Michigan State football has earned a reputation for having a dull, but bruising offense led by workhorse running backs under head coach Mark Dantonio, but the emergence of quarterback Connor Cook has stocked the Spartans’ pantry with a lot more flavor.
Last season, Cook lead the MSU offense to one of the best performances in school history, ranking 10th in the nation in yards per pass (14.63), 17th in yards per play (6.55) and 11th in total yards (500.77). While two of the top receivers from that unit have graduated — Tony Lippett (65 receptions, 1,198 receiving yards, 11 touchdowns) and Keith Mumphery (26 receptions, 495 yards, three touchdowns) — the return of the senior Cook ensures opposing defenses will be on their heels more often than not in 2015.
Don’t get me wrong, the Spartan receiving corps is certainly less experienced without Lippett and Mumphery, but there are plenty of game-ready pass-catchers waiting in the wings for Cook, too.
While Lippett caught 36 more passes than the next leading receiver, Cook dispersed the majority of his passes to a wide net of targets in 2014, as Mumphery, rising seniors Macgarrett Kings Jr. (404 receiving yards) and Aaron Burbridge (358 yards), and rising junior tight end Josiah Price (374 yards, six touchdowns) all hauled in 26 or more passes.
Kings Jr. and Burbridge, as well as junior R.J. Shelton and seniors Deanthony Arnett and A.J. Troup, figure to be the greatest beneficiaries of Lippet and Mumphery’s departures, as each player now has their shot to prove their route running and hands have caught up with their raw talent.
Price, who is expected to be one of the top receiving TEs in the Big Ten, is also joined by junior TE Jamal Lyles, who has made major strides as a pass-catcher since making the transition from defensive end in 2013.
These are just a few of the upperclassmen, too. Behind these players are a slew of receivers like former four-star recruit Monty Madaris who’s been watching from the sidelines, itching to get in on the action.
So while the departures of two of the most consistent pass-catchers from last year’s unit looks tough to overcome on paper, all one has to do is look a bit further down the stat sheet to understand that there is plenty of experienced talent returning — seven of the top ten receivers, to be exact.
With a QB like Cook tossing around the pigskin, all the Spartans need from their receiving group is a bit more consistency — something that often goes hand-in-hand with more repetitions.
That smells like a recipe for success.