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Projecting Michigan State’s starters and depth chart versus Ohio State

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Michigan v Michigan State Photo by Gregory Shamus/Getty Images

It’s the 11th game of the 2021 for the Michigan State Spartans, as MSU travels to Columbus, Ohio to take on the Ohio State Buckeyes on Saturday. Head coach Mel Tucker does not release a depth charts, so by using previous games and reports about the roster, I have made my best attempt at determining the starters and reserves.

Quarterback

Starter: Payton Thorne

Backup: Anthony Russo or Noah Kim

Thorne had one of his best career games versus Maryland, completing 22 of his 30 passes for 287 yards and four touchdowns. Thorne is currently on pace to set the Michigan State record for touchdown passes and account for the most touchdowns responsible for in a season. He also could finish second in total yards in a season and throw for the fourth-most yards in a season at MSU.

COLLEGE FOOTBALL: NOV 13 Maryland at Michigan State

Running Back

Starter: Kenneth Walker III

Backup: Jordon Simmons, Harold Joiner

Walker continues to lead the nation in rushing yards per game and rushing touchdowns. The prevailing thought is he could capture the Heisman Trophy with a spectacular showing versus the Buckeyes.

Simmons has secured the backup spot at running back, and the Spartans usually open their first drive of the second quarter with Simmons as the running back on the field. Simmons has now eclipsed his season rushing total from last year and is gaining a respectable 4.9 yards per carry. Joiner may get a couple touches this week as well.

Maryland v Michigan State Photo by Mike Mulholland/Getty Images

Wide Receivers

Starters: Jayden Reed, Tre Mosley and Montorie Foster

Backups: Keon Coleman, Terry Lockett, Christian Fitzpatrick

Jalen Nailor is currently unavailable due to a hand injury, and will likely miss another game. In Nailor’s absence, Foster has been inserted into a more prominent role. Foster only had one reception last week, but he hauled in a pass on a flea-flicker, which resulted in a 52-yard touchdown. As expected, Reed was heavily targeted versus the Terrapins, culminating in a 114 yards receiving and two touchdowns. Mosley got into the mix as the second option and hauled in five catches. We also saw Coleman, the true freshmen, in some of his most extended playing time in his your career against Maryland.

COLLEGE FOOTBALL: NOV 13 Maryland at Michigan State

Tight End/H-Back

Starter: Connor Heyward

Backup: Tyler Hunt, Maliq Carr

Heyward remains the most played player among tight end and H-backs, with Hunt receiving significant playing time as well. Slowly, but surely, Carr is being inserted more into the offense as he presents a combination of size and skill no other players at that position currently possess.

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

Left Tackle

Starter: AJ Arcuri

Backup: Luke Campbell, Dan VanOpstall

With the absence of Jarrett Horst at left tackle and Matt Carrick at guard, Michigan State has a number of guys with different responsibilities. Arcuri has flipped from the right tackle to the left tackle. With the opening at right tackle, Kevin Jarvis has moved from his spot at right guard to fill that position. Blake Bueter has been inserted as a starter at the right guard position that Jarvis vacated. The primary reserve for the interior offensive line positions is Nick Samac, while Luke Campbell is the first to replace either starting offensive tackle. Dan VanOpstall, Jacob Isaia and Spencer Brown may see new opportunities with the shuffling of players along the line.

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

Left Guard

Starter: J.D. Duplain

Backup: Nick Samac, Jacob Isaia

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

Center

Starter: Matt Allen

Backup: Nick Samac

Michigan v Michigan State Photo by Gregory Shamus/Getty Images

Right Guard

Starter: Blake Bueter

Backup: Nick Samac, James Ohonba

COLLEGE FOOTBALL: NOV 23 Michigan State at Rutgers Photo by John Jones/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

Right Tackle

Starter: Kevin Jarvis

Backup: Luke Campbell, Spencer Brown

COLLEGE FOOTBALL: NOV 06 Michigan State at Purdue Photo by Zach Bolinger/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

Defensive Tackles

Starters: Jacob Slade and Maverick Hansen

Backup: Simeon Barrow, Dashaun Mallory, Jalen Hunt and Kyle King

By rule, Barrow was set to miss the first half of the Maryland game due to a targeting infraction. However, Barrow did not dress versus the Terrapins and it is unclear if Barrow will be available versus Ohio State, and whether or not he is will still have to serve the half-game suspension for targeting against Purdue. Hansen received the start last weekend, but was ejected for supposedly throwing a punch. Mallory and Hunt provided solid efforts in their increased opportunities.

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

Defensive Ends

Starters: Jacub Panasiuk and Drew Beesley

Backup: Jeff Pietrowski, Drew Jordan

The defensive ends positions remain steady with defined roles for the personnel in the group. Panasiuk and Beesley have progressively gotten healthier and have had productive seasons. Pietrowski and Jordan have nearly split snaps with the starters and have provided quality efforts over the course of the season. Pietrowski, an Ohio native, was announced as one of the team captains for the Ohio State game.

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

Linebackers

Starters: Quavaris Crouch and Cal Haladay

Backups: Noah Harvey, Ben VanSumeren, Ma’a Gaoteote

Last week, Crouch was a surprise scratch, but fortunately, Harvey was a starter all of last season and was able to fill in admirably. The linebacker position is being stressed by attrition and injuries, as Chase Kline entered the portal and Haladay, Crouch and Gaoteote are seemingly dealing with health issues. Haladay, sporting a hand cast, will be the starter at the MIKE linebacker position, I believe Crouch is set to return for the game against Ohio State, but we will find out for sure on Saturday. If not, I would assume Harvey will be the replacement starter. Considering the speed and athleticism of the Buckeyes, it’s extremely important Crouch returns to the field.

COLLEGE FOOTBALL: NOV 23 Michigan State at Rutgers Photo by John Jones/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

Cornerbacks

Starters: Ronald Williams, Chester Kimbrough

Backups: Marqui Lowery, Justin White

Last weekend, Williams returned to the starting lineup, which is good as he was dealing with a bad back, but what is unfortunate is that true freshman Charles Brantley is expected to be unavailable for the remainder of the season with a shoulder injury. Lowery shall be the primary substitution at cornerback with Justin White sponging up a handful of snaps as needed. With the transfer of Kalon Gervin and the injury to Brantley, the cornerback position is exceedingly thin.

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

Nickelback

Starter: Darius Snow

Backup: Michael Dowell

I am unsure if Michael Dowell is physically limited or if the staff feels no need to share snaps between him and Darius Snow anymore. Snow has had a coming out party of sorts, exhibiting high level play at the nickelback position. Regardless, Dowell, if available, provides an experienced player if reserve minutes are needed.

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: Emmanuel Flowers, Darius Snow, Kendell Brooks

Henderson and Grose have been available and steady throughout the season, Emmanuel Flowers has emerged as the backup safety, though his opportunities are limited by the abilities of the starters and the confidence the staff have in them.

Maryland v Michigan State Photo by Mike Mulholland/Getty Images

Special Teams

Placekicker

Starter: Matt Coghlin

Backup: Stephen Rusnak

Coghlin’s availability, or lack thereof, has been a point of concern the past two games. Coghlin was unavailable in the loss to Purdue and was in and out of the lineup in the Maryland game. Rusnak has missed both a field goal and an extra point, so the return of Coghlin to full strength would be welcomed for the next game.

Maryland v Michigan State Photo by Mike Mulholland/Getty Images

Punter

Starter: Bryce Baringer

Backup: Cody Waddell

Baringer has been one of the better punters in the nation, and at times, he’s been instrumental in assisting Michigan State with field position.

Michigan State v Rutgers Photo by Rich Schultz/Getty Images

Punt/Kick Returner

Starter: Jayden Reed

Backup: Montorie Foster, Connor Heyward, Justin White

Reed is an explosive weapon in the return game. The opposition is aware of this, and accordingly, his opportunities to return kicks will likely be limited. I’m uncertain who is the backup is with Nailor out, but Foster, Heyward, and Justin White are all players who would be in the mix.

COLLEGE FOOTBALL: NOV 13 Maryland at Michigan State

Long Snapper

Starter: Hank Pepper

Backup: Michael Donovan

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