The Terrapins will host the Spartans for their Big Ten Conference home opener following a respectable road loss to the Michigan Wolverines last weekend. The Terps started the season 3-0 after three non-conference games versus Group of Five competition. The Spartans return to the field after a humbling home drubbing by the Minnesota Golden Gophers, a game that was not even as close as the 34-7 final score reflects.
Michigan State head coach Mel Tucker will not provide the public with a depth chart, therefore after viewing the previous game and reading reports about the roster, here are my predictions for the MSU starters and reserves.
Starter: Payton Thorne
Backup: Noah Kim
Questions have come up in earnest about Thorne’s hold on the starting quarterback position after a three-turnover performance against Minnesota. It is my understanding that Thorne may be dealing with some health issues, and his surrounding cast isn’t exactly enhancing his play, but a higher standard must be met. Thorne has struggled in three of the four games this season.
Kim came in late in the fourth quarter and delivered the only scoring drive of the day against Minnesota’s reserves. Kim continues to look good in opportunities when the outcome of the game is not in doubt.
Starter: Jalen Berger
Backup: Jarek Broussard, Elijah Collins
The ground game shuddered to a halt at Washington and never got going again versus Minnesota. Over the past two games, MSU has 80 yards on 43 carries (1.86 yards per carry). To protect the defense and to give the offense stability, the running backs must be able to find some consistent yardage on the ground.
Broussard got the first snaps last Saturday, but I’m betting Berger will get the start this week. I would not be surprised at all if Collins was the first running back off the bench, as the Spartans are seeking a tailback who can hit the running lane when it is available.
Starters: Jayden Reed, Keon Coleman, Tre Mosley
Backups: Germie Bernard, Montorie Foster, Cade McDonald, Christian Fitzpatrick
Perhaps the best way to recap the day against Minnesota for the wide receivers is to note walk-on wideout Cade McDonald led all MSU pass catchers with three receptions for 31 yards. Bernard caught a late touchdown for the team’s only score.
In my opinion, the best path to offensive success is to lean into the wide receiver group — Reed, Coleman, Mosley and Bernard provide substantial ability and some hope for the Spartans.
Starter: Daniel Barker
Backup: Tyler Hunt, Maliq Carr
Barker has had alternating games this season of being a focus of the offense to being barely present in the attack, it is rather odd. Anyway, Barker has shown he can make plays with the opportunities. Hunt (who started along with Barker in a two-tight end formation last week) and Carr remain as the other two-thirds of the tight end trio rotation.
Starter: Jarrett Horst
Backup: Brandon Baldwin
The same five — Horst, J.D. Duplain, Nick Samac, Matt Carrick and Spencer Brown — made their third consecutive start as a unit. The struggles against Washington continued against Minnesota, perhaps some of the less experienced players will be given the chance to show what they are capable of in a competitive setting.
Starter: J.D. Duplain
Backup: Geno VanDeMark
Starter: Nick Samac
Backup: Dallas Fincher
Starter: Matt Carrick
Backup: Brian Greene
Starter: Spencer Brown
Backup: Ethan Boyd
Starters: Maverick Hansen, Simeon Barrow
Backup: Derrick Harmon, Jalen Hunt, Alex VanSumeren, Dashaun Mallory, Jacob Slade (status uncertain)
Last week, Barrow and Hansen got the first assignments in the contest. There is not much to say about this group. Although it was not a terrible showing versus the Golden Gophers, the interior was somewhat leaky against the run and was unable to put any pressure whatsoever on Minnesota quarterback Tanner Morgan. This unit needs Jacob Slade back. Harmon shows flashes — he’s large and moves well.
Starters: Jacoby Windmon, Brandon Wright
Backup: Zion Young, Avery Dunn, “Tank” Brown, Khris Bogle (status uncertain), Jeff Pietrowski (status uncertain)
Unfortunately, it seems Michigan State may be without two of its top-three defensive ends versus the Terrapins, as Pietrowski and Bogle are dealing with lower body injuries. Not an optimal situation when facing a potent offense on the road. Windmon will need to lead the group, and if Bogle and Pietrowski are indeed out, Wright and some of the younger guys will need to step up.
Starters: Cal Haladay, Ben VanSumeren
Backups: Aaron Brule, Ma’a Gaoteote
I predicted that based on Minnesota’s offensive attack and the best grouping of talent for defenders, that Michigan State would switch out of the base 4-2-5 defense and instead utilize a 4-3-4 base. If my counting is correct, the Spartans used the 4-2-5 to defend 66 of the 74 plays for Minnesota.
I would have liked to see the 4-3 implement more, as I feel there is value in using Brule as a third linebacker. However, against the Terrapins, it’s questionable to use Brule in pass coverage as much as would be required, so the 4-2-5 will likely be heavily utilized one again this week.
Starters: Ameer Speed, Charles Brantley
Backups: Ronald Williams, Marqui Lowery, Khary Crump
Here’s what I had to say last week, unfortunately it requires no updating or revisions:
“It’s probable we’ll see new faces in new places in the back-end of the Spartan defense. I’m unsure who Mel Tucker plans on placing in the lineup, as injuries seems to influencing the availability of some players.”
Starter: Justin White
Backup: Dillon Tatum or Chester Kimbrough
White started and played 66(!) out of the 74 defensive snaps. Kimbrough, the previous starter, did not play a defensive snap. White plays hard, however I believe Tatum, the true freshman, is due for more action.
Starters: Angelo Grose, Kendell Brooks
Backups: Jaden Mangham, AJ Kirk, Xavier Henderson (status uncertain)
Brooks will come up and support the run and he’s not the weak link in coverage. Perhaps now would be the time to try Kimbrough or Ronald Williams at free safety and slide Grose down to the nickel back position. The situation demands seeking out different solutions, staying the course does not look like a tenable position.
Starter: Jack Stone
Backup: Ben Patton, Stephen Rusnak
Jack Stone didn’t have any field goal attempts against Minnesota, but did make his point after attempt. Kickoffs are improving in distance and placement.
Starter: Bryce Baringer
Backup: Ryan Eckley, Evan Morris
Baringer averaged nearly 51 yards per punt against Minnesota, you can’t ask much more than that. If Michigan State is in a tight game, his value only increases.
Starter: Jayden Reed
Backup: Jarek Broussard/Germie Bernard/Cade McDonald
The Spartans had zero yards in returns as the Golden Gophers did not punt and all of their kickoffs were touchbacks. Will the staff gamble with Reed in a hope to spark the team? (I think they have to...).
Starter: Hank Pepper
Backup: Michael Donovan
Pepper has been solid in long-snapping duties and needs to continue his level of play.