Michigan State football held its weekly player/assistant coach media availability on Tuesday, following the team’s 27-21 victory over Rutgers on Saturday.
Running backs coach Effrem Reed came to the podium first, starting off by praising his running backs in light of the team’s improved running game in recent weeks.
“It’s the day-in and day-out, the ability to come in and work,” Reed said. “I think our guys have done a great job of doing what we always talk about, ‘keep chopping.’ They’ve continued to come to practice every day and continue to work hard and take coaching.”
Jalen Berger, Jarek Broussard and Elijah Collins have all had meaningful contributions to the running game this season at different times. When asked about deciding which running back receives more work from game to game, Reed said he makes an effort to see who looked more comfortable in practice and goes with the hot hand, adding that he uses that same approach in games as well.
“I try to gauge how well they practice and who’s feeling the zone, who’s feeling the run game a little bit better,” Reed said. “For me, basically, it’s gauging week to week who’s feeling it more and getting those guys out there on Saturday and seeing who’s kind of in the zone and just keep feeding who gets in the rhythm the best.”
Reed gave credit to the team’s offensive line and tight end units, saying they’ve continued to work in practice and in games, which has shown up on the field.
“Guys are just working hard,” Reed said. “D.J. (Daniel) Barker, he’s doing a tremendous job, so is Maliq Carr, so is Tyler Hunt, those guys come in hard and practice their butts off, and same thing with offensive line. They do a great job of practicing hard and fighting.”
When asked about the value of Collins, Reed praised his overall character and his leadership, adding that Collins is the back he trusts most on third-down situations.
“(Collins) is probably one of the best kids on this team and one of the best kids I’ve ever been around,” Reed said. “He brings tons of energy and juice every day, he’s consistent in his work habits, he picks everyone up when they’re down, he’s a phenomenal kid to be around and you love to coach a guy like that.
“I know he’s a great player, mentally, for me, on third-down that’s why I value him the complete most because I trust him. If we go out there and put him on third-down, I know that he’s going to get the job done.”
Speaking on Indiana’s defense, Reed emphasized the offense’s need to put themselves in the correct situations, especially on third-downs, and execute.
“It’s going to be about us doing what we do over and over again and just having success,” Reed said. “It’s just about us knowing what to do and I think if we know what to do and know who we’re supposed to block, I think we’ll be fine in that instance. We just have to go out there and execute.
“If we can create third-and-short situations, I like our chances higher than the third-and-medium-to-long situations, and that’s what it’s all about, playing football in front of the chains.”
A number of players spoke to the media as well, including Collins, linebacker Aaron Brule, quarterback Payton Thorne and safety Xavier Henderson.
Brule, a transfer from Mississippi State, said he struggled at first adjusting to the new scheme at Michigan State, but has gotten more comfortable in recent weeks thanks to the coaching staff.
“I think the coaches did a really good job helping me with that,” Brule said of his adjustment to the new scheme. “I had some struggles early on, which I think anybody would have coming into a whole new system.”
Collins, a redshirt senior, has an additional year of eligibility due to the COVID-19 pandemic. When asked whether he plans to use that year to return to Michigan State next season, Collins said he is focusing on ending this season the right way, saying that he will make a decision about his eligibility during the offseason.
“We’ve still got games ahead of us, we’ve still got goals that we want to go out and reach,” Collins said. “Once we do all of that, then it’ll be time for me to make a decision, but as of right now, I’m not really sure.”
Speaking on the recent success in the running game, Collins attributed that success to the level of comfort the backs have settled into as the season has progressed.
“You start to get used to the game, you get more comfortable out there,” Collins said. “As you get used to it and you get used to the flow of the game, things really pick up and things start to feel like how it used to be, like it used to be in high school.”
The game on Saturday is senior day for the Spartans, and Thorne said the team is focused on sending their seniors out the right way.
“It would be a good wrap on their careers,” Thorne said of what win would mean to the team come Saturday. “We’re looking to send them out the right way, so we’ve got to prepare this week in a good way in order to do that and then have a good time with these guys on Saturday.”
When asked about the importance of the run game to the team’s overall success, Thorne said the running attack is a big help to the offense as a whole, adding that the success on the ground will be something the team continues to look for moving forward.
“Any time you run the ball well, it’s going to help your offense and help your team,” Thorne said. “We’ve done a good job the last two weeks...we’ll be keyed in on continuing that and doing what we can to be successful as an offense.”
Henderson has unquestionably served as a major leader for the team over the last several years and will be one of the seniors being honored on Saturday. When asked what he was most proud of during his time as a Spartan, Henderson said he was proud of his role as a leader and the impact he was able to have on his teammates and others, adding that people know they can depend on him for whatever they need.
“I think just the impact I had on people as players and just people off the field,” Henderson said of his proudest accomplishment. “There’s so many people that I know feel like they can text my phone and call me whenever and ask for help or guidance or just talk.”
Henderson’s brother, Isaiah, walked onto the team this season as a freshman defensive back, joining his brother in the defensive backs room. When asked what it was like having his brother on the team, Henderson said he enjoyed it, playfully adding that Isaiah needs to continue to hit the weight room.
“It’s been fun,” Henderson said. “He got hurt early in camp...and then I got hurt so now it’s me and him in the weight room while everybody’s practicing, so it kind of felt like we were together.
“He’s got some potential, he’s like 6-(foot)-3, maybe close to 6-(foot)-4, skinny as a twig, but that weight room helped him out a lot.”
Speaking on how much he wants to end this season on a positive note, Henderson said he is focused on ending things positively to help continue to build for the team next season.
“The adversity we’ve gone through, it’s lessons these kids can learn, and really, I think about it more for the team next year,” Henderson said. “We’ve still got some things we can do to build for a good year next year for some talented kids.”