Two-time All-Big Ten cornerback Johnny Adams is likely to miss Saturday's Buffalo Wild Wings Bowl due to a toe injury, head coach Mark Dantonio said during interviews on Thursday in Tempe, Ariz. No. 82 Josh Boyce (6-0, 203, Jr., Copperas Cove, TX) would earn playing time at any program. Boyce was first-team All-Mountain West last year as a sophomore and was honorable mention All-Big 12 this year with 61 catches for 800 yards.
"I do not expect Johnny to play, to be honest with you," Dantonio told the Detroit Free Press. "You always hold out hope that he may play, but I just don't know. We'll have to see come game time, but my expectations are that (he won't)."
Adams was the only MSU starter who missed interviews during MSU's bowl media day session in Tempe on Thursday. He missed interviews in order to get treatment on the toe.
Adams missed practice on Tuesday. Spartan coaches anticipated Adams coming back to practice on Wednesday and Thursday, but Adams has been slower to recover than expected.
Adams was slowed by undisclosed injuries during the regular season, and although he was named first-team All-Big Ten, he didn't have the type of shut-down, All-America type of season that he and the Spartans were expecting.
Still, his loss will be a blow to an MSU defense that ranked No. 1 in the Big Ten and No. 4 in the country in total defense.
Adams will likely be replaced by fifth-year senior Mitchell White or redshirt freshman Trae Waynes. Redshirt freshman Arjen Colquhoun is also a possibility.
Waynes is listed as the No. 2 boundary corner, backing up Adams. But White - who is officially Darqueze Dennard's back-up at field corner, is well-versed at both corner positions and is likely the next man up at either CB position.
Waynes is regarded by some as the fastest player on the team. He saw action in eight games this year, and posted two tackles. Colquhoun didn't dent the stat sheet this year, but went back and forth with Wayne in the competition for second-string status for most of the spring and August camp.
"Trae Waynes has had excellent bowl practices and he has outstanding ability," Dantonio told the Free Press. "Mitchell has game experience and I think those guys will share the position. And then (receiver) Tony Lippett has started three games for us (at cornerback last season), so he's a possibility as well."
Breaking Down Mitchell White
White, a former walk-on who has seen action in 42 games, has been a second-string cornerback for the past three seasons. White has one career start to his credit, starting at Iowa as a sophomore in 2010 when Chris L. Rucker was out due to a suspension and Darqueze Dennard was sidelined due to an injury. Dennard replaced White later in the game.
Most notably this season, White saw action in the final minutes of Michigan State's games against Wisconsin and Nebraska.
At Wisconsin, White replaced the ailing Adams for a handful of snaps, including the last play of regulation and all three defensive snaps in overtime.
On the last play of regulation, White defended a deep slant-and-go while MSU's Kyler Elsworth got home on a sack.
In overtime, White held firm while the Badgers went to the air on second and third down before being forced to kick a field goal.
On second down, Wisconsin seemed to want to go at White with the Badgers' best receiver, Jared Abbrederis. Wisconsin QB Danny O'Brien rolled out in Abbrederis' direction, but White had him well-covered in cover-three zone. Facing a blitz, O'Brien had to get rid of the ball, throwing incomplete to a shorter target.
On third down, MSU went with "corners over," putting both cornerbacks on the same side of the formation to match Wisconsin's deployment of two WRs to the right (field) side.
White played the outside WR, on Jordan Fredrick. Dennard played the inside WR, Abbrederis.
Prior to the snap, Fredrick came in motion and was even with Abbrederis at the snap.
Just before the snap, Dennard and White gestured to each other, signaling that a basketball style switch was "on." White would take whichever receiver released to the outside, and Dennard would take whoever released to the inside.
O'Brien looked to that side of the field after the snap. White switched onto Abbrederis without a problem. O'Brien came off of those two reads and threw to the tight end on the other side of the field, where Isaiah Lewis broke up the pass.
Wisconsin kicked a field goal, and MSU won with a touchdown in its half of overtime.
With White playing well in the final four defensive snaps against the Badgers, he earned trust to play safety in a pinch the following week at Nebraska.
Against Nebraska, White was pressed into duty at safety for the first time in his career, when Kurtis Drummond, R.J. Williamson and Jairus Jones were out with injuries. White made two errors during Nebraska's game-winning drive. He failed to play the proper cover-three coverage on Nebraska's first play of the drive. He instead played base coverage, apparently missing the call. This left the sideline uncovered and Nebraska was able to capitalize with a simple fade route for 18 yards.
Eleven plays later, Nebraska completed the game-winning touchdown pass to Jamal Turner, who was working against White. White played man-to-man coverage as a safety, just off the line of scrimmage. Turner, the inside receiver, ran a simple corner route. White turned to run with him, but couldn't close enough ground to defend the pass.
"Mitchell White was playing a position he normally doesn't play in the back end there, and he lines incorrectly and doesn't give himself a chance to play the fade," Dantonio said on Nov. 5. "It's just a simple three‑deep coverage. "He lines too far inside. It's disappointing. Nobody feels worse than Mitchell. But he hasn't had all those reps at that particular position. It's just the nature of where we were at at the safety position."
MSU defensive coordinator Pat Narduzzi said TCU has as good a cast of wide receivers as any team Michigan State has faced this year.
A rundown (from the current issue of SPARTAN Magazine):
Boyce can stretch the field with long-striding speed, and the Hornes Frogs will use him as an inside receiver on third-and-medium in possession situations.
He has seven TDs this year and 22 TD catches for his career, the school's all-time leader in that category. He was a three-star recruit with offers only from TCU and SMU.
No. 3 Brandon Carter (5-11, 161, Soph., Euless, TX) has 34 catches and sports a team-high 17.0 yards-per-catch average. He has run on reverses four times this year, and attempted two passes off of them.
No. 88 Cam White (6-3, 200, Soph., DeSoto, TX) is coming on strong. He has 20 catches on the year, the latest of which was an impressive 43-yarder as part of the two-minute drill late in the Oklahoma game in the regular season finale. He sprinted off the line against off coverage, gave a nod to the flag, and accelerate on a skinny post in beating two-time, second-team All-Big 12 cornerback Demontre Hurst. QB Trevone Boykin took a hit while delivering a pretty pass, deep without hanging it in the air too long.
No. 85 LaDarius Brown (6-4, 220, Fr., Waxahachie, TX) looks like a star in the making. He had 25 catches and five TDs. He plays big, kind of like Marcus Waters, for those of you who remember MSU's 2001 season.
Brown represents TCU's football renaissance in that he was a national Top 100 recruit, ranked No. 7 in Texas and committed to TCU over offers from Oklahoma, Texas A&M, Notre Dame, Auburn, Nebraska and several others. This type of prospect hasn't been available to TCU in previous decades, but he is a monster, and TCU had the luxury of redshirting him last year.
TCU opened its two-minute offense at the end of the Oklahoma game with a hitch to Brown versus off coverage. He caught it at six yards and busted forward for a gain of nine. Next play, same thing; he caught it at six yards, broke a tackle and gained 14. As stated on previous pages, TCU will repeat plays several times until you stop it. Oklahoma had to come up and play tighter coverage at the line on the third snap of the two-minute drill.
Can White Hang?
White has shown that he can play solid football when pitching limited innings of middle relief. He did the job in crunch time in the late minutes against Wisconsin. Can he play four quarters against the type of receivers that TCU will trot onto the field? You'll know when we know. In other words, this is uncharted territory for White and the Spartans.
TCU has the talent at WR to present major problems for White and the Spartan pass defense, but TCU has had problems getting consistent performances at quarterback.
Boykin has completed 58 percent of his passes, averaging 168 yards per game through the air. He has thrown 15 TD passes and nine interceptions.
In short, look for Boyce and company to spring open occasionally for TCU's run-oriented, spread offense. When they're open, can Boykin find them and connect? Well, there's no question TCU will have a better chance to do so with White in the game rather than Adams.
Boykin's numbers in his last three games:
17-of-30 for 164 yards with 1 TD and 1 INT in a loss to Kansas State.
17-of-31 for 231 yards with 1 TD and 0 INTs in a loss to Oklahoma.
7-of-9 for 82 yards and 0 TDs and 1 INT in a victory over Texas.
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