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Michigan State football: What to watch for vs. Central Michigan

So many storylines.



Michigan State football

Michigan State football kicks off the 2023 season on Friday night against CMU. Here’s what we should be watching for.

Michigan State football game week is here which means I’m going to take you through my list of things to watch in the Friday night matchup against Central Michigan.

Now, some of this may not be as apparent in Week 1 as I might hope, due to it being an extension of fall camp for a few position groups (quarterbacks). It also means that we could see some rust from certain players, especially transfers or freshmen. So take this all with a grain of salt, but look for signs of these things, which hopefully will trend into Week 2 and beyond, and set us up for a much more successful season in year four under Mel Tucker.

Now there are physical things, for example, player A, or position group A doing X number of things; or looking like a more complete position group. Then there are things that fall under more of a game management and procedural category.

I’ll start off with the tangible things, and then move to management/procedural aspects.


  • Tight ends

Obviously, popular things of interest would be the quarterback position, and how the rotation in the offensive and defensive lines appear, as well as if anyone sticks out from the receiver room.

To name a few out-of-the-box position groups I have to start with the tight end room. Maliq Carr, the first in line has all of the physical gifts to be a staple in the passing game. His biggest knock, to which he seems more willing and able now, is blocking. Outside of Carr, it seems open for who emerges as the No. 2. Transfers Jaylan Franklin out of Wisconsin, or Tyneil Hopper from Boise State are next in line for me. But Brennan Parachek, the former four-star tight end recruit, isn’t far behind.

For the offense to have success, in the rushing and passing game, it needs the tight ends to step up production. 

  • Defensive backs

For the first time in the Tucker era, I feel confident in the trajectory of the Michigan State football defensive backs. We know what we’re going to get with a number of players, like Chuck Brantley and Angelo Grose, but I’ve bought a ton of stock in Jaden Mangham and Dillon Tatum in the offseason. I expect them to excel and be centerpieces in Scottie Hazelton’s secondary.

Terry Roberts from Iowa will be out there as well. Per PFF Roberts had a grade of 79 overall in 2022. Compare that to Justin Layne in 2018 (90) and MSU’s highest-rated defensive back in 2022, Chester Kimbrough (72.1). I also see the youth, and depth as a strength. Caleb Coley and Malik Spencer specifically. Roberts is the oldest here, and other than him, Marqui Lowery and Brantley are only juniors.

I’m looking for a takeaway or two, as well as locked-down receivers against CMU with a primarily mobile QB. 

  • Special teams

Next, I’ll be watching special teams.

Hopefully punting won’t be of importance on Friday, but kicking is what I’m really watching, maybe with one eye closed. No secret that it was bad in 2022, and not just field goals, but kickoffs, too.

Locked On Spartans host Matt Sheehan (@Sheehan_Sports on X) made note that in 2022, Michigan State football ranked second-worst in the Big Ten with only 26.3% of kickoffs going for touchbacks. Opponents had the second-most return yards in the whole conference. So, in comes Jonathan Kim, the UNC transfer. In 36 games, Kim had a 79 percent touchback rate.

You’re playing Central Michigan, you shouldn’t struggle to have success on kickoffs on Friday. 

Other areas

  • Game management

Now for the side of the game that you can make no more excuses for. To keep it short and sweet, the coaching staff needs to be better in two categories, and you really shouldn’t have any hiccups against CMU.

Game management and play-calling go hand in hand and in 2022, oh boy. Where do we even start?

From botched timeouts to the play clock hitting zero more than a few times, the communication between players and coaches, and coaches and coaches was rough. I’m looking for this side of the game to go smoothly on Friday. It’s the biggest knock, in my opinion, of Tucker so far. And in year four, it can’t be a factor.

  • Play-calling

I get that in 2022 there was plenty of blame to go around when it came to specifically the offense whether it be miscommunication, injuries to quarterbacks or receivers, or the 30 offensive lines they put out due to injuries.

Outside of all of the issues in 2022, my biggest pet peeve was the play-calling. The slow-developing runs up the middle on short-yardage situations, or the lack of creativity with route running, and passing was infuriating.

I won’t claim to be an expert on play-calling, but from the perspective of a fan, it wasn’t pretty. On Friday, we should be seeing what we didn’t in 2022. Creativity, execution, and fundamental situational play-calling are key for me, especially in the red zone. 

  • General Buzz

Lastly, one I’m looking for on Friday is something we didn’t really have after the Western Michigan game in 2022: positive buzz.

Last season, I left Spartan Stadium with injuries and overall disappointment on my mind, coming off of that 2021 season. Simply can’t have that on Friday. The program needs excitement, and a big win, with a lot to be excited about, is what we all need, and frankly, what I think the program needs.

No better way to head into the rest of the 2023 season than a game that gives the program some life.

Writer and content creator for Spartan Shadows since 2022. Die Hard Michigan State fan. I've written articles focused on Basketball, Football, and Soccer at Spartan Shadows.