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Michigan State football: Positional report card for win over CMU

The first test of the season is in the books.



Michigan State football

A slow start led to a pull-away win for Michigan State football on Friday night. It’s time to hand out some grades.

Well, the first Michigan State football contest of the year is in the books. It was often a frustrating game to be sure, but there was a lot to like. It was an interesting performance overall, so let’s break down a few things and draw a couple of conclusions.

I’ll give each positional group a grade, and provide some thoughts.

Here it goes.

Quarterback: A-

Noah Kim started off slow, but he picked up the pace in a major way on Friday night. In his first career start, the junior went 18-for-31 through the air (58%) for 279 yards and two touchdowns. He definitely made some questionable throws throughout the game, sure. To be fair, though, plenty of good throws were dropped, so I’d say that about balances out. There were some early jitters, but that’s to be expected. We’ll need to see more, but he made some beautiful throws out there. For Kim to look as good as he did in his first career start bodes very well for the quarterback’s future. Overall, an impressive performance.

Running backs: A-

Nathan Carter is as advertised. The UConn transfer looked stellar in the win, rushing for 113 yards on 18 carries — an outstanding average of 6.2 yards per carry. He flashed his dangerous speed, top-notch explosiveness, and unflinching physicality. If watching Carter on Friday night didn’t get you excited, I don’t know what will. Jalen Berger was quieter, but still had a couple of nice runs himself, including a 12-yard touchdown.

The offensive line was iffy at times, but Carter and Berger got the job done. A super encouraging performance, especially from Carter, who looks ready to make a massive impact.

Wide receivers: A

The Michigan State football receiver room didn’t have lofty expectations after losing star Keon Coleman and the promising Germie Bernard, but there was a ton to like in this game. Jaron Glover and Christian Fitzpatrick both had over 70 yards apiece, with other guys like Tre Mosley and Tyrell Henry pitching in as well.

You might not recognize all of those names, but that’s a good thing. With the departures of Coleman and Bernard, there was a lot up for grabs, and it looks like a few players are rising to the occasion. The wideouts collectively played a very solid game, and that was awesome to see given all the uncertainty surrounding the group.

As with the quarterback, time will tell, but the receiving room has made a strong first impression.

Tight ends: C

Maliq Carr had a nice 8-yard touchdown grab in the fourth quarter on Friday night.

Aside from that, he was not good. The redshirt junior recorded just one catch (the aforementioned touchdown) on six targets. The targets weren’t all bad throws, either — most of them were accurate throws from Kim. It just seemed like Carr couldn’t hold onto the ball, and it cost the team some would-have-been easy yards early on. As I said, he redeemed himself slightly with the good-looking touchdown catch in the fourth, but the rest of the game can’t be ignored.

It’s frustrating. He’s a guy in a great position to succeed, roster-wise, and he also has all the physical tools he needs. These are prime breakout conditions, and he just can’t seem to put it all together.

I still believe that Carr can have a good season, mind you. First-game jitters are very common, and this could easily be a case of those. His performance tonight, though, just didn’t leave a great taste in my mouth.

Offensive line: B

It was an up-and-down game from the offensive line. Starting center Nick Samac didn’t play, so it can be hard to know how many conclusions to draw here. That said, it was an interesting game. There were decidedly too many runs that went for no gain/a loss, but there were also great holes created at times. Plus, they kept the QB clean — Kim took zero sacks on Friday.

Overall, the group had a questionable day run-blocking, but had some great moments in both run and pass-blocking nonetheless. It’ll be a little easier to fully gauge the state of the group once Samac is healthy, but a solid performance by and large.

Defensive line: B+

The defensive line turned in a promising performance on Friday evening. They held the Chippewas to a 3-yard rushing average and were constantly collapsing the pocket and flushing the quarterback out. The defensive line didn’t record a ton of sacks, but they got plenty of tackles for loss, constantly applied pressure and, overall, just got the job done. The defensive line was expected to be one of the strongest units on the Spartans’ roster, and it’s looking like they won’t disappoint.

Linebackers: A+

The linebacker room was viewed as an elite unit heading into the 2023 campaign, and they’re already showing us why. Three three main guys — Cal Haladay, Jacoby Windmon, and Aaron Brule — combined for 21 total tackles, two sacks, and an interception. Not half bad, eh? The group looked like a well-oiled machine out there and should be a rock-solid defensive anchor for the Spartans this year. Not a whole lot to say, just MSU’s linebackers showing up and getting it done.

Secondary: A

Michigan State’s defensive backs recorded a surprisingly commanding performance. Central Michigan’s quarterback, Bert Emanuel, recorded only 87 passing yards, with one touchdown and one interception, which is great on its own, but that’s not all. The secondary collectively accounted for 3.5 tackles for loss and five passes defensed.

Stats aside, though, if you watched the game, the secondary was flying all over the field. CMU just never looked comfortable throwing the ball out there, and that wasn’t a coincidence. MSU defensive backs still made some mistakes, as is inevitable, but it was a refreshing change of pace to see the unit hustle and work together so well. The Spartans’ secondary made a lot of plays on Friday, and while I don’t know if that’ll continue, it was an intriguing first performance.

Kicker: A

What more can you ask for? North Carolina transfer Jonathan Kim hit a 47-yard field goal in the second quarter, plus Kim and Stephen Rusnak collectively went 4-for-4 on extra points. Obviously, the sample size is small, especially with field goals, but I liked what I did see. I’m definitely looking forward to seeing more of Kim this year. Michigan State football has lacked a consistent kicking game since the departure of Matt Coghlin, so if a guy like Kim an step up and give the Spartans a reliable leg, that would be massive.

Coaching: C+

The coaching staff will catch some bad press here. There were a couple of highly questionable fourth-down play calls in the first half from Jay Johnson, but that’s not my main concern.

Michigan State as a team had eight penalties for 65 yards against the Chippewas, including multiple that gave CMU automatic first downs. I know the players are the ones who are actually out there, but seeing the team commit so many penalties speaks to a discipline issue. Good teams have to be disciplined when it comes to penalties, and plenty of that responsibility falls on the coaches.

I don’t deck the staff further here because both Jay Johnson and Scottie Hazelton had solid games overall. Johnson’s offense wasn’t good in the first half, but they really hit the gas in the last couple of quarters. Hazelton’s defense, meanwhile, had some issues near the beginning, but the unit soon locked in and recorded a great overall performance. A mixed bag from the coaches tonight.

Final thoughts

It was unavoidably a very slow and messy first half for Michigan State. However, I, like Mel Tucker, mostly chalk it up to first-game jitters. Once the team found its footing, they were really able to fire on all cylinders, and MSU as a whole looked great in the second half. The offense exploded for 28 unanswered points, and a lot of guys made plays.

On the other side of the ball, it’s difficult to give credit to any few players, because it seemed like the defense was working together to constantly make plays. Once the group got some presumed nervous energy out of their systems, they looked great, and it was a lot of fun to watch. If the Spartans can consistently play more like Friday’s second half than the first half, they’ll be in great shape for the rest of the year.

At the end of the day, it is still one game against a MAC team. That being said, there’s plenty of information to glean from the Spartans’ performance against Central Michigan. It should be an interesting season. Definitely keep an eye on the green and white in 2023.

Hey there. I'm Just Another Sports Fan, AKA JASF. I could talk for hours about all variety of athletics, but for now, I'm writing about Michigan State. Always open to feedback, thoughts, or comments as well - hit me up on Twitter or elsewhere!