The Michigan State football program held its weekly assistant coach/player media availability on Tuesday.
Offensive coordinator Jay Johnson spoke first, starting off by answering questions about the run play prior to the team’s missed field goal at the end of regulation in the double overtime loss to Indiana. Johnson said although the coaches were mindful of the situation and wanted to put their kicker in as good a spot as possible, the Spartans were focused on getting into the end zone as well.
“It was a combination of both,” Johnson said of the decision to go for the touchdown or play for the field goal. “We were in awareness of clock management at that piece, but also we were trying to call a play that we felt like had potential to score.”
When asked about whether quarterback Payton Thorne has the ability to change plays at the line, Johnson said he does, but certain circumstances may limit his options.
“It varies,” Johnson said of Thorne’s options when checking a play. “Some weeks, those options are certainly there, other weeks, depending on what we kind of looked at and what we think is best, they’re not there. It kind of depends, it’s a little bit situational.”
Speaking on what he liked from the offense against Indiana, Johnson said he liked the strength of the running game and the explosive plays the team was able to make.
Johnson expressed his opinion of the importance of establishing the run game, saying that a team at the competitive level Michigan State is at needs to be able to work effectively in both the passing and running games.
“You need to stress defenses,” Johnson said. “At the end of the day, at this level, you’ve got to be great running the ball and throwing the ball.
“We were a little bit off, I think we’ve evolved and are coming on and doing better things there. Yeah, it’s frustrating, but we’ve got to be able to do both and we’ll continue to find ways.”
When asked whether this coming offseason will bring an open quarterback competition between Thorne, Noah Kim and Katin Houser, Johnson said he believes there’s always a competition, adding that he’s excited for the future and knows his guys will be ready for whatever comes.
“Is there a competition? I don’t know, I think there’s always a competition to a certain extent,” Johnson said. “I think it’s going to be fun to kind of see what happens moving forward, but that’s why each guy’s got to come every day and perform, and those guys know that and I know they’re all up to the challenge.”
Several players also spoke to the media, including Thorne, linebacker Cal Haladay and tight end Maliq Carr.
Speaking about the threats on Penn State’s offense, Haladay mentioned the Nittany Lions’ freshman running back duo of Nicholas Singleton and Kaytron Allen as guys to watch. He also mentioned sixth-year senior quarterback Sean Clifford and the experience he brings to the table.
“They’ve got some good backs, they have two of them, they’re both young, too, but by now they’re experienced,” Haladay said of Singleton and Allen. “They’ve played in 11 games now and they’re both really good backs, fast, good vision, explosive.
“Quarterback, sixth-year guy, he knows how to run the (offense), he’s experienced and gets the job done. He’s got a good arm, can run the ball, he knows how to manage the game well.”
Haladay, a native of Pennsylvania, spoke on returning to his home state to play in front of family and friends, saying although his family has loyalty to Penn State, he knows they’ll be cheering him on.
“It does create a little interesting dynamic for sure,” Haladay said of his family’s Penn State allegiances. “All my siblings go to Penn State, so that’s kind of funny, but they all wear the green for sure because they support me through everything even though they go there.”
Early in the second quarter against Indiana, a tipped pass from Thorne off the hands of running back Elijah Collins found its way into Carr’s hands for his first touchdown as a Spartan. When asked about what was going through his head during that play, Carr said he just saw the ball and instinctively moved to grab it out of the air.
“The ball just showed up, it was just in the air and I was like, ‘OK, well, just slide under and catch it,’” Carr said. “Honestly I have no clue, it just happened.”
When asked about his mindset when going out for a pass, Carr said he feels like he is always open, adding that he feels like he can come down with just about anything thrown in his direction.
“In my head, personally, I think I’m always open, even if I’m not open,” Carr said. “If it’s just in the air, I’m pretty sure I can go get it.
“That’s just how I was always taught, if the ball’s in the air, go get it.”
Carr was asked about not wearing gloves, to which he adamantly replied that he would not be wearing gloves in the future. He mentioned a story from his youth football days about dropping a pass with a glove on and has vowed to never wear them since.
“When I was like 7 or 8 (years old), I wore one left glove in a game and I dropped a pass I ain’t never dropped. I said I’m never wearing them again.”
When asked whether he feels his play has improved over the last several weeks, Thorne said he feels like he is better than he was last season, even if his stats don’t necessarily give that impression.
“I think that this year, (as) a whole, I’m a better player than I was last year, and the stats may not reflect that, but I know that I’m a better player now than I was a year ago, and that comes down to those things, processing things quickly, I feel like I’m seeing defenses well right now.”
When asked about how the run game helps the offense as a whole, Thorne said it’s very helpful and it opens defenses up and provides opportunities for big plays through the air, including some of the team’s patented flea-flickers.
Thorne said the team is focused on moving forward from the loss to Indiana, saying the Spartans will have time to reflect in the offseason and their focus is on Penn State.
“You’ve got to put it behind you,” Thorne said of the loss on Saturday. “We can reflect on that after the season if you want to, but right now we’ve got to worry about Penn State, we’ve got one more game on our schedule and we’ve got to go play well.”
Speaking on the challenge Penn State’s defense will provide, Thorne gave the Nittany Lions credit as a talented team from front to back.
“Penn State’s got a very good defense, they’ve got really good players,” Thorne said. “Their front, they’ve got some very talented defensive linemen, they’ve got some good pass rushers, linebackers are solid...and then the secondary, they’re very good, they’re one of the best secondaries in the country.
“Like I said, they’re one of the best defenses in the country and definitely one of the best secondaries in the country.”