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Projecting Michigan State’s starters and depth chart versus Michigan

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Michigan State v Indiana Photo by Michael Hickey/Getty Images

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.

Quarterback

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.

NCAA Football: Michigan State at Indiana Marc Lebryk-USA TODAY Sports

Running Back

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.

NCAA Football: Michigan State at Indiana Marc Lebryk-USA TODAY Sports

Wide receivers

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.

NCAA Football: Michigan State at Indiana Marc Lebryk-USA TODAY Sports

Tight end/H-Back

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.

Syndication: Detroit Free Press Bryon Houlgrave, The Register via Imagn Content Services, LLC

Left tackle

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.

Syndication: Detroit Free Press Kirthmon F. Dozier / USA TODAY NETWORK

Left guard

Starter: J.D. Duplain

Backup: Blake Bueter

NCAA Football: Michigan State at Indiana Marc Lebryk-USA TODAY Sports

Center

Starter: Matt Allen

Backup: Nick Samac

Syndication: Lansing State Journal Nick King/Lansing State Journal via Imagn Content Services, LLC

Right guard

Starter: Kevin Jarvis

Backup: Matt Carrick

NCAA Football: Ohio State at Michigan State Tim Fuller-USA TODAY Sports

Right tackle

Starter: AJ Arcuri

Backup: Luke Campbell

COLLEGE FOOTBALL: OCT 16 Michigan State at Indiana Photo by Joe Robbins/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

Defensive tackles

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.

COLLEGE FOOTBALL: OCT 09 Michigan State at Rutgers Photo by Rich Graessle/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

Defensive ends

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.

COLLEGE FOOTBALL: OCT 16 Michigan State at Indiana Photo by Joe Robbins/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

Linebackers

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.

COLLEGE FOOTBALL: OCT 16 Michigan State at Indiana Photo by Joe Robbins/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

Cornerbacks

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.

Western Kentucky v Michigan State Photo by Nic Antaya/Getty Images

Nickelback

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.

COLLEGE FOOTBALL: OCT 09 Michigan State at Rutgers Photo by Rich Graessle/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

Safeties

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.

COLLEGE FOOTBALL: OCT 16 Michigan State at Indiana Photo by Joe Robbins/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

Special teams

Placekicker

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.

Syndication: Detroit Free Press Kirthmon F. Dozier / USA TODAY NETWORK

Punter

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.

NCAA Football: Nebraska at Michigan State Raj Mehta-USA TODAY Sports

Punt/Kick returner

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.

NCAA Football: Michigan State at Indiana Marc Lebryk-USA TODAY Sports

Long snapper

Starter: Hank Pepper

Backup: Michael Donovan

True freshman Hank Pepper continues to be responsible for the long snapping duties.