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Notes & Quotes: Michigan State keeps chopping in its quest for a bowl game

“When we’re running the ball well, it opens everything up for us,” Payton Thorne said.

COLLEGE FOOTBALL: NOV 12 Rutgers at Michigan State Photo by Adam Ruff/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

Michigan State football defeated Big Ten foe Rutgers on Saturday by a final score of 27-21.

In the victory, redshirt junior quarterback Payton Thorne completed 19 of his 35 pass attempts, threw for 256 yards and had two touchdowns. Both senior wide receiver Jayden Reed and senior tight end Daniel Barker had touchdowns during the game.

Thorne credited MSU’s ability to establish the run toward the team’s success.

“When we’re running the ball well, it opens everything up for us,” Thorne said after the game. “Our playbook is at its 100 percent capacity when we’re running the ball.”

Michigan State ran for 197 yards on 35 carries during the game. Redshirt sophomore running back Jalen Berger ran for 85 yards, fifth-year senior running back Jarek Broussard ran for 80 yards, Thorne ran or 33 yards himself and freshman wide receiver Germie Bernard had one carry for three yards (the final rushing stats had four yards subtracted from kneel downs at the end of the game).

Perhaps the biggest storyline of the game is the play from Michigan State’s special teams, particularly the field goal unit. Coming into Saturday’s game, MSU has had question marks around its kicking unit, as the Spartans only had two field goal makes on the season. Those questions seem like they are closer to being solved.

Junior kicker Ben Patton made two field goals against Rutgers, one from 38 yards and one from 48 yards. His 48-yard field goal was the longest field goal make of the season for any Michigan State kicker, and is also the second-longest that he’s made of his collegiate career. Last season, while with Auburn, Patton made one from 49 yards out.

When asked if it gives him deja vu, Patton says he tries not to think about it.

“I try not to think about the distance,” Patton said. “Fortunately enough, this ball was lined up a little bit outside of the left upright. I knew the distance was going to be there, I just needed to put a good foot on it and not let the wind take it too much.”

Patton also said his family was in attendance at Spartan Stadium o nSaturday, so it was nice to help his team get a win in their presence.

The special teams unit also stepped up late in the game when senior defensive tackle Jacob Slade blocked Rutgers’ field goal attempt in the fourth quarter.

Slade says it was fellow defensive tackle Simeon Barrow, a redshirt sophomore, who spoke it into existence.

“(Barrow) told me he’s going to power him back and I would be all clear for the jump,” Slade said. “It was something we saw in film. We thought we could take advantage of the guards and we did.”

Most concerning for MSU throughout the game was the Spartans’ problem with missed tackles. Rutgers running back Kyle Monangai ran for 162 yards on 24 carries, averaging 6.8 yards per attempt.

You could actually argue that Rutgers head coach Greg Schiano’s fiasco at the end of the first half is partially to blame for the Scarlet Knights’ loss. In case you weren’t watching, Rutgers showed zero urgency to score any points by halftime. Instead, Rutgers kept running the ball, eventually landing near midfield. With 48 seconds left, Schiano refused to take any timeouts despite having three remaining.

Finally, Rutgers ended up using all of its timeouts in the final 18 seconds. It was a complete and total game management disaster. Rutgers had a real opportunity to tie the game, or bring the game from a margin of seven points to four, then get the ball to start the second half and score again. Instead, Rutger wasted nearly 50 seconds of time off the game clock and a full five minutes, at least, of viewers at home who had to witness that.

Michigan State redshirt sophomore linebacker Cal Haladay spoke on the team’s tackling issues.

“(Monangai) is a good back,” Haladay said. “There’s just things that we gotta tighten up. Missing tackles, things that we work on every day that we need to focus on next week.”

Haladay, himself, lit up the stat-sheet with 19 total tackles, including one for a loss.

Michigan State did have some success getting after the quarterback, as fifth-year senior linebacker Aaron Brule, redshirt senior linebacker Ben VanSumeren and redshirt sophomore defensive end Avery Dunn each had a sack.

Michigan State head coach Mel Tucker spoke to some of the team’s tackling issues, but he said that all of them are fixable problems.

“Initially, we were doing a good job of making contact, but we weren’t doing a great job of wrapping up,” Tucker said in his postgame press conference. “They were doing a really good job of running hard. We just have to do a better job of tackling...If we could get off the field on third down, we would be exposed less as well.”

Offensive coordinator Jay Johnson drew up more plays that featured tight ends such as Barker and sophomore Maliq Carr. In total, 45 percent of Michigan State’s receiving yards came from non-wide-receivers, like Barker, Carr or the running backs.

“Tight ends and backs can be very effective in the passing game,” Tucker said. “Coach Johnson and the rest of the staff had a really good game plan to take advantage of what we could get in the passing game. We moved the ball around and we were able to take what the defense was giving us.”

Michigan State moves to 5-5 on the season and 3-4 in Big Ten play. Next week, the Spartans will take on Indiana for a chance to become bowl eligible.