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Projecting Michigan State’s starters and depth chart versus Nebraska

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Syndication: Detroit Free Press Junfu Han via Imagn Content Services, LLC

It’s Week Four for the Michigan State Spartans, and once again head coach Mel Tucker has not released a depth chart. As that is the case, I will make my best guess at the starters and reserves for the game against Nebraska (offensive statistics from last week’s performance against Miami listed in parentheses next to each starter).

Quarterback

Starter: Payton Thorne (Passing: 18-for-31, 261 yards, four touchdowns; eight rushes for 34 yards)

Backup: Anthony Russo (Did not play)

Following the game versus Miami (FL), Thorne was named Big Ten Co-Offensive Player of the week, as well as the Manning Award Quarterback of the Week winner. He is the unquestioned starter, and his ceiling remains the only unknown.

NCAA Football: Michigan State at Miami Jasen Vinlove-USA TODAY Sports

Running Back

Starter: Kenneth Walker III (27 carries, 172 yards; three receptions for 17 yards and one touchdown)

Backup: Jordon Simmons (two carries, one yard; one reception for seven yards)

Walker was back to being the workhorse and received all but two of the carries for the Michigan State running backs against Miami. To this point Walker has performed like one of the best players in the nation.

Simmons only found two touches in the last game, but was the only running back other than Walker to play in Miami. I wonder if Elijah Collins may get into the action if healthy, providing some physicality Simmons does not possess.

NCAA Football: Michigan State at Miami Jasen Vinlove-USA TODAY Sports

Wide receivers

Starters: Jayden Reed (three receptions, 32 yards, one touchdown; two rushes for 17 yards and one additional touchdown), Jalen Nailor (four receptions, 82 yards, two touchdowns; one rush for negative-three yards), Tre Mosley (two receptions, 57 yards; one rush for two yards)

Backups: Terry Lockett, Montorie Foster, Ian Stewart, Christian Fitzpatrick, Keon Coleman

Against Miami, MSU went with a three-wide receiver, one-H-back alignment to start the game. Reed, Nailor and Mosley are set in stone as the top wide receivers, and interestingly, they all were incorporated into the running game against the Hurricanes. Lockett was the only wide receiver outside of the starting trio to make a catch last week.

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Tight end/H-Back

Starter: Connor Heyward (three receptions for 49 yards)

Backup: Tyler Hunt (two receptions for 20 yards)

Heyward had timely catches for chunk yards, and had an outstanding block on the edge on two defenders to pave a lane for Jayden Reed on a touchdown run. Heyward is becoming a valuable, multifaceted player.

Hunt had a couple receptions and a third target tat he would like to have back. He’s been solid and has received honors as a captain for the game versus Nebraska. Maliq Carr and Parks Gissinger made appearances last week, the latter as a blocker, but were not targeted on the day.

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Left tackle

Starter: Jarrett Horst

Backup: Luke Campbell, Dan VanOpstall

The offensive line is set at four of the five positions, Horst has this spot locked down. When necessary, Campbell will spell Horst.

COLLEGE FOOTBALL: SEP 18 Michigan State at Miami Photo by Michele Eve Sandberg/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

Left guard

Starter: J.D. Duplain

Backup: Blake Bueter

More of the same here, as Duplain is one of the best Spartan offensive linemen and rotations appear to be tightening up.

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

Center

Starter: Nick Samac

Backup: Matt Allen

Allen and Samac continue to split the snaps, and as Samac returns to 100 percent and gains experience with this system, he appears to be gaining ground on Allen. I am predicting a mild surprise with Samac getting starting duties versus the Huskers.

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

Right guard

Starter: Kevin Jarvis

Backup: Matt Carrick

Jarvis is beginning to dominate the playing time at right guard, and has become the clear-cut lead player at right guard. He will also serve as a captain this week. Carrick is very capable, though, and provides consistent play when he is on the field.

COLLEGE FOOTBALL: NOV 03 Michigan State at Maryland Photo by Tony Quinn/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

Right tackle

Starter: AJ Arcuri

Backup: Luke Campbell, Spencer Brown

Arcuri has received by far the most reps at offensive tackle of all Michigan State players. Again, if needed, Campbell will likely be the first reserve to be inserted into the lineup. Brown has played in some limited action this season, but it would be nice to see him a little bit more often for some experience.

NCAA Football: Michigan State at Arizona State Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

Defensive tackles

Starters: Jacob Slade and Simeon Barrow

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

The unexpected pairing of Slade and Barrow — who are both currently playing with a broken hand — at defensive tackle continued last weekend. King and Hansen were the other defensive tackles on the participation report, and I must confess, I did not realize both Mallory and Hunt were not present. Much was expected of Hunt this season, and to this point he has been slowed by a foot injury, but hopefully this is not a problem that will linger all year and he can provide interior pressure as hoped.

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Defensive ends

Starters: Drew Beesley and Jacub Panasiuk

Backup: Drew Jordan, Jeff Pietrowski

Beesley and Panasiuk were suited up for the Miami game and they had a big impact on the game. Beesley had two sacks and a key forced fumble, and Panasiuk recovered the forced fumble and had a tackle for loss himself. Jordan returned after missing the Youngstown State game (as did Beesley), giving Michigan State optimal edge presence. Pietrowski continues to receive time as a reserve, and has been a pleasant surprise. “Tank” Brown and Michael Fletcher did not play due to injury.

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Linebackers

Starters: Cal Haladay, Quavaris Crouch

Backups: Chase Kline, Ben VanSumeren

The linebackers situation has become simplified, Haladay and Crouch are the first cut, and they will play the lion’s share of the tilt against Nebraska. Kline and VanSumeren were the only backups who played versus the Hurricanes, and each tallied tackles and looked competent.

Michigan State v Miami Photo by Joel Auerbach/Getty Images

Cornerbacks

Starters: Ronald Williams, Chester Kimbrough

Backups: Kalon Gervin, Charles Brantley, Marqui Lowery

The defensive backs had some struggles versus Miami. I understand the game plan was always going to be to allow short yardage passing, but some cushions given were a tad wide, and an occasional assignment or tackle was missed. Gervin had a rough outing, Williams had an up and down day, but his fourth quarter interception put the game away. Brantley will miss the first half of the Nebraska matchup due to a targeting infraction against Miami, requiring Gervin to bounce back as he will the primary reserve.

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

Nickelback

Starter: Michael Dowell

Backup: Darius Snow

Nothing new here, as Dowell and Snow overall have been satisfactory, and both registered three solo tackles last week. Dowell will be the starter, while Snow splits his opportunities between nickel and the safety positions.

Michigan State v Miami Photo by Joel Auerbach/Getty Images

Safeties

Starters: Xavier Henderson and Angelo Grose

Backups: Darius Snow, Kendell Brooks

The safeties played a strong game, mitigating damage in the passing game and rallying strong for run support. Henderson and Grose are locked in at their spots, with Snow in the rotation when necessary.

Michigan State v Miami Photo by Joel Auerbach/Getty Images

Special teams

Placekicker

Starter: Matt Coghlin

Backup: Stephen Rusnak OR Evan Johnson

Coghlin has had a couple shaky moments last week. The coaching staff needs to stop with the long-yardage field goal attempts, but Coghlin also cannot be missing 39 yard field goals at this stage of his career.

COLLEGE FOOTBALL: SEP 18 Michigan State at Miami Photo by Samuel Lewis/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

Punter

Starter: Bryce Baringer

Backup: Cody Waddell

Baringer had five punts, three were downed inside the 20-yard-line and two were touchbacks. He had a robust punting average of nearly 55 yards. A fabulous outing.

COLLEGE FOOTBALL: NOV 03 Michigan State at Maryland Photo by Tony Quinn/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

Punt/Kick returner

Starter: Jayden Reed/Jalen Nailor

Backup: Jayden Reed/Jalen Nailor

The top wide receivers continue to handle these responsibilities, and the responsibilities are often a fair catch or a football kicked out of play.

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Long snapper

Starter: Hank Pepper

Backup: Michael Donovan

Pepper had a perfectly boring day, which is what you love to see from long snappers.