Payton Thorne

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Michigan State football: 5 burning questions ahead of Minnesota matchup

Michigan State football hosts an undefeated Minnesota team on Saturday afternoon and here are the questions we’ll all be asking.

Like every other Michigan State football fan walking this earth right now, I have plenty of questions following the Spartans’ deflating loss to Washington.

I’ve been at a loss all week long when trying to come up with answers for what happened on Saturday. Was it just a bad matchup? Did Michael Penix Jr. just have the game of his life? Was it because Big Ten teams are awful on the West Coast? The answer to all three of those is an emphatic “yes” but I still have more questions.

And I’m guessing you do, too.

These are the questions I want answered most on Saturday as the Spartans face Minnesota.

1. What adjustments will the defense make?

Probably the most burning of all burning questions after last Saturday’s debacle. Will the defense figure it out and make the necessary adjustments? History under Mel Tucker tells us that the answer to that question is yes, but what adjustments will be made? I’m not entirely sure.

Tucker did say that he didn’t believe it was a schematic issue and that personnel changes would be made. So does that mean Michigan State is running with the 4-2-5 again? More than likely. Will they play some press coverage and force Tanner Morgan to beat them with his arm? I sure hope so.

Can’t wait to see what these personnel changes entail.

2. Will Payton Thorne build on his strong outing vs. Washington?

Momentum is a big thing in college athletics. Players can have breakout years thanks to one game giving them all the confidence they need or they can let one bad game spiral. Fortunately, Payton Thorne didn’t let two poor showings become three to start the season.

Thorne actually got back on track against Washington, throwing for over 320 yards and three touchdowns and this was all without Jayden Reed. Oh yeah, and his offensive line didn’t show up.

Is he going to build on this strong game or will he struggle for the third time this year?

3. Can the offensive line block anyone? 

OK, this may be a little harsh, but after watching the Washington game, I’m genuinely curious.

Can this offensive line do what it did in the first two weeks and manhandle opponents? It felt like we got two steps forward in Weeks 1 and 2 and then 10 steps back in Week 3. Disappointing doesn’t even begin to cover how the Washington game felt in the trenches.

Communication issues and missed assignments plagued Michigan State football against the Huskies and it led to zero run game and Thorne running for his life. Can these guys hold their own against Minnesota’s unproven front?

4. Will the run game get back on track?

Piggybacking off the last question, can we get the run game back on track against Minnesota?

The Gophers do have a solid run defense, allowing just under 70 yards per game, but they have also only played three cupcake opponents. Getting Jalen Berger and Jarek Broussard back on track will be key.

I’m also curious to see if the staff still trusts Broussard after that forgettable performance last week. My guy says yes, but his showing against Washington was rough.

Michigan State’s offense thrives when the run game is doing well and it wasn’t able to do anything last week with the line struggling.

5. Is Jayden Reed going to be healthy?

This seems like a waste of a question initially, but it’s actually so important for the success of this team.

If Jayden Reed doesn’t play, Michigan State’s offense loses a weapon and becomes that much less effective. With Reed, the Gophers’ defense has another elite target to worry about and that’s only going to help open things up for Thorne and this offense.

We haven’t heard much on the injury front with Reed, but due to the fact that he didn’t even make the trip to Washington last week, you have to believe it’s not just a tiny cut on his back.

Hopefully Reed returns to full strength on Saturday.

Michigan State football

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Michigan State football: 2-deep depth chart projection for 2022

Michigan State football enters the season as one of the Big Ten’s best and most talented teams. Let’s dive into a projected depth chart.

The Michigan State football season is finally here and while we have plenty of great quotes from Mel Tucker to feast on from the past few weeks, we have no official depth chart.

Getting that weekly depth chart before games was always something to look forward to in the Mark Dantonio era but Tucker plays things much closer to the vest. While neither ever revealed too much, Tucker doesn’t like to give opponents an advantage.

And there are probably some surprises on his depth chart. Heck, we had no idea Cal Haladay was even in the playing rotation before last season when he took the field as a starter.

Will there be any major surprises when Michigan State football takes the field on Friday vs. Western Michigan? Probably.

Here’s what I think the two-deep depth chart may look like ahead of Week 1.

Quarterback

Starter: Payton Thorne
Backup: Noah Kim OR Katin Houser

This one’s obvious as Thorne broke the single-season passing touchdown record last year, but there’s really no clarity behind him. I think Houser is more talented, but Kim has more experience and he drew some praise in preseason camp.

Running back

Starter: Jarek Broussard
Backup: Jalen Berger

There’s plenty of depth here even with the loss of Kenneth Walker III and we have the transfer portal to thank. I see Broussard as the Walker-lite type of back and for that, I think he starts. But I do think Berger is a perfect complement to him and will have some big games. Not a bad one-two punch.

Receivers

Starters: Jayden Reed, Tre Mosley, Keon Coleman
Backups: Germie Bernard, Christian Fitzpatrick, Montorie Foster

The starting receivers are arguably a top-three trio in the Big Ten. Reed is going to have another 1,000-yard season if he can stay healthy, Mosley is the most underrated pass-catcher on the team, and Coleman is going to have a breakout year. Behind these three are three very capable backups, featuring Bernard. This group is going to take a lot of pressure off of Thorne.

Tight end

Starter: Daniel Barker
Backup: Maliq Carr OR Tyler Hunt

Barker is a legit NFL draft prospect at tight end and he could really flourish in this offense. From all accounts, he’s made everyone in the tight end room better this season, including Carr who has reportedly improved his blocking. We’ll see plenty of Carr and Hunt behind Barker.

Offensive line

Starters: Jarrett Horst (LT), JD Duplain (LG), Nick Samac (C), Geno VanDeMark (RG), Spencer Brown (RT)
Backups: Brandon Baldwin, Brian Greene, Dallas Fincher, Matt Carrick, Ethan Boyd

Assuming everyone stays healthy, Michigan State should have a better offensive line this season. Horst, Duplain, Samac, VanDeMark, and Brown would make the best starting group, in my opinion, but you could also switch Greene and either of the guards. Injuries are a nightmare scenario in this group because of the lack of depth.

Defensive line

Starting ends: Brandon Wright, Khris Bogle
Backups: Jeff Pietrowski, Tank Brown

Bogle is the crown jewel at defensive end and his potential on the edge is endless. He came over from Florida this offseason to replace Jacub Panasiuk. On the other side, I see Wright getting the nod over Pietrowski. If you watched the Peach Bowl, you saw flashes of what he could do on the edge and it was scary good. Pietrowski is still a really good option along with Brown.

Starting tackles: Jacob Slade, Simeon Barrow
Backups: Jalen Hunt, Derrick Harmon

Slade is the obvious star on the defensive line and one of the best interior linemen in the nation. Joining him will be the underrated Simeon Barrow who I believe is going to have a huge year. Hunt was supposed to break out last year and could never really stay healthy so maybe he’ll do better in a backup role this season. Harmon has been drawing a lot of praise this preseason, but Maverick Hansen, Dashaun Mallory, or Alex VanSumeren could easily back up Slade and Barrow, too.

Linebackers

Starters: Jacoby Windmon, Cal Haladay OR Aaron Brule
Backup: Darius Snow, Ma’a Gaoteote

I’ve been big on Windmon all offseason and I think he brings that elite pass-rushing from the linebacker position over from UNLV. But Haladay and Brule are both going to play meaningful snaps this season and it’d be hard to pick between either one. I know, Haladay started last year, but Michigan State has three legit starting linebackers (maybe actually 4-5) so Tucker can roll with whoever. I also really like Snow to have a big season here and we should hear Gaoteote’s name plenty.

Secondary

Starting cornerbacks: Ameer Speed, Ronald Williams
Backups: Charles Brantley, Marqui Lowery

Michigan State football had the worst passing defense, in terms of yards allowed, last year. The cornerbacks need to step up, led by two SEC transfers. Speed started at Georgia last year and Williams was a projected starter at Alabama before getting hurt two years ago. Both should be solid. Behind them are Brantley (who is finally healthy) and Lowery.

Starting nickelback: Chester Kimbrough
Backup: AJ Kirk

For the starter, I have to go with last year’s nickel in Kimbrough even though he struggled mightily. He’s only going to get better here. However, for the backup, I’m going with who I want since we have heard next to nothing about anyone other than Kimbrough here. Kirk is in his second year and I think he could either be a really solid safety or a nickel but I’ll lean toward the latter this season. It could also be Justin White or Lowery.

Starting safeties: Xavier Henderson, Angelo Grose
Backups: Jaden Mangham, AJ Kirk

The starters here are obvious as Henderson is an All-Big Ten caliber safety and Grose showed flashes last year when he was fully healthy. I could see these guys having really good seasons. Behind them are a freshman and an unproven second-year player. Honestly, an injury would be devastating here.

Special teams

Kicker: Ben Patton OR Jack Stone

Jack Stone could easily win the job, but I think Tucker brought in Auburn transfer Ben Patton because he was so unsure about the starter. I’d love to see Stone trot out there as the starting kicker, but we won’t have clarity here for a few weeks, I’m sure.

Kick/punt returner: Jayden Reed

This requires little to no explanation. Reed is one of the best return men in college football.

Punter: Bryce Baringer

Another one that doesn’t need an explanation. Baringer is one of the best punters in the country.

Do you agree or disagree with anyone on this projected depth chart?

Michigan State football

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Hypothetical 2022 NCAA Football ratings for Michigan State football players

If EA Sports NCAA Football was being released this year, this is how Michigan State football players could be rated.

In less than 365 days, every college football fan who also enjoys video games will be binging on some EA Sports NCAA Football. The game returns after nearly a decade-long absence and Michigan State football fans have to be thrilled since the last cover athlete was Denard Robinson.

Talk about leaving a sour taste in our mouths.

But the wait for a new game is almost over thanks to the NIL era and EA Sports’ desire to bring back the supremely popular video game.

If you’re anything like me, Madden just doesn’t cut it anymore. I need to be planted in front of my TV for hours, recruiting and winning national titles with Michigan State. I don’t want this, I need this.

Luckily we don’t have to wait much longer, but we can still imagine what life would be like if the game was released this year. Some Spartans may not be in next year’s game, so we may never know how good they’d be.

I’m going to hypothetically give the Spartans 2022 NCAA Football ratings. I’ll only be rating players who I believe could make the two-deep depth chart.

Here’s the scale I’ll work with:

  • 60-69: below average
  • 70-74: average or unproven
  • 75-79: above average
  • 80-84: good
  • 85-89: all-conference good
  • 90+: elite

Let’s start with the offense.

Offense

  • Quarterback: Payton Thorne (84), Noah Kim (73), Katin Houser (73)
  • Running back: Jarek Broussard (80), Jalen Berger (76)
  • Receiver: Jayden Reed (91), Tre Mosley (79), Keon Coleman (77), Germie Bernard (74), Christian Fitzpatrick (73), Montorie Foster (71)
  • Tight end: Daniel Barker (81), Maliq Carr (76), Tyler Hunt (74)
  • Offensive line: Jarrett Horst (80), JD Duplain (78), Brian Greene (77), Nick Samac (77), Geno VanDeMark (76), Spencer Brown (74), Matt Carrick (73), Dallas Fincher (71), Ethan Boyd (71) Brandon Baldwin (69)

Defense

  • Defensive line: Jacob Slade (87), Khris Bogle (82), Simeon Barrow (81), Brandon Wright (79), Jeff Pietrowski (79), Tank Brown (76), Maverick Hansen (74), Jalen Hunt (74)
  • Linebacker: Jacoby Windmon (86), Aaron Brule (84), Cal Haladay (82), Darius Snow (82), Ma’a Gaoteote (76)
  • Cornerbacks: Ameer Speed (79), Ronald Williams (77), Charles Brantley (76), Marqui Lowery (76)
  • Nickel: Chester Kimbrough (72), AJ Kirk (70)
  • Safety: Xavier Henderson (87), Angelo Grose (79), Jaden Mangham (72), AJ Kirk (70)

Special teams

  • Kicker: Ben Patton (79), Jack Stone (74)
  • Punter: Bryce Baringer (90)
  • Kick returner: Jayden Reed (90)
  • Punt returner: Jayden Reed (94)

Overall team rating: 86 (B+)

Long story short, this is a really good Big Ten team capable of contending for a conference title. Will the Spartans make the playoff? Probably not, but they will give every opponent a heck of a test.

I’d rate the Spartans as the third-best Big Ten team behind Ohio State (94) and Michigan (89). Wisconsin (85) and Penn State (84) are close behind in terms of rating.

Do you agree or disagree with any of my player or team ratings?