It’s Week Five for the Michigan State Spartans, and head coach Mel Tucker continues to show his disdain for depth charts by not releasing any during the week. So be it, I will guess once again at the starters and reserves for the game against Western Kentucky (offensive statistics from last week’s performance against Nebraska listed in parentheses next to each starter).
Starter: Payton Thorne (Passing: 14-for-23, 183 yards, one touchdown, one interception)
Backup: Anthony Russo (Did not play)
By his own account, Thorne struggled versus Nebraska. He had an early interception (his first of the year), looked uncomfortable often, and also took a few hard hits. If Michigan State is lucky enough to get up big against Western Kentucky, it wouldn’t be terrible to get Russo some action and protect Thorne as the team heads into games with only conference opponents moving forward.
Starter: Kenneth Walker III (19 carries, 61 yards)
Backup: Jordon Simmons (three carries, 13 yards; one reception for six yards)
Walker was bottled up for nearly the entire game, with his best rush coming in overtime when he was tackled just short of the end zone. I would be concerned if he does not have a productive, or at least efficient, day against WKU, which struggles to defend the run.
Simmons didn’t receive many touches against Nebraska but was effective in his limited role. I predict he’ll be more in the action Saturday night.
Starters: Jayden Reed (four receptions, 59 yards, one touchdown; one rush for two yards), Jalen Nailor (no receptions, three targets), Tre Mosley (six receptions, 70 yards)
Backups: Terry Lockett, Montorie Foster, Ian Stewart, Christian Fitzpatrick, Keon Coleman
The three-wide receiver, one-H-back alignment has become the base starting offense for the Spartans. I would look for Nailor to be emphasized early after not getting any receptions in last Saturday’s game.
Starter: Connor Heyward (two receptions for 39 yards)
Backup: Tyler Hunt (no receptions, no targets)
Heyward only have two catches, but one of them was a rumbling reception where he ran through multiple Nebraska defenders. It seems his blocking has evolved, and he is a guy the staff continue to play on most downs.
Hunt was extremely quiet against Nebraska. Michigan State had a season low in offensive plays, and needed more protection, thus limiting his opportunities.
Starter: Jarrett Horst
Backup: Luke Campbell, Dan VanOpstall
Michigan State has gone with a two-platoon system with their offensive line. For the first three games, the rotation appeared to keep the group fresh and the unit had improved noticeably from last season. Unfortunately, the Cornhuskers dominated the MSU offensive line for much of the game, leaving a lot of questions being asked. I would expect the same two-deep as in the previous games. That said, I think it would be in the Spartans’ favor to find a smaller core of offensive lineman to get a majority of the snaps.
Starter: J.D. Duplain
Backup: Blake Bueter
Starter: Nick Samac
Backup: Matt Allen
Starter: Kevin Jarvis
Backup: Matt Carrick
Starter: AJ Arcuri
Backup: Luke Campbell, Spencer Brown
Starters: Jacob Slade and Simeon Barrow
Backup: Jalen Hunt, Maverick Hansen, Deshaun Mallory, Kyle King
The hand-clubbed duo of Slade and Barrow have maintained their position on the defensive line. Hansen provides competent snaps in reserve and Jalen Hunt slowly seems to be healing from his foot injury.
Starters: Jacub Panasiuk and Jeff Pietrowski,
Backup: Drew Jordan, Michael Fletcher
Panasiuk had probably his best game of his career, logging two sacks and seven tackles in the overtime win over Nebraska, and earning Pro Football Focus’ Defensive Player of the Week honors. The big news following the last game is the health of Drew Beesley. Head coach Mel Tucker does not provide much of any information on injuries, but the fact Beesley was carted off the field and returned on the sidelines with a protective boot is quite concerning. I would not expect Beesley to return to the field anytime soon. Instead, Pietrowski has shown flashes of disruption. Fletcher has been slowed by health issues, but appears to be rounding into form. The value of getting Jordan in the transfer portal will be on full display with Beesley out for the foreseeable future.
Starters: Cal Haladay, Quavaris Crouch
Backups: Ben VanSumeren, Noah Harvey, Ma’a Gaoteote
Haladay and Crouch have cemented themselves as the starters and continue to grow in their positions. As to the reserves, the situation has suddenly shifted with the announcement shortly after the game against Nebraska that Michigan State cornerback Kalon Gervin and linebacker Chase Kline had entered the transfer portal. VanSumeren will continue to provide reserve snaps, along with Harvey, the 2020 starter. The top recruit from the 2021 Class, Ma’a Gaoteote, may see some extra snaps as well.
Starters: Ronald Williams, Chester Kimbrough
Backups: Charles Brantley, Marqui Lowery, Khary Crump
Williams and Kimbrough have taken ownership of the primary cornerback responsibilities. Kimbrough made the defensive play of the game against Nebraska by intercepting a pass from Adrian Martinez in overtime, giving the Spartans the opportunity to quickly seal the victory against the Cornhuskers. With the defection of Gervin, Brantley is the clear cut first option off of the bench. Lowery and Crump are the odds on favorites to provide additional support at cornerback.
Starter: Michael Dowell
Backup: Darius Snow
Nickelback remains stable, as Dowell shall remain the starter with Snow providing solid play as the backup.
Starters: Xavier Henderson and Angelo Grose
Backups: Darius Snow, Kendell Brooks
As with nickelback, the safety roles have been defined. Henderson had an eye-popping 17 tackles versus Nebraska, and remains one of the top leaders of the team.
Starter: Matt Coghlin
Backup: Stephen Rusnak OR Evan Johnson
Coghlin provided the game-winning field goal versus Nebraska. On the day he made three of four attempts, with one kick being blocked after issues with the snap and hold.
Starter: Bryce Baringer
Backup: Cody Waddell
Baringer has amazed with his improvement from last season. Against the Cornhuskers, he had six punts with an average of 58.8 yards. He was a weapon in a low-scoring affair, which included a celebration of the lives of former punters Mike Sadler and Sam Foltz.
Starter: Jayden Reed/Jalen Nailor
Backup: Jayden Reed/Jalen Nailor
Reed had the play of the game with a 62-yard punt return for a touchdown, the first such return since 2011. With the Spartan offense struggling and trailing late in the fourth quarter he took a poorly placed punt and went untouched for a game-tying score.
Starter: Hank Pepper
Backup: Michael Donovan
True freshman Hank Pepper continues to be responsible for the long snapping duties.