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Which issues has Michigan State football fixed from 2022?

It’s clear that the Spartans worked on some weaknesses from 2022.



Michigan State football

With one week of action in the books, what does it look like Michigan State football has improved on from last year?

Week 1 games tend to breed a host of overreactions. Michigan State football teams have a long history of underwhelming openers, particularly in the first half.

So it’s no surprise that MSU stumbled out of the gate to a 10-7 lead. Spartan fans were grumbling at halftime, both in the stands and at their keyboards. It’s understandable that everyone has a bad taste in their mouth from the 2022 season. They are itching to see improvements from a team and staff with a lot to prove.

On paper, a lot of the same issues still exist from last year’s team. Since the opponent was CMU, it is hard to make any sweeping judgements about whether these issues are “fixed” or not. In this article I’ll go through what I considered the top flaws from last year’s team and where they stand today (improved, jury’s still out, or still an issue).

Play-calling – Still an issue

MSU did not convert on several fourth-and-short situations. This was in part due to the design of the run plays called by Jay Johnson. Being able to sustain a drive with short yardage conversions is critical, and I left Friday night feeling no more confident we can do so. It is worthy of note that Jaren Mangham was injured, and he was expected to contribute in a big way in short yardage and goal line positions. I could also see Jay Johnson keeping the play book a little bit closed off until the big-time matchup against Washington on Sept. 16.

Offensive line push – Still an issue

This one pairs up with the play-calling above. As much fault as Johnson has in lining up in the shotgun for a short yardage conversion, the offensive line still needs to be able to beat their assignments. If you take away Nathan Carter’s first run of 31 yards, MSU averaged just 3.2 yards per carry. That just won’t cut it against higher level talent. And the Big Ten has a gauntlet of defensive lines that are much more equipped to stop the run.

MSU cannot afford to be one-dimensional, or we will see another 2022-type of offense.

Fortunately, MSU has a little bit more burst in the running back room with the aforementioned Carter. He may be able to disguise some of the blocking issues, similar to what Kenneth Walker did in 2021. Additionally, there were a few injuries to the offensive line with expected starting center Nick Samac sitting for the opener.

Lastly, the offensive line gave good protection to Noah Kim allowing him to go through his progressions.

Penalties and mental errors – Still an issue

This one will continue to drive Spartan fans batty. Last season, Michigan State football averaged 54.9 penalty yards per game, which was No. 72 in the FBS. This was admittedly an improvement from 2021, where MSU averaged 64.6 penalty yards per game (No. 111). However, the timing of the penalties was critical, as they could negate a crucial defensive stop or a first down conversion. Once again MSU showed a lack of discipline with eight penalties for 66 yards. Mel needs to clean that up going forward. 

Under mental errors I’ll also put the three dropped passes from MSU wide receivers. Kim needs as much confidence as possible in his pass-catchers. Seeing a ball hit them in the face mask is detrimental to him getting and staying in rhythm.

QB accuracy and decision-making – Jury’s still out

Noah Kim had a rough start to the game, going just 1-for-5 in the first quarter. He warmed up by the end of the game, finishing with a respectable 279 yards and two touchdowns. Last season, Payton Thorne had a problem staring down one particular receiver. He also showed some accuracy issues. Kim had a few concerning throws that were off target, but he also had three balls that were clear drops from the receivers. Per PFF, he was one of 15 FBS quarterbacks who faced at least eight quarterback hurries with no sacks and no turnovers, which is encouraging. By the end of the game Kim was throwing with much greater confidence and showed he can at the very least manage the game.

Pass coverage – Improved, but jury’s still out

This unit visibly looks better than last year. The safeties and corners are tackling hard. Outside of one gaffe from Jaden Mangham, there were no clear lapses in coverage. Chuck Brantley and Dillon Tatum both looked comfortable at corner, with three passes defended between the two of them. Malik Spencer also showed some of that Xavier Henderson-level ball hawk energy. He finished with nine tackles, the second-highest mark on the team behind Cal Haladay.

There are still some concerns about the mobility of MSU’s linebackers. But Haladay once again showed why he is on so many watch lists for defensive awards, netting 10 tackles and an interception. All eyes will be on this unit as they face up against Washington in two weeks. Michael Penix Jr. looked dialed in, accounting for 450 yards and five touchdowns on 72.5% accuracy against a solid Boise State team. MSU will have its work cut out trying to keep the Huskies’ receiving corps in check.

Special Teams – Improved

Jonathan Kim nailed a 47-yard kick in the first half when the offense was looking stagnant, and he was perfect on his special points (3-for-3). Many Michigan State football fans are still reeling from the special teams performance in the Indiana game to close out 2022. Even an average kicking game would have put MSU into a bowl game. Seeing an uneventful start to the year at place kicker was a breath of fresh air. At punter, replacing Bryce Baringer will be hard to do, as he led FBS in yards per punt last year and earned himself a starting role in the NFL. Ryan Eckley showed he can be serviceable. He punted a perfect ball that would have pinned CMU inside the five-yard line, but the coverage team bumped the ball into the end zone for a touchback.

I graduated from MSU in 2016 with a BS in Electrical Engineering. I met my wife there, and we now live in Madison, WI with our two boys (ages 2 and 0). I write on here and spew on Twitter as an outlet for my useless MSU sports knowledge.