The Michigan State Spartans host the University of Michigan Wolverines on Saturday, Oct. 30, a game between two undefeated teams. Head coach Mel Tucker has not released a depth chart this season and certainly is not going to tip his hand going into this game. Using prior game results and reports about the roster, I have predictions on who we will see as the starters and reserves.
Starter: Payton Thorne
Backup: Noah Kim or Anthony Russo
Thorne has had a remarkable season and has exceeded essentially all expectations. That said, he has thrown three interceptions over the past two games and had a season low of 126 yards passing in his last outing against Indiana. The bye week came at a good time for Thorne to take a breath and evaluate his play.
We have not seen another quarterback take the field for Michigan State since Anthony Russo took some late game snaps versus Youngstown State. Unfortunately, several outlets reported earlier this week that Russo entered a plea to a misdemeanor of reckless driving after being charged with operating a vehicle while intoxicated on Oct. 17. There is cause to believe Russo has received disciplinary action from Coach Tucker, which may include suspension. I would not be surprised, if the situation arose that a backup quarterback be played, to see Noah Kim as the guy taking snaps. Kim has not appeared in a college football game in his career.
Starter: Kenneth Walker III
Backup: Harold Joiner, Jordon Simmons, Elijah Collins
Walker was bottled up to large degree the last time we saw him in action, though he did grind out 84 yards against the Hoosiers. The opportunities for carries in relief of Walker have been infrequent, and who receives those opportunities this week is unclear. Harold Joiner III was the only reserve running back to get the ball versus Indiana. I am unsure if Jordon Simmons was dealing with injury issues or was replaced for ineffectiveness. Regardless, there have been hints Elijah Collins may be healed enough to return and obviously the Michigan game is a huge draw for the Detroit native.
Starters: Jayden Reed, Jalen Nailor, Tre Mosley
Backups: Montorie Foster, Terry Lockett, Christian Fitzpatrick, Keon Coleman
Wide receiver is another position heavily dominated by the starters. Fortunately for MSU, the trio of starters is one of the best groups in the Big Ten Conference, if not the nation. In the last outing there were no targets attributed to any reserve wide receiver. Prevailing thoughts are the Spartans would like to incorporate a big-bodied pass catcher into their passing attack, though I would not peg this game as the one for Fitzpatrick or Coleman to be called upon.
Starter: Connor Heyward
Backup: Tyler Hunt, Maliq Carr
I believe the Indiana matchup was the first one in which the Spartans started “12” personnel (two tight ends and one running back) with Heyward and Hunt on the field together and Reed and Nailor at wide receiver. Heyward remains the first option used by the staff as the fourth passing game option. Michigan State may be forced into quicker or shorter routes due to pass rush defense and the weather, so this would be a spot I could see Heyward being involved more with outlet passes and screens.
The player of the game offensively for the Spartans in their last outing was Tyler Hunt, who had a touchdown reception and a pass of his own to Payton Thorne. Hunt and Heyward both struggle at times in blocking assignments, but are capable of making plays due to their versatility.
Starter: Jarrett Horst
Backup: Dan VanOpstall
Michigan State has remained true to its nine man, two-group, rotation for the offensive line. At their current pace, all nine offensive lineman will accrue at least 300 snaps this season, which is a circumstance I have never heard of before.
Starter: J.D. Duplain
Backup: Blake Bueter
Starter: Matt Allen
Backup: Nick Samac
Starter: Kevin Jarvis
Backup: Matt Carrick
Starter: AJ Arcuri
Backup: Luke Campbell
Starters: Jacob Slade and Simeon Barrow
Backup: Maverick Hansen, Dashaun Mallory, Jalen Hunt, and Kyle King
Slade and Barrow are the anchors of the middle, there continues to be a lot of churn behind them with rotations. Most recently Maverick Hansen has been the third defensive tackle and only trails the starters for downs on the field. Jalen Hunt has battled a foot issue for the entirety of the 2021 campaign, with some luck, the additional week of rest has aided in the healing process.
Starters: Jacub Panasiuk and Drew Beesley
Backup: Drew Jordan, Jeff Pietrowski, Michael Fletcher
Jacub Panasiuk and Drew Jordan were the starters in the last game, but I think good news is in store. Drew Beesley posted a picture on Twitter at his brother’s high school football game last week. Beesley did not have a walking boot on, nor was any brace visible. If Beesley is available, hopefully he can slide back into his starting role and the edge defenders have additional depth, experience and talent.
Starters: Quavaris Crouch, Cal Haladay
Backups: Ben VanSumeren, Noah Harvey, Ma’a Gaoteote,
Rather straightforward for the linebacker group, as all are a go for this tilt. I assume Ben VanSumeren, a transfer from the University of Michigan, is very motivated to get into the fray and mix it up. If you did not know, Cal Haladay does not wear gloves or any sports tape, and grew up on a chicken farm – do not worry, I guarantee you the broadcast team will remind you of these facts.
Starters: Ronald Williams, Chester Kimbrough
Backups: Charles Brantley, Marqui Lowery
Williams and Kimbrough will man the edge positions, with Charles Brantley being the primary replacement. Marqui Lowery left the Indiana game with an apparent lower body injury and did not return, and his availability is unknown because Mel Tucker does not talk about injury status.
Starter: Darius Snow
Backup: Michael Dowell
Darius Snow has gradually overtaken Michael Dowell at the nickelback spot and got the start against the Hoosiers. Dowell will continue to receive a healthy portion of snaps at nickelback and in safety relief, though.
Starters: Xavier Henderson and Angelo Grose
Backups: Michael Dowell, Darius Snow, Emmanuel Flowers
Xavier Henderson has had an All-Conference type of season and has been the only player to be a named captain for every game. When Henderson or Grose receive a breather, there’s now a trio of players the staff have employed with Flowers progressively receiving more attention.
Starter: Matt Coghlin
Backup: Stephen Rusnak OR Evan Johnson
Coghlin was named the Big Ten Special Teams player of the Week after his efforts in the win against the Indiana Hoosiers. Coghlin hit two of the prettier field goals of his career, both long distance field goals, one from 49 yards out and the other from 51 yards. His hair remains awesome.
Starter: Bryce Baringer
Backup: Cody Waddell
Baringer didn’t have a particularly good game last time out, but can be a huge asset in game where field position is premium.
Starter: Jayden Reed/Jalen Nailor
Backup: Jayden Reed/Jalen Nailor
Reed and Nailor have had their chances for making explosive plays limited as of late, which is understandable considering they are dangerous returners.
Starter: Hank Pepper
Backup: Michael Donovan
True freshman Hank Pepper continues to be responsible for the long snapping duties.