After the game, Michigan State head coach Mel Tucker and several of his players spoke about the game with the media.
To open the postgame press conference, Tucker complimented Akron head coach Joe Moorhead and the Zips’ players, and then spoke about his own team.
Tucker was happy with his team’s performance, but knows the Spartans have a long way to go to achieve what the team wants to get done this season.
Mel Tucker's opening statement to the media: pic.twitter.com/cJ8kca9yvJ— David Harns (@DavidHarns) September 11, 2022
“Our goal was to get better,” Tucker said in his opening statement. “This week in practice, we had a lot of things that we needed to clean up. I felt like we came into the game a better football team, but we just had to go out on the field and show that and play a better brand of football more consistently — offense defense, and special teams complementing each other for the entire ball game.
“I think our focus was better, our intensity throughout (the game) was better. And there’s a lot of good things for us to build upon with our team in all three phases. And then also we have some things that we need to clean up if we expect to be able to go on the road and get anything done.
“I congratulate the players, the coaching staff and the entire organization for the preparation that took place throughout the week to get us in a position where we could go out and play better football here at home in The Woodshed.”
Overall, Tucker knows it is hard to win football games — let alone in shutout fashion — at this level of college football. The team will review the film and do what it needs to do to get better, as the schedule only gets more difficult from here.
Mel Tucker is now at the podium:— The Only Colors (@TheOnlyColors) September 11, 2022
“It’s not easy to win football games, you see the scores from across the country, so compliment our guys,” Tucker says.
“A shutout, that’s a good deal…it’s not easy to do.”
Tucker says the team got better, but still has a lot to work on.
“So, we’re 2-0, and it’s a 24-hour rule for us and we’re gonna enjoy it,” Tucker said. “It’s not easy to win football games. I mean, you can see the scores across the country. You can’t take anything for granted, you gotta get the job done. And give credit to our guys that went out there and played hard. God knows we got some things we need to improve upon, we gotta clean some things up. But we’re very realistic in our locker room with our guys, we’re very realistic. We know it’s gonna all be about how we show up.
“So that shutout, that’s a good deal for our team,” Tucker added. “To be able to get a shutout...that’s not easy to do.”
Payton Thorne struggles, again
For the second consecutive week, quarterback Payton Thorne struggled. He completed 18 of his 28 passing attempts for just 212 yards and threw two interceptions without a touchdown — despite the Spartans scoring seven touchdowns on the day.
Thorne sailed balls high and missed throws he should have hit against a vulnerable Akron secondary.
Thorne said his two interceptions are “unacceptable,” but credits the team’s strong running game.— The Only Colors (@TheOnlyColors) September 10, 2022
Thorne says he is getting “pissed off” sailing balls high, which he says has never been an issue for him before. He wants to correct it.
When asked about his quarterback’s performance, Tucker commended Thorne’s ability to stay “poised,” but didn’t have an answer as to why Thorne was sailing or missing so many balls.
Tucker, offensive coordinator/quarterbacks coach Jay Johnson and Thorne will all review the film together and figure out what needs to be done to make improvements moving forward.
“I just have to get on the film and see what happened, see what Jay (Johnson) says, and you know, what Payton (Thorne) has to say and things like that, and we’ll continue to work to get better,” Tucker said. “(Thorne) was poised throughout the game and continued to work through the game while he was in there, so we’ll just have to see.”
As for Thorne himself, he was happy his team won in blowout fashion, but just like last week, he was not happy with his individual performance.
Thorne took a big hit to open the second half on a flea flicker play, which resulted in his second interception of the game. It also forced Thorne to come out of the game for a brief period, which allowed MSU backup quarterback Noah Kim to find Tre Mosley in the end zone on the ensuing Michigan State possession.
Thorne was checked for a concussion, and was fine physically. He would later return to the game. However, the turnovers and missed throws annoyed Thorne and he knows that this type of performance is not up to his standards, or the team’s.
“I never wanna come outta the game, I wanna stay in the game,” Thorne said. “But Noah (Kim) stepped in and did a great job, you know, threw a touchdown. That was great to see. But yeah, in terms of plays to go watch on film, obviously the two things that stick out are the two interceptions, that’s unacceptable, can’t have those.
“But I thought we ran the ball really well today. I thought our (offensive) line played really well today as well. So, that’s what I look at more, as a team, as an offense, just looking at those things. And then for me, my personal play, obviously that’s what I’m gonna look at — I need to take care of the ball better.”
Thorne said he is "pissed" at his high throws. Said he needs to do a self study this week. pic.twitter.com/iuJQsS7KhE— David Harns (@DavidHarns) September 10, 2022
As for sailing the balls high or missing his targets, Thorne said he was “pissed” that it continues to be an issue through two games.
“I’m really tired of throwing the ball high,” Thorne said. “It’s pissing me off because it was the same thing last week and that’s never been an issue for me (before). I gotta figure that out quickly because I can’t have that anymore. I thought our receivers did a good job today, they got open when they needed to and I just gotta put it on them.”
As for what is giving Thorne issues, he analyzed a few issues with his footwork and mechanics, and said he needs to trust his arm a little bit more.
“I think I’m not necessarily finishing some throws,” Thorne said. “Just ripping the ball. It almost seems like I’m always trying to place it a little too much instead of just ripping it, you know? And so, on those (missed throws), I think that’s part of it. It always starts with your feet. And so I’ll take a look at my feet and make sure that my base is good and my feet are active and things of that nature. I’m definitely gonna do a good self study after this one and I, obviously, need to be better.”
A strong running game leads Michigan State to a dominant victory
Michigan State leaned on its two-headed monster at running back in the easy win over Akron.
Jalen Berger led the Spartans with 17 carries for 107 rushing yards (6.3 yards per carry) and three touchdowns. Berger’s backfield mate, Jarek Broussard, had a nice outing as well with 15 carries for 81 yards (5.4 yards per carry) and two touchdowns (his first scores as a Spartan). Elijah Collins also got into the action with eight carries for 57 yards (7.1 yards per carry) and a touchdown.
“It’s really just a mentality we have as a team — the ‘Keep Chopping” mentality,” Broussard said about the win over Akron.
I feel like we complement each other really well, there’s no drop off in my view” Broussard says about him and fellow running back Jalen Berger rotating in with each other throughout the game.— The Only Colors (@TheOnlyColors) September 11, 2022
Broussard and Berger have embraced their roles as a one-two punch combination in the backfield for the Spartans. According to Broussard, the two backs play well off of each other.
“I feel like we complement each other really well running the ball,” Broussard said. “There’s kind of like no drop off from my point of view. And, and I feel like we can get things rolling.”
With the two backs rotating in and giving each other breaks throughout the game, it also helps Broussard and Berger from getting fatigued or getting tired legs. Broussard expanded on the benefits of playing together.
“So just the idea of keeping your legs fresh and having somebody that’s gonna encourage you to make a play — he makes a play, you want to make a play,” Broussard said. “So, just kind of feeding off each other, and keeping our legs fresh, I feel like is very beneficial to the team.
“So with me being older and having a little more experience (than Berger), you know, like as the game goes on, and when we’re watching tape, we kind of chop it up — talk about where each other’s eyes are and what we see and stuff like that,” Broussard added. “And I just feel like week by week, we can only get better, because we’ll just get better as we play.”
Tucker was happy with how hard the running backs hit the hole, including Jarek Broussard, Jalen Berger and Elijah Collins.— The Only Colors (@TheOnlyColors) September 11, 2022
As for Tucker, he was happy with what he saw from the running game. He was complimentary about the performances about Broussard, Berger and Collins.
Tucker also reiterated that running the ball is a team effort. The quarterbacks have to make the right calls before the play, the running backs have to hit the holes hard, and the blocking from the offensive line, tight ends and wide receivers can make or break the success of a rushing play.
“I see guys hitting the hole with some velocity and being physical and falling forward on contact — getting yards after contact and things like that, and fighting for every yard,” Tucker said about the running backs.
“That’s what we have to be able to do,” Tucker added. “We have to be able to run the football.”
Tucker likes what he’s seen from his team thus far, but he knows the Spartans are far off from where the program needs to be this season.
While expectations from fans, media and pundits have grown since 2021’s 11-2 campaign, the people within MSU’s organization aren’t focused on that, as their goals and aspirations are even higher.
“We’re a work in progress,” Tucker says.— The Only Colors (@TheOnlyColors) September 11, 2022
He says he “can’t really buy into” external expectations because the program’s internal standards and expectations are so high.
“The standard is the standard and anything below that is unacceptable.”
“We’re a work in progress,” Tucker said. “But the expectations people keep asking me about, I just really can’t buy into that right now, just because I know what the expectations for us have been going into last season. It’s a high level of expectations within our organization. And so the outside expectation, they’re really not a factor for us, in my mind. We have high standards and the standard is the standard and anything less than than standard is unacceptable.
“Me as a coach or this, the players or coaching staff or anyone. I mean, if we’re not performing to the standard, it’s just unacceptable and we have to work to correct it with a sense of urgency. And that’s what we’re going to do.”
Kendell Brooks gets the job done
With Xavier Henderson out with an injury, Brooks got the start at safety against Akron. He shined in the role, recording seven total tackles, a pass breakup and a forced fumble. He also delivered several big hits on the day.
Brooks is getting better and still has a lot of room for improvement, but Tucker has taken notice of his performance and has a lot of confidence in the senior defensive back.
Tucker says Kendell Brooks has gotten better and becoming a guy the coaching staff and players trust.— The Only Colors (@TheOnlyColors) September 11, 2022
“Yeah, KB, he’s getting better and we have confidence in him to go in the game and get the job done to make plays — be physical, knock the ball (away) from people and play fast and things like that,” Tucker said. “I think as he gains more experience, he’s going to continue to get better. It’s good when guys can go in and execute and make plays. That’s what it’s all about. I’m proud of him being able to go in and get the job.”
Brooks did not have a typical path to Michigan State, and certainly was not a player projected to start prior to the season. Brooks joined the Spartans during the 2021 season as a transfer from Division II North Greenville University in South Carolina.
North Greenville did not have a season in 2020 due to the COVID-19 pandemic. So not only was Brooks taking a major step up to Division I FBS Power Five competition, but he had also not played competition of any kind in two years before arriving in East Lansing last season. Still, Tucker knew there was something special about Brooks.
“He had the skill set, you could see the skill on his tape,” Tucker said about Brooks. “He has the size, he can run, he’s a physical player. And so, it’s just a matter of training, and preparing and learning the scheme and practicing it and things like that.
“(Brooks) was a young player when he got here, so you take that and adjust him to the level. But I give a lot of credit to him because he’s a competitor and he wants to be a good player, so he works and he got his opportunity. He was able to step in there and make some plays and be physical. He should continue to get better. It makes our team better.”
As for Brooks himself, he is just happy for the opportunity that Tucker and Michigan State gave him.
“Well, when I entered the portal from my last school, I was thinking worst case scenario, I’ll just transfer to another D-II (school) and then best case scenario, I move up a division,” Brooks said. “So, when I received the call from Coach Tucker and (secondary) Coach (Harlon) Barnett, it was kind of really like a no brainer...That’s Big Ten football, it don’t get much better than that.”
Brooks added that he was somewhat surprised hearing from MSU, but he knew he could play at this level.
“I know who I am as a player, so I wasn’t surprised that I could play at this level, but it was just like other people recognizing it as well (that was surprising).”
Noah Kim’s time to shine
As mentioned earlier, Kim sprung into action when Thorne briefly exited the game. After having not played a snap in his college career prior to the 2022 season, this was the second consecutive game that Kim came in for Thorne.
He was ready for the opportunity, throwing a 16-yard strike to Mosley. It was Kim’s first career touchdown.
“I think that’s just kind of what comes with the job of being the backup quarterback,” Kim said about being ready to step up at any moment. “So stepping in there, I think the biggest thing going into the preparation week and all that stuff, we honed in on executing the play, just basic fundamentals. Like, execute the play — don’t try to do too much — do what the play is designed to do and that is kind of what it led to today. That was really the mindset today.”
When Kim came off the bench last week against Western Michigan, Johnson dialed up a long pass play on Kim’s first ever collegiate snap, which drew a pass interference call. It is clear that the coaching staff has confidence in Kim, but he also has a ton of confidence in himself.
“I thank the coaches for letting me do that,” Kim told The Only Colors. “I’m glad they’re confident enough to let me do that. But I feel like the confidence within me has to be 100 percent all the time and I feel like we’re able to portray that so far.”
Noah Kim says the quarterbacks room has been really good this season. Calls it a “highly-intelligent room” and says the guys all help each other out.— The Only Colors (@TheOnlyColors) September 11, 2022
In addition to Thorne and Kim, true freshman quarterback Katin Houser also got into the game against Akron. When asked about the quarterback room as a whole, Kim had this to say:
“(The quarterback room) is really good,” he told The Only Colors. “It’s a highly-intelligent room. We’re all competitors. We’re continuing to grow, learning from Payton (Thorne), learning from everybody.”
Overall, Kim was just happy to be back out on the field with his teammates:
“It felt really good to be out there again. Just playing football, just having fun with it.”
On a separate note, wide receiver Jayden Reed left the game and did not return. Tucker did not have any update on Reed’s status moving forward.
Michigan State will have its first road game, and first true test, of the 2022 season next week. The Spartans travel to Seattle to take on the Washington Huskies on Saturday, Sept. 17 at 7:30 p.m. Eastern Time. The game will be broadcast on ABC.