MY FRIENDS. MY SPARTAN FAMILY. WELCOME BACK TO ANOTHER SEASON OF MICHIGAN STATE FOOTBALL.
I cannot be MORE FIRED UP TO BE BACK.
Let’s get into the Friday night showdown with a little bit of 3-2-1 Preview, shall we?
If you’re new here, the premise is simple and you’ll follow along easily, because I’m assuming you’re somewhat of a smart person. If you’re a returner to these previews, I cannot thank you enough for taking time out of your game day prep to read this.
LET’S GET ROLLING HERE.
3 THINGS WE WANT TO SEE
The run game starting on the right foot
Here, let’s just start with an easy one and something on everyone’s minds — life after Kenneth Walker III. Replacing the best running back in the country is a nearly impossible task, but that doesn’t mean Michigan State can’t put a good dent in recouping what it lost.
This will be a good, passable test for MSU’s run game coming up. A good test because Western Michigan’s defense is returning five of its front seven, including the starting linebacker trio of Corvin Moment, Zaire Barnes and Ryan Selig. The Broncos had arguably the MAC’s best defense and were strong up front in third-down stops (second-best in the whole nation) and sacks, but it’s a passable test because...teams ran for 4.7 yards per carry on them last season. That’s in the basement of the country, ranking 100th best out of 130 teams.
So you have a Western Michigan defensive unit that is good overall and experienced, however, wasn’t anything to write home about when it specifically came to run defense. For a Michigan State team that is replacing a generational running back talent, and that could see young offensive linemen enter the game at times, this will be an important first test to ace to get some momentum (and fan relief) going early. It will also be a first look at Jalen Berger and Jarek Broussard for MSU fans.
The defensive secondary clicking
ALL RIGHT, if “the run game” wasn’t on top of your worry list for the season, it certainly has to be this one. By the end of the season last year, watching the secondary felt like viewing a Scott Frost-coached team attempt to close out a game in the fourth quarter — just completely helpless. Of course, Michigan State ranked dead-last in passing yards allowed per game last season (about 325).
Luckily for the pass defense, this test should be even more passable than the one we just gave the running offense above.
Western Michigan is replacing its best receiver in Skyy Moore, who is now playing for the Kansas City Chiefs. The Broncos are also trotting out a guy with five career pass attempts in Jack Salopek to make his first career start in front of 70,000-plus Spartan fans under the lights. And, oh yeah, WMU is replacing both their offensive tackles from last season.
That’s not to say Western Michigan doesn’t have any talent in the passing game — 5-foot-11 threat Corey Crooms will be amongst the best receivers in the MAC this upcoming season. But the rest of the wide receiver room is incredibly unproven.
A Power Five team like Michigan State should always expect to win the positional battle against a Group of Five program like Western Michigan, but that rings loud with this matchup. With WMU’s inexperience and question marks in its air game, this gives MSU’s passing defense a great chance to add confidence for the returning players who struggled last season.
Neon. Keon. Coleman.
I cannot fight it. I am fully bought into the hype that is Keon Coleman.
What I’m about to type next is a ridiculous statement: There’s a chance Michigan State’s receiver room has improved despite losing a guy (Jalen Nailor) to the NFL. Ridiculous, but one I actually believe because of everyone else returning and the potential emergence of Coleman.
Coleman — standing at 6-foot-4 — can add a strong physical presence on the opposite side of the field as Jayden Reed. Tre Mosley also returns and will play a key role. That is a strong trio.
The buzz out of fall camp has only been positive, with players and coaches raving about Coleman’s blocking, catching, route-running and everything else under the sun.
MSU has undoubtedly lost weapons from last season in Nailor, Walker and Connor Heyward. However, if Coleman can show flashes right off the bat this season on Friday night, that’ll add a jolt of excitement and have us thinking MSU’s air raid can be special this season.
2 KEY STATS
That’s the yards per carry average from Western Michigan running back/return man/do-it-all guy Sean Tyler, who tacked on 13 total touchdowns (nine rushing, two receiving and two returning) last season. Standing at 5-foot-8, he’s the lightning to the Broncos’ offense and partner-in-crime (and former Spartan) La’Darius Jefferson’s thunder. He’s the WMU version of what MSU fans are hoping Broussard is for the Spartans — a shifty playmaker who will use his versatility all over the field.
If the Broncos drive back to Kalamazoo with an upset, it’s because they’ve scored points off big plays. And if they’ve scored off big plays, it’s because Sean Tyler was the man doing it all in open space.
That’s roughly the amount of times you’ll hear that Michigan State quarterback Payton Thorne is the son of Western Michigan offensive coordinator Jeff Thorne on the broadcast Friday night. All right, I’ll give you a serious one now...
That’s how many of WMU’s top-five pass catchers from last season the Broncos have to replace. Yes, four of the Broncos’ top five players in receptions and receiving yards are gone and have left holes to fill. Only Crooms returns as a guy that was in that group — the other guys have either transferred, graduated or went to the NFL.
To further reiterate from our conversation about WMU’s passing attack, this is a prime spot for MSU’s defense to not just contain the Broncos, but shut them down. I won’t get greedy, I’ll settle for contain, but my goodness do our Spartans have potential to make this one ugly for the first-year starting quarterback.
1 BEST BET
MSU -22, O/U 54.5
This is our fourth year doing this 3-2-1 preview, and last year was sadly our first that ended under .500 for best bets, which means WE ARE SO DUE, BABY.
I want to take our Spartans and lay the points so badly. Heck, after about 600 Miller Lites at the tailgate I probably will end up placing that bet, but that’s not the one I feel strongest about.
I am liking the under here. Do I trust that Michigan State can hold up its end of the bargain on this total and score about 40 points? Yeah, I can see it. But with MSU’s strong front seven on defense, a healthy secondary and a WMU pass game that’s all but totally new to score more than 17 points? Ehhhhhhhhhhh, we’ll see.
I’m feeling something like a 38-16 win for the Spartans, which barely clips the under.
Pick: Under 54.5