Michigan State offensive coordinator Jay Johnson discussed the upcoming matchup with the media on Tuesday.
Johnson began with the subject of Michigan State’s offensive line, which has done a decent job, considering the struggles the unit has had over the previous few seasons. Stepping up in key situations has given running back Kenneth Walker III the ability to be as great as he has been.
MSU’s skill players have been able to step up, but the big men up front deserve credit.
“Obviously we have been blessed with our skill guys,” Johnson mentioned. “The o-line and what (offensive line) Coach Kap (Chis Kapilovic) has done has been really awesome to see...Those guys working with the young guys, it’s a spot we put a lot of emphasis on and I think that’s showing. And our success really starts there with those guys. They’ve done a nice job.”
Michigan State will have both wide receivers Jayden Reed and Jalen Nailor in the lineup for the Peach Bowl, Johnson confirmed. Nailor missed several games due to a hand injury in the win over Michigan, while Reed played banged up in the season finale against Penn State game. Speaking to that, Johnson says Nailor and Reed will be a big key against Pittsburgh, saying, “I think that’s going to be a huge key for us is having both those guys being active and their play-making abilities.”
Perhaps most challenging for Johnson and the Michigan State will be running an offense that does not rely as heavily on a Doak Walker Award-winning running back in Walker.
“Ken (Walker), as we all know, a very special player,” Johnson said. “But one of the things I think I look back at what we’ve done this year, and I don’t know that I’ve really tried to be — you always try to be, but you gotta do what you gotta do to do win the game — but we’ve been balanced. We’ve had explosive plays in the run and pass.”
One of the exciting players to watch may be sophomore quarterback Payton Thorne, who Johnson knows still has a lot of potential, and has grown as a leader for the team throughout the season.
“I’m extremely excited about Payton (Thorne) and where he can go and where he can take this team,” Johnson said. “I think as the years come along you can see he’s starting to get more and more comfortable. He does a tremendous job managing. I see even his leadership and everything that the quarterback is asked to do has even come to a new level.”
Pittsburgh will be without Heisman finalist quarterback Kenny Pickett, as he prepares for next year’s NFL Draft. Meanwhile, Walker will be out as he also does what he needs to do for NFL Draft preparation.
You can watch/listen to Johnson’s full remarks in the video below. Additionally, several Michigan State players spoke to the media on Tuesday and those videos are below as well. Thursday’s Peach Bowl will air at 7 p.m. Eastern Time on ESPN.