Defense wins first Michigan State scrimmage

Published 9:20 pm Friday, April 10, 2015

Montae Nicholson is congratulated by his teammates after his second interception return for a touchdown (54 yards) in Friday’s spring scrimmage in Spartan Stadium. (Photo/Matthew Mitchell, MSU Athletic Communications)

Montae Nicholson is congratulated by his teammates after his second interception return for a touchdown (54 yards) in Friday’s spring scrimmage in Spartan Stadium. (Photo/Matthew Mitchell, MSU Athletic Communications)

EAST LANSING — Thanks to three interception returns for touchdowns and a goal-line stand, the defense defeated the offense in the first spring scrimmage on Friday afternoon in Spartan Stadium. The controlled scrimmage, which utilized a modified scoring system, was 121 plays long (including special teams) and lasted two hours under partly cloudy skies and windy conditions with temperatures near 50.

Safety Montae Nicholson led the defense with two interception returns for touchdowns (53 and 54 yards), while cornerback Darian Hicks had an 83-yard pick six. Nicholson also had three tackles and two pass break-ups.

Linebacker Riley Bullough had five tackles and broke up a pass, cornerback Arjen Colquhoun posted five stops, linebacker Darien Harris collected four tackles, including a 2-yard sack, and defensive lineman Lawrence Thomas added four tackles.

“I was very impressed with our defense,” Michigan State coach Mark Dantonio said. “It sort of picked up where we left off last year. Montae Nicholson had a big day with the two picks for touchdowns. Montae really made two outstanding plays and had impressive runs after the catch. He’s a special player. The front seven played extremely well. Shilique Calhoun is always going to be great. LT (Lawrence Thomas) played very well and Malik McDowell played well in there. Riley Bullough was active, and Darien Harris had a good game defensively. It’s tough to see sometimes from ground level, but it’s a credit to the way we played defensively. We stopped the run and made it tough to pass because we pressured the quarterback. Basically, we did what we needed to do on the defensive side of the ball.

“The defense is always a little ahead of the offense at this time in the spring.  When the adrenaline starts moving and you begin playing well on one side of the ball or the other, things sort of catapult and you begin to build momentum. Overall, it was a good first scrimmage.

Offensively, Connor Cook completed 14-of-20 passes for 126 yards and two interceptions, while Damion Terry was 8-of-9 passing for 117 yards and two touchdowns, and Tyler O’Connor was 5-of-11 for 73 yards and one interception with the second team.

Madre London and Gerald Holmes split the majority of the carries at running back. London had 15 carries for 47 yards, while Holmes gained 39 yards on 14 attempts, including a 3-yard touchdown run.

Monty Madaris (60 yards), R.J. Shelton (36 yards), AJ Troup (34 yards) and DeAnthony Arnett (33 yards) each had four catches to lead the receivers.

On the third series of the scrimmage, O’Connor led the offense 44 yards on 10 plays to the 26-yard line, but Shane Jones deflected a third-down pass that Hicks caught and sprinted 83 yards down the sideline for the first score of the day.

Midway through the scrimmage, the first-team offense used a long drive to march 60 yards down the field to set up a first-and-goal from the 5. Cook was a perfect 6-for-6 passing on the drive, but the defense stuffed the run near the goal line, as Malik McDowell stopped London short of a touchdown on fourth down to keep the offense out of the end zone.

The second-team offense responded two series later, as O’Connor directed a 10-play, 65-yard drive, capped by a Holmes 3-yard TD run up the middle. O’Connor completed 3-of-4 throws for 55 yards on the scoring drive.

Nicholson returned the first of his two touchdowns against the first-team offense for 53 yards, catching a pass in the middle of the field and racing past several would-be tacklers for the pick six.

But once again, the offense struck right back, as Terry connected on back-to-back passes to Madaris for 28 yards and then Macgarrett Kings Jr. for 32 yards for a touchdown. Kings finished the scrimmage with three catches for 62 yards.

Later in the scrimmage, on a fourth-and-2 play from the 45-yard line, Nicholson read a screen pass for his second interception of the afternoon and sprinted untouched 54 yards for the touchdown.

The offense closed the scrimmage on a nine-play, 60-yard drive by Terry that resulted in a 15-yard touchdown pass to Jamal Lyles, who initially bobbled the ball but held on for the score. Lyles finished with three catches for 46 yards.

Michigan State will return for its ninth practice of the spring on Tuesday.

“Offensively, we had some drives down the field; however, two of the picks turned away drives,” Dantonio said “In addition to the three interception returns for scores, the defense came up with a stop on fourth-and-1 that ultimately won the scrimmage. Connor Cook was crisp and played very effectively throughout most of the game, but he had two picks and didn’t get the first team into the end zone and that’s the bottom line at the end of the day. Damion Terry did a nice job moving the (second) team and Tyler O’Connor did as well. Our young backs need to continue to grow. They had some nice runs, but they’ve got to hit the holes because they’re going to close very quickly.


Stat Leaders

Passing: Connor Cook 14-of-20 for 126 yards and two interceptions; Damion Terry 8-of-9 for 117 yards and two touchdowns (32 yards to Macgarrett Kings Jr.; 15 yards to Jamal Lyles); Tyler O’Connor 5-of-11 for 73 yards and one interception.

Rushing: Madre London 15-47; Gerald Holmes 14-39 (1 TD).

Receiving: Monty Madaris 4-60; R.J. Shelton 4-36; AJ Troup 4-34; DeAnthony Arnett 4-33; Macgarrett Kings Jr. 3-62 (1 TD); Jamal Lyles 3-46 (1 TD).

Defense (solos-assists-total): Riley Bullough 4-1-5 including a pass break-up; Arjen Colquhoun 3-2-5; Darien Harris 3-1-4 including a 2-yard sack; Lawrence Thomas 3-1-4; Montae Nicholson 2-1-3 including two interceptions for touchdowns (53 yards and 54 yards) and two pass break-ups; Darian Hicks 2-0-2 including an 83-yard interception return for a touchdown.