ten blog, included -- than Michigan State junior defensive end William Gholston. At 6-foot-7 and 278 pounds, Gholston is a unique physical specimen who finished his sophomore season with a bang, recording five tackles for loss and two sacks in Michigan State's Outback Bowl victory against Georgia. A second-team All-Big Ten selection in 2011, Gholston was pegged for much bigger things this season. Although he leads the Spartans in both tackles for loss (4) and quarterback hurries (4), he has only one sack in the first five weeks and hasn't impacted games as much as many anticipated for the 3-2 Spartans. Fortunately for Gholston and his team, there's still plenty of time to shine.

ESPN.com caught up with Gholston this week in advance of Saturday's game at Indiana.

First off, how are you feeling? It looked like you might have been knocked out during the Ohio State game.

William Gholston: I feel good now. I lost my wind, just got the wind knocked out of me.

[+] EnlargeWilliam Gholston
Mike Carter/US PresswireDespite Michigan State's 3-2 start, William Gholston said the Spartans are still an "extremely confident team."
How would you grade yourself through the first five games?

WG: C.

Why a C?

WG: That was the first thing I thought of, honestly. I don't really look at myself like that. I'm trying to look at the team overall, and how we did as a team. I don't really care about how I do, as long as we win.

Where do you think the defense is at right now and what do you need to do to get better?

WG: Just improve on all the little things, everything fundamentally and be more sound. I don't think we're doing too bad. We just have to make more plays. We have to remember our goals when we come into practice, see the things they adjust to and trust in each other and trust ourselves that we can make the play. Don't overthink it, I guess.

Who is taking control with the defensive line this year?

WG: The guys who talk the most would be Marcus [Rush], Rashad [White], myself, Denzel Drone. Basically everybody in the room, we kind of complement each other when it comes to being a leader. If somebody needs help, I try to be the one they come to, to give them advice, or if they don't know a play or the adjustment, I try to be there. And I like them to feed off my energy when I'm out there. I like to be energized and enthused and positive.

How are offenses approaching you this year?

WG: I wouldn't say it's anything different. I'm seeing the same amount of double teams this year that I got last year.

How is the confidence level on the team after a 3-2 start but still a long way to go?

WG: I don't think our confidence will fade away. That's crazy, honestly. I don't think confidence goes anywhere. We're an extremely confident team, and we can go in and compete with anybody. And the end result, what we want to see is Dec. 1 [Big Ten championship game]. We've just got to take one game at a time.

What do you see on tape from Indiana?

WG: They get a lot of yards, a lot of yards. That's one of the things I've focused on the most, and how quick they are, how fast-tempo they are on offense.

Does that change your approach as a pass-rusher, how quickly they run their offense?

WG: Not necessarily. We've got to be able to collapse the pocket because they have two good quarterbacks, and two nice [running] backs, too.

Coach [Mark] Dantonio said this week no one is panicking despite the 3-2 start. How important is it for you guys to put together a complete game?

WG: That's the most important thing. It's something you strive for each and every game, to have a complete game in all three phases. It'll be the same for each and every game. That's what every team strives to do.

How good can you be individually and as a team when you put it all together?

Gholston: I feel like we can be great. I haven't even touched the bar as far as my expectations. It'll all come, you know. The team comes first, and then you can worry about individual stuff.
Mark Dantonio acknowledges Michigan State has some momentum right now. The Spartans have won 11 games in each of the past two seasons. They come off of a Legends division title and could enter the season as the Big Ten favorite. But they also lose a lot of star power from the 2011 team, namely quarterback Kirk Cousins, a three-year starter and three-time captain, and All-American defensive tackle Jerel Worthy.

[+] EnlargeMark Dantonio
Mike Carter/US PresswireMichigan State coach Mark Dantonio's Spartans have won 11 games in each of the last two seasons, but what about 2012?
Can Michigan State be a better team in 2012, or will the Spartans backslide in their effort to reload?

"There were questions as we left 2010," Dantonio said. "Can we replace Greg Jones and Eric Gordon? Could we replace our punter, Aaron Bates, or [wide receiver] Mark Dell? We were able to do that and progress, so there are great possibilities. Our football team is poised for that, but at the same time we need to guard against being complacent and understand we’re going to be judged game-to-game.

"It's important we bring our energy with us in everything we do, but there's no question we have confidence. There's no question we have continuity. We've built a great foundation to springboard us forward."

The next phase begins Tuesday, as Michigan State kicks off spring practice in East Lansing.

Dantonio discussed the spring and the future with ESPN.com earlier this week.

Some notes:

  • Dantonio is "very optimistic" the NCAA will approve wide receiver transfer DeAnthony Arnett to play this coming season. Arnett transferred from Tennessee to Michigan State to be closer to his ailing father in Flint, Mich. He appeared in 12 games for the Vols in 2011 and had 24 receptions for 242 yards and two touchdowns. "It was a hardship because his father is ill," Dantonio said. "DeAnthony had success at Tennessee. He was happy at Tennessee. He felt like he needed to come home to be near his family. Every Friday afternoon he goes home. He's a great young man, and he cares deeply about his family and wants to be close to them and wants them to have the opportunity to see him play as well." The NCAA recently granted a waiver for Amir Carlisle, a USC transfer, to play immediately at Notre Dame. Carlisle transferred to be closer to his father, who took a position in Purdue's athletic department. Arnett is eligible to practice this spring for the Spartans.
  • If Arnett receives his waiver, he'll provide a big boost to a position that Dantonio calls the "most critical" to replenish. Michigan State loses its top three receivers -- B.J. Cunningham, Keshawn Martin and Keith Nichol -- from 2011. The Spartans need to get Bennie Fowler and Juwan Ceasar healthy and have some immediate contributions from their incoming freshmen.
  • Michigan State has good depth at defensive end, so Denzel Drone will move to tight end, at least for the start of spring ball. Drone has made six starts at defensive end in his first two seasons and has recorded 28 tackles, five tackles for loss and 3.5 sacks. He played a bit of tight end as a high school senior. "We can at least look at that position move in the first two weeks," Dantonio said. "He's played enough defensive end that he can go back over there and be a co-starter for us, but I think we need to put our best football players on the field, and if he can be one of those top 11 players, 12 players, 13, 14 players on offense, then we'll leave him there. If not, he'll be one of those top 14 players on defense." In another move, defensive back Dana Dixon will practice at wide receiver this spring but could return to the secondary "in a heartbeat," Dantonio said.
  • Defensive tackle will be a fascinating position to watch this spring as Michigan State looks to replace Worthy. Tyler Hoover, a starting defensive end in 2010 who missed all of last season with injury, will move inside this spring. Hoover is up to 297 pounds, Dantonio said. The Spartans also will audition a host of redshirt freshman defensive tackles and sophomore James Kittredge, a transfer from Vanderbilt.
  • Michigan State redshirted 19 players last season, a few more than normal, and the spring will provide a proving ground for several of them. Dantonio listed defensive end Shilique Calhoun, linebacker Lawrence Thomas, safety RJ Williamson and cornerback Trae Waynes as freshmen who could have played in the latter part of last season.
  • The Spartans are one of only four Big Ten teams to return their entire coaching staff from the previous season. It wasn't easy, as other teams made runs at both Michigan State coordinators, Pat Narduzzi and Dan Roushar, but both men stayed, in part because the school made a stronger financial commitment. "It was natural to me to be very concerned we would lose a coach or two," Dantonio said. "But it gives you a feeling that you’re doing things right here and there's a good working environment. Obviously, all of our guys, we’re going to do everything we can do to hold onto them, and some of that is financially-based."
  • Dantonio on quarterback Andrew Maxwell: "Very patient young man, as evidenced by him sitting here and waiting for his opportunity. Very poised, extremely strong arm, very athletic, he was a 6-7 high jumper in high school. He's got size. He’s got great intelligence. He's got a great demeanor among his teammates. The one thing he's missing right now is that experience of going out and doing it on game day on a consistent basis. Kirk always stayed the course and was never knocked out of a football game, so Andrew never had to take the reins of our football team in a critical situation. That's coming for him."
  • In terms of leadership, Dantonio said Maxwell's teammates already have accepted him in his new role. Dantonio also listed linebacker Max Bullough, cornerback Darqueze Dennard, offensive lineman Chris McDonald and running back Larry Caper as potential team leaders in 2012.
WorthyIcon SMIJerel Worthy expects to be selected within the first two rounds of next April's NFL draft.
As we noted a little earlier, Jerel Worthy made the right and unsurprising choice to skip his senior season and enter the NFL draft. I had a chance to catch up with the Michigan State All-America defensive tackle shortly after his announcement, and here's what he had to say about his decision-making process:

What were some of the factors that went into your decision?

Jerel Worthy: I felt that, as far as the team and from an individual standpoint, I've accomplished a lot since I've been here. I'm leaving the program on the upper end. We still have a great defense and a lot of guys who are ready to take the spot that I previously controlled. And I'm basically starting a new chapter in my life. I'm finally able to support the needs of my family and help with the health issues of my parents, and that's important.

Could you tell us a little more about your father's health issues and how that impacted your decision?

JW: In 2010 during two-a-days, my father suffered a stroke. He is still recovering, and now I can help to make sure he gets back to where he needs to be. That's important to me. It's my family.

What kind of feedback have you gotten from the NFL about your potential draft stock?

JW: I got good news back, that I could be as selected as high as the first round or second round. After talking with a lot of GMs, my head coach and others, they feel like I can go within the top 50 picks of the draft. And I feel that's an accomplishment to be able to say that. That's something I'm going to try to do as I move on and start a new chapter of my life. I know with the hard work and dedication I've shown here, as much as I've given back to my community and just being a overall great character person, I know I can impress NFL teams with my knowledge of the game and being a character guy. That's one thing I want to show these guys, and hopefully they like me.

How much of a goal is it to become a first-round pick?


JW: It's definitely the goal, just because of the simple fact that it's always been a dream of mine. And as long as I have that dream ahead of me, I'm going to work as hard as I can to get to it. I'm going to try and go about the process the right way, do things correctly and handle things like I did in college and try to make the best of the situation.

You said the Georgia win kind of sealed the decision for you. Why?


JW: Because it just kind of solidified that I've accomplished a lot of things since I've been here. I left the program in the right position to be successful next year. And just getting that burden off our backs of not being able to win a bowl game. So when we won that game, being out there with friends and family, it felt like the right moment to go out. It felt like the greatest time of my life since I've been here, besides the few ridiculous "SportsCenter" plays we've had as a team. It's been a great ride and a great journey, and it's something I'm appreciative and grateful for.

You also went against an All-America center in the Georgia game. Did that reinforce the fact that you were ready?


JW: I didn't really think of it that way. I knew those guys were good up front on the offensive line, but I just tried to do the best I can for my team. We had fun and the D-line was able to get after it and have a good day. When we have a D-line playing like that on all cylinders, and me only being a junior and a lot of these guys still underclassmen, I think the sky's the limit for this program.

Who do you see emerging as leaders on the defense next season?


JW: For one, Johnny Adams, being one of the oldest guys, he'll be the leader in the secondary. Max Bullough will be the leader of the linebacker corps. And I expect Anthony Rashad White to be no less than amazing. I expect him to come in and be just as explosive and have just as much if not a bigger impact on the game than me. Before I leave, I will teach him as much as possible about the game. I expect him as well as Denzel Drone and Will Gholston to step up next year and have fun.

What's your plan from now until the draft?


JW: I plan on figuring out who will support me in the next 48 hours. Then hopefully I will find a place to train right away and get cracking. I'm going to work as hard as possible, outwork my competition and try to have an impact right away.

And how close are you to your degree at Michigan State?


JW: Technically, if I came back I would have had my degree as soon as this summer. I'm right on the brink of graduation and it's something I plan on doing. I vowed to my mom that I would get my degree before the next two offseasons. It's something I will definitely work on at every given chance.
Wisconsin and Michigan State will play for the Big Ten championship this Saturday in Indianapolis. Of course, it is a rematch of their Oct. 22 meeting, won by [spoiler alert!] the Spartans 37-31 in one of the best games of the college football season.

In order to understand all the storylines and key matchups of this week's game, it's crucial to know exactly what happened the first time. So I decided to go back and watch that initial encounter and, with apologies to Bill Simmons, provide my thoughts and observations in a retro diary. You can follow along through the magic of ESPN3.com here. Or you can just read.

This first installment will cover the first half of the game. I'll be back later on today with the second-half diary. Wonder if anything cool will happen late in the game?

Pregame

  • Kirk Herbstreit says, "This is what we've all wanted to see for a number of weeks." I think the same line could be used Saturday night.
  • Michigan State's Keith Nichol is one of the first Spartans to come out of the tunnel for introductions. I've got a hunch he could play a role in this one somehow.
  • I don't know how good the audio quality is on my replay, but it sounds extremely quiet when Wisconsin takes the field. No boos, just silence. Someone who was there will have to tell me if that's how it really went down at Spartan Stadium. If so, I think that's the best way to taunt an opponent; just ignore them. I recommend this for all home fans from here on out.
[+] EnlargeWisconsin's Montee Ball
Mark Cunningham/Getty ImagesWisconsin will be dangerous on the ground again in 2012 with Montee Ball and James White returning.
First quarter

  • 15:00: Wisconsin wins the toss and takes the ball first. The first play of the game is a handoff to Montee Ball, who runs 8 yards before plowing into Isaiah Lewis's shoulder. Lewis goes down and has to leave the game. Remember, Lewis gave the Badgers some major bulletin board material the week before after beating Michigan, saying the Spartans defense "was going to hurt" Russell Wilson. You think Ball remembered that as he slammed into Lewis?
  • 12:03: Russell Wilson throws his first pass -- complete to Jacob Pedersen -- after four straight Ball runs have softened up the defense. Lewis comes back in.
  • 8:48: On third-and-4, Wilson play-fakes to Ball and throws a touchdown pass to a wide-open Pedersen with Anthony Rashad White and Marcus Rush bearing down on the quarterback. That was the second straight completion off play-action for Wilson, as Michigan State's safeties and linebackers are biting hard on the run. It's a textbook, 80-yard Wisconsin style drive with almost perfect balance. The game could not have started off better for the Badgers. 7-0, Wisconsin
  • 8:33: Uh-oh for Sparty. Tailback Edwin Baker fumbles on Michigan State's first offensive play, thanks to a hit from linebacker Mike Taylor. The officials review whether or not Wisconsin's Marcus Cromartie touched the ball first while coming from out of bounds on the recovery, but the play stands and the Badgers take over.
  • 7:42: Wisconsin needs only three plays to cash in the fumble, as Ball rushes up the middle for a 9-yard touchdown. 14-0, Wisconsin. Wilson completed another pass off play-action immediately before. It was not a good series for Michigan State safety Trenton Robinson, who was fooled on the play-fake and then broke the wrong way before unsuccessfully trying to arm tackle Ball. Hey, the Badgers might win this game in a blowout!
  • 3:47: Michigan State picks up a pair of first downs but can't convert a third-and-14 and has to punt. At least its defense got a little bit of a breather, but if Wisconsin goes in for another score this one could get out of hand early.
  • 0:33: And we have our first Badgers mistake. After the offense drove to midfield, Wilson throws an interception to -- guess who? -- Robinson. It's only the second interception of the year for Wilson, who threw his other one on a meaningless play late in the Northern Illinois blowout. But I don't put this one entirely on him. Receiver Nick Toon appears to break the wrong way on the route, and he doesn't even start to look for the ball until it's nearly over his head. Remember that Toon missed the previous game with a foot injury he suffered two weeks earlier against Nebraska. He looked a little rusty/anxious, especially as he drew an uncharacteristic false start penalty later in the half. But the play was set up by a loss of 1 yard by James White on first down. The second-and-long prompted offensive coordinator Paul Chryst to put Wilson in the shotgun and not use play-action, allowing the safeties to stick in pass coverage. Even if Wilson and Toon had been on the same page, it was a low-percentage throw into double coverage, and that's not Wisconsin's game.
  • 0:26: I love, love, love the fact that Wilson sprints down the field and actually makes the tackle on Robinson, even though his form could use a little work.
  • 0:18: Michigan State, which has negative-9 rushing yards to this point, finally gets something going on the ground. The Spartans wide receivers blow up the right side of Wisconsin's defense, and Le'Veon Bell rushes 32 yards behind tackle Fou Fonoti, who's dying to find someone to block. Momentum seems to be changing.
[+] EnlargeMichigan State's Keshawn Martin
Andrew Weber/US PRESSWIREMichigan State's Keshawn Martin scores a 34-yard touchdown in the second quarter against Wisconsin.
Second quarter

  • 14:15: Kirk Cousins and Larry Caper can't quite connect for a screen pass on third-and-6, which was set up perfectly and might have resulted in an easy touchdown. The Spartans have another empty possession. But Bell's big run has flipped field position, leading to ...
  • 14:04: Mike Sadler punts the ball out of bounds at the Wisconsin 5. We didn't mention Sadler when we talked about freshmen of the year candidates in the Big Ten, but he has been a valuable weapon for Mark Dantonio all year long.
  • 13:58 to 13:10: Disaster strikes for Wisconsin. First, Jerel Worthy finally makes his presence felt, stuffing Ball for a 3-yard loss back to the 2. Then Wilson is called for intentional grounding in the end zone under heavy pressure from Denicos Allen. That's a safety, and it's now 14-2, Wisconsin. Chryst dialed up play-action again and looked to be going for a big throw over the top. But the call actually helped Michigan State, because the linebackers darted up field to stop the run. Ball has had an amazing season, but he whiffed on Allen to let "The Waterboy" get right to Wilson, who had little choice but to throw it away. Unfortunately for Wisconsin, there was no receiver on the side of the field where Wilson could get rid of the ball.
  • 11:22: Razzle, meet dazzle. After a beautiful throw from Cousins to tight end Brian Linthicum, Michigan State offensive coordinator Dan Roushar dials up some trickery. The Spartans line up in the I-formation. Cousins fakes a handoff to Bell, then hands it to receiver B.J. Cunningham on a reverse. Cunningham then pitches it to Keshawn Martin coming the other way. Wisconsin blitzed to the side Martin is now running toward, leaving no one left to tackle the Spartans' speedster except safety Aaron Henry. And he's sandwiched by three blockers. Martin scores from 34 yards out to make the score 14-9, Wisconsin. Martin has been on fire the latter part of this season.
  • 8:41: Wisconsin's offense mounts a good drive in response, and receiver Jared Abbrederis takes a jet sweep 21 yards. It's no coincidence that Abbrederis runs to the side where suspended defensive end William Gholston would have been. The Badgers have been attacking his replacement, Denzel Drone. Gholston's return is a big factor in this week's game.
  • 7:49 to 7:22: A tough sequence here for Ball. First, he misses another block, allowing cornerback Johnny Adams to blow up a play when he tackles Wilson from behind. Then he takes a Robinson shoulder to the head after a 7-yard run. Ball gets up from the tackle and then falls back down in a scary scene. He's escorted off the field and is given concussion tests on the sideline as Wisconsin fans hold their breath. Ball has 68 yards rushing and a touchdown when he goes out.
  • 6:42: On third-and-short from the Michigan State 14, White is stopped shy of the first down when Kyler Elsworth sheds a Pedersen block and makes the tackle. Great defensive play. No disrespect to White, but it makes you wonder if Ball would have gotten the extra few feet had he been in the game.
  • 5:55: Philip Welch's 30-yard field goal try is blocked by Darqueze Dennard, who ran in free from the left end. I'm not sure if Welch would have made the kick anyway, because Brad Nortman bobbled the snap, which disrupted the timing of the play. Wisconsin converted 62 of 65 trips in the red zone into points this season, second best in the FBS. But it comes up empty in a big spot here.
  • 1:40: Michigan State moves the ball down the field, but Baker is tackled for a loss to set up fourth-and-2 from the Wisconsin 35. Dantonio doesn't hesitate to go for it, and Roushar calls a great, if somewhat risky, play. Cousins waits for Cunningham to find a hole behind the linebackers in a long-developing route. But Wisconsin doesn't get any pressure on Cousins, and he hits Cunningham in the middle of three Badgers defenders. Taylor misses a tackle in a difficult matchup for him, and Cunningham is off for a touchdown to make it 16-14, Michigan State. It's the second straight year that Cunningham catches a fourth-down touchdown pass in a key spot. Think Wisconsin will know where he is if a big fourth down comes up again Saturday? The game's final play got all the attention, but this was just as big.
  • 0:45: Complete catastrophe for the Badgers. A fired up Spartans defense forces a three and out at Wisconsin 45, and then backup linebacker Ellsworth makes his second huge play of the game. He blocks Nortman's punt, and Bennie Fowler recovers the ball in the end zone to make it 23-14 Michigan State. The Spartans brought four defenders untouched up the middle against Wisconsin's three-man punt protection unit, and Ellsworth flew right by Robert Burge. In Burge's defense, middle protector Ryan Groy was slow to pick up his block, and Burge looked like he couldn't decide whether to chip Ellsworth or help on Kurtis Drummond right up the gut. "It was nothing special we haven't seen on film," Bret Bielema will tell Erin Andrews at halftime. "We've just got to block all four."
  • 0:00: The half mercifully ends for Wisconsin as Spartan Stadium is rocking. In a 15-minute span from the end of the first quarter to the final score of the half, the Badgers threw an interception, gave up a safety, had a field goal blocked, had a punt blocked for a touchdown, allowed a touchdown pass on fourth down and surrendered another score on a trick play. In basketball terms, it's a 23-0 spurt. Things can't get any worse for Wisconsin, or better for Michigan State. Can they?

Wisconsin-Michigan State pregame

October, 22, 2011
10/22/11
7:40
PM ET
EAST LANSING, Mich. -- A few notes from warmups as we get set for No. 6 Wisconsin at No. 16 Michigan State.
  • Wisconsin top wide receiver Nick Toon went through warmups and didn't seem limited. Toon missed last week's game against Indiana with a left foot injury and had surgery on the foot during the offseason.
  • Badgers starting defensive tackle Patrick Butrym also warmed up but seemed to be favoring his left ankle, which he injured last week against Indiana. Butrym worked alongside fellow starter Ethan Hemer. Jordan Kohout likely would be the next man in at defensive tackle.
  • As expected, sophomore Denzel Drone worked as the starting defensive end in William Gholston's spot. Corey Freeman likely would be the next man in behind Drone.

Much more to come from Spartan Stadium. Don't forget to chat with us throughout the game.
It took a little longer than it maybe should have, and it came from the wrong place. But the one-game suspension of Michigan State defensive end William Gholston for his punch of Michigan offensive lineman Taylor Lewan last week is the right call.

Note that this suspension came from the Big Ten office and not from Michigan State. The school took three days to investigate the incident and submit a report to the league, but the Spartans did not recommend any missed game time for Gholston. School athletic director Mark Hollis said the investigation was his attempt "to gather, understand and share with the Big Ten extensive information about what likely contributed to the incident."

Gholston's punch came after he and Lewan got tangled up far away from the play. Lewan appeared to grab Gholston's face mask first, and there has been conjecture that Lewan said something to get under Gholston's skin. Regardless, there is no justification for throwing a punch on the field, and Gholston has to keep his composure in that situation instead of retaliating in a reckless manner.

Add in his earlier personal foul against Denard Robinson -- in which Gholston twisted the quarterback's face mask around in a pile while Robinson was defenseless -- and the sophomore deserves a one-game suspension as punishment for his actions. That's not to condemn Gholston, who is young and will learn from this mistake. But it's the right thing to do.

Michigan State could have easily defused this situation and not let it become a hot topic for debate all week by immediately suspending Gholston for a game Monday. That's what Illinois did with linebacker Jonathan Brown when he kneed a Northwestern player in the groin earlier this season, and everybody quickly moved on from that story. Instead, Mark Dantonio refused to comment on the issue this week while the school conducted its investigation, the results of which look very meager.

This is the same program that reinstated cornerback Chris L. Rucker the same day he was released from jail last year, just before a big game at Iowa. Now it looks, at least to the outside world, that Michigan State was trying to keep Gholston in the lineup for this week's huge game against No. 6 Wisconsin. The situations are clearly different, but the Spartans still come off looking too lenient on discipline.

The Big Ten had to step in and levy the one-game ban on Gholston, and the conference needed to do so. Lest we forget, this is the same league office that lobbied the NCAA to let Ohio State's disgraced tattoo traders be eligible for last season's Allstate Sugar Bowl against Arkansas. That decision appeared more and more ludicrous the more we found out about how deep the Buckeyes' scandal ran, and the conference couldn't afford another credibility-shattering moment here. The Big Ten also doesn't want to set a precedent in which players can throw punches one Saturday and then suit up for the next weekend, no matter how marquee the matchup might be.

Make no mistake, losing the 6-foot-8 Gholston is a big blow to the Spartans' chances against Wisconsin. He was really coming on as a defensive force, beginning with his disruptive work in the win over Ohio State three weeks ago. He's a physically imposing defensive end who could battle the giants on the Badgers' offensive line, and Michigan State's ability to get pressure with its front four is a major key to its success so far this season. Sophomore Denzel Drone is expected to replace Gholston in the lineup; Drone did have a sack and forced fumble in the game against Wisconsin last season, but moving him up means the depth suffers along the line.

However, that's the price Michigan State and Gholston must pay for last week's transgression, even if it took the league office interceding to make them pay that cost.
WorthyIcon SMIJerel Worthy has become a leader on Michigan State's defense.
You probably heard Jerel Worthy's name a few times during the offseason.

The Michigan State defensive tackle appeared on the national radar when the first set of mock drafts for 2012 filed in late this spring. Colleague Todd McShay had Worthy going at No. 5 overall, as long he skips his senior season, while colleague Mel Kiper lists Worthy as the top junior defensive tackle in the country.

Worthy also made headlines recently when reporters got a look his new tattoo -- a Spartan stepping on a furry animal wearing a block "M" helmet -- at Michigan State's preseason media day. Although Worthy is very active on Twitter, his tattoo sent a pretty loud message.

I checked in with Worthy on Wednesday and discussed the high expectations, the tattoo and more.

What are your top priorities here in camp?

Jerel Worthy: If I had to say one area, I'd say my pass rush. There's a lot of times I got to the quarterback, but when I watch the film, there are more opportunities for sacks. If I can achieve those goals and improve myself, I could ultimately see double-digit sacks this year, if I work hard enough.

Is that your goal this season, double digits in sacks?

JW: Definitely. Any defensive lineman, when you set your goals for the season, 10 sacks is always the goal, whether you're a defensive tackle or defensive end.

How are you dealing with some of the expectations placed on you?

JW: I try to set it aside. You never want to get caught up in the hype because it forces you to think about things you don't need to be thinking about. My objective is just to focus on the present, focus on this season, focus on guys getting better on our defense, focus on being a leader for our team and winning another Big Ten championship.

Do any guys joke with you about the draft stuff?

JW: Yeah, you always get it. Everybody has their fun. But we try to put that in our rear-view. That's something that comes along down the road. I'm just working for the team right now, trying to be a leader for coach [Mark Dantonio], coach [Pat] Narduzzi and the entire defensive staff.

The Big Ten is loaded with great centers this year. Who are the toughest linemen you've faced in the league?

JW: I focus on the offensive lines as a whole, their mannerisms, focus in on trying to pick up little keys, hints of what types of plays they're about to run. I figure if I can get ahead on that, it makes my job a lot easier and get off blocks and play fast. Iowa's offensive line, Wisconsin's offensive line, facing them year in and year out, they're always going to give you a hard test. If you don't come with your A game, they'll knock you on your butt.

What's the story behind the tattoo?

JW: It was just an idea. We were chilling one day, and I came up with I wanted to get a Spartan tattoo to represent my school, and my dislike for the school down the road. I didn't want it to go down as negative message toward anybody. Just wanted to show the love I had for my school. I told my tattoo artist and he sketched it up, and I enjoyed it.

Where did you have it done?

JW: I had it done in Ann Arbor, at my friend's house. We were all hanging out, relaxing and barbecuing, and we were all getting tattoos. A lot of people came up with their ideas, and that's what I came up with. And there it was.

So you did it in Ann Arbor?


JW: Yeah, unfortunately. That's where my guy was, and he was the best guy to do it. So it's cool.

Have you heard from any Michigan fans or players on Twitter?

JW: Oh, yeah, definitely. But I really don't buy into that. The way I see it is they're fans, they have their opinions, they have their doubts about what I do or anything I say. So I just let them voice their opinions. I never really take heed to anything of that nature. I just try to go out and play well for my team and have fun.

What would it mean to go through your career without losing to Michigan?

JW: That would mean a lot. It's what I signed up for. You come to Michigan State to beat teams like Michigan and Ohio State, just enjoying the festivities of Big Ten ball. Coach D's from Ohio, he understands the quality of players that come out of Ohio, and everybody can't go to Ohio State. So he told me to sign on up here. I followed him up here and I was ready to go ever since.

You talk about beating Michigan, but what about Ohio State? That's the one Big Ten team besides Nebraska that you haven't beaten.

JW: It would mean a lot. We work hard to beat all our opponents in the Big Ten. Me being from Ohio, it's very personal for me. Not going to Ohio State, that kind of affected me a little bit, but God had a different plan for me and a different direction he wanted me to go. I just listened and he allowed me to come up to Michigan State and be around a bunch of good guys, great teammates and a wonderful coaching staff. I've been blessed.

Who are some guys to watch out for on the defensive line?

JW: We have a lot of guys, we're pretty deep this year. Guys like Kevin Pickelman, he's a fifth-year senior. Rashad White's coming along strong, he's a very explosive guy, weighing in around 320. Will Gholston's starting to get a lot more comfortable. Denzel Drone's one of my closest friends, so I'm always on him and he's working twice as hard to get himself ready. You know about Tyler Hoover and his production he brings. So we have a lot of guys, a lot of depth, and guys are a lot more vocal than they have been in the past. They're one year older and a lot more comfortable.

A lot of people point to how tough your road schedule will be this season. How do you look at that schedule? Will this season show where Michigan State is as a program?

JW: It's another year where we have to strive for respect in the country. It's another year for us to go out and prove ourselves against a lot of elite teams. We have Iowa on the road, Ohio State, Northwestern, but we can't lose sight of our focus. We have to go in, knowing we can win each game, never get too overwhelmed by the stadiums we're going in. As long as we can stay focused, we'll take care of business.

Michigan State spring wrap

May, 4, 2011
5/04/11
9:30
AM ET
Michigan State

2010 overall record: 11-2

2010 conference record: 7-1 (T-1st)

Returning starters

Offense: 6; defense: 6; kicker/punter: 1

Top returners

QB Kirk Cousins, RB Edwin Baker, WR B.J. Cunningham, G Joel Foreman, DT Jerel Worthy, CB Johnny Adams, S Trenton Robinson, LB Chris Norman

Key losses

WR Mark Dell, TE Charlie Gantt, LT D.J. Young, C John Stipek, LB Greg Jones, LB Eric Gordon, CB Chris L. Rucker, P Aaron Bates

2010 statistical leaders (*returners)

Rushing: Edwin Baker* (1,201 yards)

Passing: Kirk Cousins* (2,825 yards)

Receiving: Mark Dell (788 yards)

Tackles: Greg Jones (106)

Sacks: Jerel Worthy* (4)

Interceptions: Trenton Robinson* (4)

Spring answers

1. D-line solidifies: Although Michigan State loses a lot at linebacker, the coaches haven't altered their expectations for the defense, in large part because their confidence in the front four. The defensive line should be a strength as several players made strides this spring. Gifted sophomore William Gholston could be on the verge of a breakout season as he settles in at end, where the Spartans also will use Tyler Hoover and Denzel Drone on the edges. Tackle Anthony Rashad White had a good spring and forms a nice interior tandem with All-Big Ten candidate Jerel Worthy.

2. Two-way Tony: Redshirt freshman Tony Lippett was the star of spring ball in East Lansing. He practiced at both cornerback and receiver and made plays in both spots. He capped a strong session with a 57-yard reception and a pass breakup in the spring game. Michigan State's coordinators are fighting over Lippett, and he could see time on both sides of the ball this season.

3. Adams emerges: When Michigan State's seniors held their spring game draft last week, Johnny Adams was the first name called. Adams, a junior cornerback, turned in a very strong spring and drew a lot of praise from the staff. Michigan State needs a No. 1 corner as Chris L. Rucker departs for the NFL, and Adams looks ready to answer the bell. "As a safety, you can just be like, 'Leave that to Johnny,'" safety Trenton Robinson told The Grand Rapids Press. "You just look over and you know Johnny’s got it on lockdown."

Fall questions

1. Offensive line: The Spartans' success could hinge on a revamped line that must replace three starters from the 2010 team. While the coaches see more athleticism up front, which stems in part from several players making the switch from defense, there's no substitute for experience and continuity. The line must continue to jell this summer, as players like Dan France, Travis Jackson and Blake Treadwell move into big roles.

2. Linebacker rotation: Greg Jones and Eric Gordon made a ton of plays for Michigan State, and their production will be tough to replace. Returning starter Chris Norman is back, but Michigan State likely will have sophomores Max Bullough, Tyquan Hammock and Denicos Allen assume bigger roles. Jones and Gordon always were around the football, and the Spartans need the same qualities in their next generation of linebackers.

3. Punter: Go ahead and laugh if you'd like, but no punter in America played a bigger role in his team's success than Aaron Bates did last fall. Bates not only averaged 45 yards per punt but completed passes on trick plays that led to wins against both Notre Dame and Northwestern. Redshirt freshman Mike Sadler is set to succeed Bates at punter, although he'll have to hold off senior Kyle Selden.
EAST LANSING, Mich. -- When Mark Dantonio studies the red-letter games that have ended badly during his Michigan State tenure -- Ohio State and Penn State in 2008, Iowa and Alabama in 2010 -- two reasons stand out for the Spartans' shortcomings.

The first is the most common culprit: turnovers. Any team trying to move up in class -- or "measure up," as Dantonio often says -- can't give the ball away as often as Michigan State did in those games and expect to win.

Every team focuses on limiting turnovers, but the second reason is more Spartans-specific. It also underscores how Michigan State can take the next step after four consecutive bowl appearances under Dantonio.

"We didn't win up front," Dantonio said. "Winning at the point of attack, being able to run the ball effectively against a great football team and stop the run against a great football team, that enters into it."

In recent years Michigan State has proven it can both recruit and develop top-end offensive skill players (Javon Ringer, Devin Thomas, Edwin Baker and Kirk Cousins, to name a few). The Spartans have had outstanding linebackers (Greg Jones, Eric Gordon) and talented defensive backs (Otis Wiley, Chris L. Rucker).

But to truly join the Big Ten's elite, the Spartans must close the gap up front on both sides of the ball. They need offensive linemen and pass rushers that strike fear in opponents.

It's no secret how teams like Wisconsin and Iowa, which typically face bigger recruiting obstacles than Michigan State, have upgraded their programs. The Badgers and Hawkeyes both excel in line play, which has helped them make up for potential deficiencies elsewhere.

The Spartans now must do the same.

"You look at the three teams that won the Big Ten a year ago," offensive coordinator Dan Roushar said, "and you would certainly say Ohio State had a tremendous offensive line. You would echo those comments with Wisconsin. I would leave for others to judge what Michigan State's offensive line was or is.

"You go back to years past. Ohio State's established themselves at the top of this league. Penn State has played very well up front. That's the fundamental of football: you win up front."

Michigan State's offensive line had its moments in 2010, especially early on as the team eclipsed 200 rushing yards in five of the first six games. But the rushing production tailed off down the stretch and the Spartans finished with minus-48 yards on the ground against Alabama in the Capital One Bowl.

Three starters depart, and the competition along the offensive line has ramped up in spring practice. Michigan State's pre-spring depth chart listed four potential starters at center, two potential starters at right guard and a redshirt freshman (Skyler Schofner) as the starting right tackle.

"There's more numbers," Dantonio said, "and I just see more overall athleticism."

The increased athleticism comes in part from moving players like Dan France and Blake Treadwell from defense to offense. Treadwell started five games at nose tackle last season, while the 6-6, 304-pound France was a reserve defensive tackle before moving to left tackle.

Young linemen like Schofner and Travis Jackson also excite the coaches.

"We have an opportunity to develop some quality play up there," said Roushar, who coached the line the past four seasons before being promoted to coordinator. "But there may be some growing pains."

The bar has been raised for Michigan State's defensive line this fall. Defensive tackle Jerel Worthy is the bell cow after recording eight tackles for loss and four sacks in 2010. There's depth inside with senior Kevin Pickelman and Anthony Rashad White, who has turned things up in spring ball.

The problem is Worthy's sacks total led the team in 2010, and Jones was the Spartans' sacks leader in 2009. Michigan State needs some true pass rushers to emerge, and the spotlight will be on ends William Gholston, Tyler Hoover, Denzel Drone and Marcus Rush this fall. Gholston, a heralded recruit who spent time at both linebacker and end last year, has found a home with his hand on the ground.

"It starts up front," defensive coordinator Pat Narduzzi said, "and the further coach Dantonio gets in his tenure here, the better we're going to be up front. We might stay the same in the secondary, we might stay the same at receiver.

"But we're going to get better every year on the lines."
EAST LANSING, Mich. -- The Michigan State students were here early, but it's a bit of a late-arriving crowd here at Spartan Stadium. Must be finishing off some of those tailgates.

The rain is staying away, but the wind could be a bigger factor. Game-time conditions call for cloudy skies, 48 degrees and winds gusting to more than 20 miles an hour.

Some depth-chart notes for Michigan State: Edwin Baker starts at running back, while Keith Nichol and Keshawn Martin start at receiver. Tyler Hoover and Denzel Drone are the starting rush ends, Blake Treadwell starts at nose tackle and Jon Misch starts at the "star" linebacker spot.

Sit back, relax and keep reading. Much more to come from Sparta.
The debate about where William Gholston will play in Michigan State's defense has gone on for months.

Linebacker or defensive end?

Gholston starred at linebacker in high school, recording 115 tackles, including 44 for loss and 27 sacks as a senior. His 6-foot-7 frame didn't stop him from becoming one of the Midwest's most decorated recruits. As Michigan State introduced more 3-4 elements to its defense for 2010, Gholston figured to play a key role alongside Greg Jones, Eric Gordon at co.

William Gholston
Cliff Welch/Icon SMI After putting on some 20 pounds in the offseason, William Gholston made the switch from linebacker to defensive end.
Entering preseason camp, Gholston fully expected to stay at linebacker. And then he started going to training table.

"He played very well at linebacker in high school and he was 240 some pounds," Michigan State head coach Mark Dantonio said Tuesday. "He kept that weight at 248, 247 through summer conditioning, but once he started camp with three meals a day, I look up and he was 260 pounds."

Gholston's weight gain changed his plan, and last week, he decided to permanently switch to defensive end. He's listed as a reserve rush end behind co-starters Tyler Hoover and Denzel Drone on Michigan State's Week 1 depth chart.

Dantonio expects Gholston to play Saturday against Western Michigan and said the freshman has been receiving a lot of individual coaching from defensive coordinator Pat Narduzzi and line coach Ted Gill in recent practices.

"He made the decision that the opportunity to see the field, the quickest, was at defensive end with the pass rush," Dantonio said, "so he's making the transition to that. He's enjoying it, he's learning it a lot."

Michigan State needs some pass-rushing help as Jones might blitz a little less this year than last.

"He's a big, raw, talented guy," Dantonio said of Gholston. "People will notice him. His size alone gives him an upside."

Two more Michigan State nuggets:

  • Redshirt freshman Andrew Maxwell has solidified himself as the team's backup quarterback. If starter Kirk Cousins gets hurt, Dantonio will go with Maxwell next, even though last year's backup, Keith Nichol, remains on the team at wide receiver.
  • Michigan State's depth chart lists co-starters at seven different positions, including two wide receiver spots and two defensive end spots. Here's the list: Running back (Larry Caper or Edwin Baker); split end (Nichol or Mark Dell); flanker (Keshawn Martin or B.J. Cunningham); rush end (Hoover or Drone); defensive end (Colin Neely or Todd Anderson); nose tackle (Kevin Pickelman or Blake Treadwell); and kicker (Dan Conroy or Kevin Muma).
Michigan State hopes its improved depth makes a difference in the close games that have dogged coach Mark Dantonio for most of his tenure.

If Monday's scrimmage at Spartan Stadium is any indication, the Spartans will have more options in 2010.

All-American linebacker Greg Jones did his thing (12 tackles, six tackles for loss, four sacks), but several young players also performed well in the jersey scrimmage, which the defense won 95-89 based on a modified scoring system. The young standouts included:
  • True freshman running back Le'Veon Bell, who led all rushers with 50 yards on 12 carries, including an 10-yard touchdown run. Bell also hauled in an 11-yard scoring pass from Kirk Cousins.
  • Redshirt freshman defensive end Denzel Drone recorded seven tackles, including a sack, and also forced and recovered a fumble.
  • Sophomore cornerback Johnny Adams, coming off of a shoulder injury, had seven tackles, an interception and two pass breakups.
  • Sophomore linebacker Chris Norman had 11 tackles, including a 7-yard sack.
  • Dantonio singled out freshmen defensive backs Darqueze Dennard and Isaiah Lewis for their play, saying that both could contribute this season.
  • Dantonio also reiterated that he wants to find spots for freshmen linebackers William Gholston and Max Bullough. "We want to make sure that we put them into situations where they can contribute on a consistent basis because you don't want to just take away a guy's year [of eligibility]," he said. "Those guys can play and have an impact."

I continue to be surprised by how much Michigan State throws the ball in its scrimmages. The Spartans were unquestionably a pass-first team in 2009, when they finished second in the Big Ten in passing (269.4 ypg), but it seemed likely they would stress the run more this fall.

It still could happen, but since Cousins stepped into the spotlight at quarterback, Michigan State has taken to the air. And for good reason. The Spartans' receiving corps is stacked, and they have two tight ends (Charlie Gantt and Brian Linthicum) on the Mackey Award preseason watch list.

Cousins attempted 42 passes Monday, completing 26 of them for 306 yards with three touchdowns and two interceptions. Emerging star Keshawn Martin led the way with eight catches for 83 yards, while B.J. Cunningham had seven receptions for 65 yards and two touchdowns.

According to Dantonio, turnovers were the difference in the scrimmage, which is good and bad. But after Michigan State struggled to generate takeaways in 2009, it's more of a promising sign than a negative one.

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