Notebook: WMU edition

The Spartans showed some wrinkles offensively and got a lot of redshirt freshman on the field in their season-opening win against Western Michigan.

Taking a look at what I noticed and what stood out Friday night:

**Michigan State showed some more of its playbook that is in play this year with some option plays for Connor Cook. On one drive, he had a designed run, a read option and an option play. Those play designs work well with the three underclassmen quarterbacks pretty well. I don't know if MSU would have liked to show those wrinkles this early, but needed to get the ball moving and see what they could do with it.

**The Spartans got a lot of redshirt freshmen on the field Friday night. The most notable was offensive tackle Jack Conklin, but that wasn't a surprise. Conklin did pretty well in his debut, but did fail to get out wide on a screen to Bennie Fowler. Perhaps the most interesting redshirt freshman to see the field was tight end Josiah Price. Price was injured in fall camp, but could be a valuable piece at tight end – a place where the Spartans desperately need someone to step up. Andrew Gleichert had one catch Friday, the only tight end target reception. Michael Dennis was targeted once downfield, but it was overthrown by Connor Cook (others considered it the seventh drop, but it was overthrown).

**Other redshirt freshmen to make their debuts were Demetrious Cox, Jamal Lyles and Kodi Kieler. Cox had a good hit on a punt return, where he lowered his shoulder into the returner and put a solid lick on him. Lyles looked strong at defensive end and got a good push. Both should be solid players on the MSU defense in coming seasons.

**The Spartans only really had two downfield targets on designed plays. That is an alarming low number and doesn't inspire much confidence. Interestingly, the target of one of the downfield passes was MacGarrett Kings Jr., who seems more suited on short routes and in tight spaces. Nevertheless, the Spartans looked downfield to Kings, but the pass was either dropped or knocked away. Neither Kings nor Bennie Fowler on the other deep route got much space. Separation was a major issue last season for MSU's wide receivers and it looks to be the same again … so far.

**The Spartans ran a familiar play to try to get Kings the ball on the pass Connor Cook threw to Keith Mumphery in the end zone – which was dropped. Prior to the snap, three wide receivers were lined up to the right of Cook to the wide side. Kings was the inside guy and went in motion, but came back to the right side as the ball was snapped. It is a play MSU often ran for Keshawn Martin – and resulted in a pair of touchdowns against Michigan two years ago.

**Donavon Clark got the start at left tackle with Fou Fonoti out, but he struggled a bit. He was beaten off the edge a couple times. His focus this offseason was pass blocking, but he didn't have the best showing. He had two starts last year (at Michigan and at Wisconsin) with mixed results. He is a good player, but might not be a true left tackle at 6-foot-3, 300 pounds.

**Speaking of Fonoti, we knew he was able to play but didn't expect him to. He came in without about four minutes left in the third and the offensive line looked a lot better from that point on as Conklin moved to the left side and Fonoti stepped in on the right side.

**Connor Kruse got playing time when starting right guard Dan France went out with an injury. France later returned.

**Joel Heath and Damon Knox have been praised for the past two offseasons as standouts, and both showed well Friday. Knox in particular stood out and showed strength, good use of leverage and good ability to get into the backfield. His development will be important this season as the Spartans lose both starting defensive tackles after this season.


Spartan Digest Top Stories