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Projecting Michigan State’s starters and depth chart versus Rutgers

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It’s Week Six for the Michigan State Spartans, and to this point, head coach Mel Tucker has not released a depth chart to the public. Based on previous games and information available to us, here are my predictions and breakdowns for the starters and reserves for this week’s game against Rutgers (offensive statistics from last week’s performance against Nebraska listed in parentheses next to each starter).

Quarterback

Starter: Payton Thorne (Passing: 20-for-30, 327 yards, one touchdown; seven rushes for 31 yards, one touchdown)

Backup: Anthony Russo (Did not play)

Thorne had a nice bounce-back game versus Western Kentucky. He was accurate and productive with scores through the air and on the ground. I assume we won’t see Anthony Russo against Rutgers, unless there is an injury to Thorne (let’s hope not), as the game is likely to be a close battle throughout.

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Running Back

Starter: Kenneth Walker III (24 carries, 136 yards, three touchdowns)

Backup: Jordon Simmons (10 carries, 34 yards; one reception for three yards)

Walker had a massive game versus the Hilltoppers with three touchdowns on 24 touches. Following his efforts this past weekend, Walker was added to Maxwell Award Watch List for the most outstanding player in college football. Walker currently leads the nation in rushing yards (680).

Simmons continues to receive the most touches as the reserve running back, while Elijah Collins is still dealing with a foot injury.

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Wide receivers

Starters: Jayden Reed (four receptions, 127 yards, one touchdown; one rush for seven yards), Jalen Nailor (eight receptions, 128 yards), Tre Mosley (three receptions, 57 yards)

Backups: Montorie Foster, Terry Lockett

Reed and Nailor had big nights on homecoming against the Hilltoppers, each tallying nearly 130 yards in the passing game. Mosley continues to be a steady third option for Thorne in the passing game.

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Tight end/H-Back

Starter: Connor Heyward (three receptions, five yards)

Backup: Tyler Hunt (no receptions, no targets); Maliq Carr (no receptions, one target)

Heyward had a quiet night but remains the most commonly used player among the tight ends and H-backs.

For a second week in a row, Hunt did not receive a target. Carr was targeted once, but could not haul in the reception. I’m guessing from here forward, the staff will attempt to find more snaps and opportunities for Carr.

COLLEGE FOOTBALL: SEP 11 Youngstown State at Michigan State Photo by Adam Ruff/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

Left tackle

Starter: Jarrett Horst

Backup: Dan VanOpstall

Michigan State has remained consistent with its two-line rotation for the offensive line. Currently, 10 different players are receiving snaps: Horst, VanOpstall, AJ Arcuri and Luke Campbell at offensive tackle; J.D. Duplain, Blake Bueter, Matt Carrick, and Kevin Jarvis (who has also played some tackle) at guard; and Matt Allen and Nick Samac continue to share duties at center.

It should be noted VanOpstall announced on Twitter that he has been placed on scholarship, and Campbell has been named a captain versus the Scarlet Knights.

Left guard

Starter: J.D. Duplain

Backup: Blake Bueter

New Era Pinstripe Bowl - Michigan State v Wake Forest Photo by Adam Hunger/Getty Images

Center

Starter: Nick Samac

Backup: Matt Allen

COLLEGE FOOTBALL: NOV 30 Maryland at Michigan State Photo by Adam Ruff/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

Right guard

Starter: Kevin Jarvis

Backup: Matt Carrick

Rutgers v Michigan State Photo by Rey Del Rio/Getty Images

Right tackle

Starter: AJ Arcuri

Backup: Luke Campbell

COLLEGE FOOTBALL: SEP 08 Michigan State at Arizona State Photo by Kevin Abele/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

Defensive tackles

Starters: Jacob Slade and Simeon Barrow

Backup: Jalen Hunt, Maverick Hansen, Deshaun Mallory, Kyle King

In the past two games, this has become more of a three-player rotation with Slade and Barrow starting and Maverick Hansen providing a breather when needed. Hunt and Mallory have seen their opportunities lessened, surprisingly.

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Defensive ends

Starters: Jacub Panasiuk and Jeff Pietrowski

Backup: Drew Jordan, Michael Fletcher

Panasiuk followed up his two-sack effort against Nebraska with two more sacks against Western Kentucky. Panasiuk is having a career season and is one of the top defensive ends in the Big Ten. Pietrowski got his first start of his career against the Hilltoppers and remains one of the nicer surprises of the season. Jordan and Fletcher anchor the two-deep for edge defenders, and Drew Beesley likely remains out this week with an injury.

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Linebackers

Starters: Quavaris Crouch, Ben VanSumeren

Backups: Noah Harvey, Ma’a Gaoteote, Cal Haladay (out in the first half)

Haladay had a career best with 10 tackles versus the Hilltoppers, but will miss the first half of the game against Rutgers due to what can only described as an extremely poor targeting call, which was upheld following review. The Spartans will turn to VanSumeren and Harvey to pick up the slack in the first half during Haladay’s absence. Though Harvey has considerably more experience, I think we will see the more mobile VanSumeren as the starter in place of Haladay. Regardless, Harvey, along with Gaoteote, will see snaps at linebacker as well.

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Cornerbacks

Starters: Ronald Williams, Chester Kimbrough

Backups: Charles Brantley, Emmanuel Flowers

The grouping for the starting five defensive back spots has solidified, as Williams and Kimbrough are the unquestioned starters at cornerback, with Michael Dowell at nickelback, and the tandem of Xavier Henderson and Angelo Grose at safety. Flowers has found himself on the field on a few more occasions on standard downs of late as a reserve, though Darius Snow remains the primary backup between the nickel and safety spots. Brantley, the true freshman, will continue to get plenty of reps at cornerback as well.

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Nickelback

Starter: Michael Dowell

Backup: Darius Snow

Nickelback remains stable, as Dowell shall remain the starter with Snow providing solid play as the backup.

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Safeties

Starters: Xavier Henderson and Angelo Grose

Backups: Darius Snow, Kendell Brooks

As with nickelback, the safety roles have been defined for quite some time. Henderson had an eye-popping 17 tackles versus Nebraska, and remains one of the top leaders of the team.

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Special teams

Placekicker

Starter: Matt Coghlin

Backup: Stephen Rusnak OR Evan Johnson

Coghlin has awesome hair. He was a perfect two-for-two on field goals and six-for-six on extra points against Western Kentucky, while all nine of his kickoffs were not returnable (though one was kicked out of bounds).

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Punter

Starter: Bryce Baringer

Backup: Cody Waddell

After having two games of absolute booming punts, Baringer had a more subdued day against Western Kentucky. Baringer allowed no return yards in the punting game, though, so a quietly effective day.

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Punt/Kick returner

Starter: Jayden Reed/Jalen Nailor

Backup: Jayden Reed/Jalen Nailor

Michigan State went 10 years between punt return touchdowns only to have Reed score touchdowns on back-to-back returns. I have no idea what the odds are in an event like that, but it has to be something in the millions. Reed is one of the elite returners in all of college football, however Rutgers has a very good punter, and I assume Reed will be given few to zero opportunities against the Scarlet Knights.

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Long snapper

Starter: Hank Pepper

Backup: Michael Donovan

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