Michigan State returns home after a surprising win at Illinois, which has reset hopes and expectations for the program this season. MSU needs two wins in the remaining three games to guarantee bowl eligibility. Unfortunately, the Spartans remain shorthanded as the eight players suspended following the Michigan loss have not yet been reinstated.
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 against Rutgers— even with the team down several starters and contributors.
Starter: Payton Thorne
Backup: Noah Kim
Thorne’s first throw against the Illini was an interception and it appeared as if the wheels might be coming off. The defense did not allow a score after the turnover and Thorne ultimately played a poised and rather efficient game despite the weather and Illinois’ highly-regarded defense. Thorne’s play was composed and allowed for MSU to grind out a win, thus he was the only quarterback to appear in the game. The weather is deteriorating as we head into mid-November — ball security will be imperative to finish strong and make a bowl game.
Starter: Jalen Berger
Backup: Elijah Collins, Jarek Broussard
Maybe the most surprising aspect of the previous game was the ability to remain balanced through the ground attack with more than a handful of positive runs. Berger showed a few flashes when one-cutting into available seams and Broussard scampered in for a much needed rushing touchdown, catching a stout Illini defense off guard. I believe Berger will be the featured back again versus Rutgers, with Broussard and Collins sharing the remaining duties.
Starters: Jayden Reed, Keon Coleman, Tre Mosley
Backups: Germie Bernard, Montorie Foster, Cade McDonald, Christian Fitzpatrick
Reed continues to show signs that he is back to the level of last season’s outstanding play. Early on in the season, he had issues reeling in a few passes, but rallied to score a touchdown. Coleman remains the most physically-gifted receiving threat on the roster, while steady and reliable Tre Mosley just catches first down conversions or end zone darts. I wouldn’t be surprised to see a fourth guy shine a little in this matchup — Bernard is probably due for another big play.
Starter: Daniel Barker
Backup: Tyler Hunt, Maliq Carr
Tight ends have largely been a locked feature of the Spartan offense, despite offensive coordinator Jay Johnson’s desire to make the position a primary weapon. It’s been well-chronicled how blocking issues have plague this unit, some routes don’t develop as designed and there has been an overall inconsistency to the group. The season is three quarters over, but I’ll hold out hope the Spartans can tap some more of the potential from this trio.
Starter: Brandon Baldwin
Backup: Jarrett Horst (status uncertain)
There was a change at the edge last Saturday as left tackle Jarrett Horst was inactive and replaced by Brandon Baldwin. To large degree, Baldwin was steady and held up his part of the job as the blind side protector for Thorne. I think it is reasonable to believe Baldwin will be starting again until we see Horst at least dressed for the game. The remainder of the trenches shall likely stay the same with Duplain, Nick Samac, Matt Carrick and Spencer Brown rounding out the group left to right, however Carrick did leave the game against Illinois with an injury. Geno VanDeMark is odds on favorite to be the first reserve lineman to see action, replacing as needed at guard.
Starter: J.D. Duplain
Backup: Geno VanDeMark
Starter: Nick Samac
Backup: Dallas Fincher
Starter: Matt Carrick (status uncertain)
Backup: Brian Greene
Starter: Spencer Brown
Backup: Ethan Boyd
Starters: Jacob Slade (status uncertain), Simeon Barrow
Backup: Derrick Harmon, Maverick Hansen
Both Slade and Barrow were banged up during the last weekend’s win. I have not seen or heard reports that either will be unavailable, but Slade did not return to the game against Illinois after suffering an injury last week. That being said, seemingly every week there is a surprise subtraction or addition to the active roster. Rutgers has an anemic offense, however most of the action is on the ground with the Scarlet Knights averaging 36 carries per game (they only average 62 plays per contest). Per the norm in Big Ten play, it is of great importance to stop the run.
Starters: Jalen Hunt, Dashaun Mallory
Backup: Avery Dunn, Michael Fletcher (status uncertain), Jeff Pietrowski (status uncertain), Khris Bogle (status uncertain)
Due to suspensions and injuries, as many as seven players who would be used on the edge were unavailable last week. SEVEN. Due to such extreme attrition, the staff used a defensive line comprised of four players who are primarily defensive tackles. Hunt and Mallory were deployed as defensive ends and did better than one would expect in the situation. There’s a pretty decent chance that Hunt and Mallory will get first opportunities on the edge again. Look for Rutgers to test the edges and probe as to whether proper contain is being maintained by the defensive ends.
Starters: Cal Haladay, Ben VanSumeren
Backups: Aaron Brule, Ma’a Gaoteote, Carson Casteel
The Spartans reverted to a 4-2-5 defense again against the Illini, bringing back in VanSumeren at one linebacker spot to pair with Haladay. Haladay had a great game in the type of matchup that better suits his skill set, and ended up with Big Ten Defensive Player of the Week honors. Brule was also excellent, particularly on a fumble recovery after Illini running back Chase Brown coughed up the ball following a jarring hit from safety Xavier Henderson.
Starters: Ameer Speed, Charles Brantley
Backups: Ronald Williams, Marqui Lowery
Speed and Brantley will be the initial cornerbacks on the field, Williams shall sub in periodically, and a healing Marqui Lowery is hopeful for snaps.
Starter: Chester Kimbrough
Backup: Dillon Tatum
With Angelo Grose suspended, Kimbrough received an unexpected start against Illinois, which resulted in a net positive for the team. Rutgers doesn’t present much of a passing attack, which works in Kimbrough’s favor. True freshman Dillon Tatum is the other player that shall man the nickel back spot.
Starters: Xavier Henderson, Kendell Brooks
Backups: Dillon Tatum, Jaden Mangham
Once again, Henderson and Brooks will man the back end of the Spartan defense. Not much to say here — two trustworthy and physical players who will both put a hat on a ball carrier.
Starter: Ben Patton
Backup: Jack Stone, Stephen Rusnak
Last week, MSU scored its first field goal in Big Ten play and the second overall for the season. There was also another missed extra point.
It’s not a settled position, nor has it inspired confidence.
Starter: Bryce Baringer
Backup: Ryan Eckley, Evan Morris
Best punter in the Nation, Bryce Baringer.
Starter: Jayden Reed
Backup: Jarek Broussard/Germie Bernard/Cade McDonald
The fair catch has been popular. I would assume Reed would take advantage of an opportunity if it arose.
Starter: Hank Pepper (status uncertain)
Backup: Michael Donovan
Donovan rallied from a poor performance against Michigan, providing snaps without issue against Illinois. Signs point to Pepper returning, but if not, Donovan should be fine.