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Projecting Michigan State’s starters and depth chart versus Washington

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This weekend the Michigan State Spartans travel to Seattle to take on the Washington Huskies (Saturday, 7:30 p.m. Eastern Time, ABC) After two weeks, both teams are 2-0, Saturday’s game will be the first road match of the season for the Spartans.

Michigan State head coach Mel Tucker will not tip his hand by releasing a depth chart, therefore after viewing the previous game and reading reports about the roster, here are my predictions for the MSU starters and reserves.


Starter: Payton Thorne

Backup: Noah Kim

Thorne followed up his inconsistent game versus the Western Michigan Broncos with a turnover-marred performance against the Akron Zips. Thorne continued to miss targets and appears to be pressing. Perhaps the early season subpar outputs are a product of getting comfortable with teammates in new roles and an abundance of deep passes attempted. Regardless, Michigan State needs a better performance from its quarterback to secure a win against a Washington program that appears to be developing ahead of schedule after a 4-8 campaign in 2021.

Against Akron, Kim made the most of two passing attempts going 2-for-2 with a touchdown pass that showed pace. Although Thorne has struggled early, Kim has done nothing in his brief appearances but quell fears about the competency of the backup quarterback.

Syndication: Detroit Free Press Junfu Han/Detroit Free Press / USA TODAY NETWORK

Running Back

Starter: Jalen Berger

Backup: Jarek Broussard, Elijah Collins

It looks like Michigan State has a nice one-two punch at running back ,which will pay dividends through the 2022 slate. Berger and Broussard again shared the vast majority or rushing attempts with Berger receiving the first nod and a couple more totes. Both backs scored multiple touchdowns, while averaging a healthy yards per carry number.

Much to many Michigan State fans’ joy, Elijah Collins was given eight carries and scored a touchdown. Collins looked strong and capable of getting yards if called upon in the future.

NCAA Football: Western Michigan at Michigan State Dale Young-USA TODAY Sports

Wide receivers

Starters: Jayden Reed, Keon Coleman, Tre Mosley

Backups: Germie Bernard, Christian Fitzpatrick, Montorie Foster

Reed led the Spartans in receptions and yards against Akron, but left the game after landing up against a bench on the sidelines. Reports are that Reed cut his back, but it’s not the type of medical issue that would cause concern for the long-term, although his status against the Huskies is uncertain.

Coleman’s size and athleticism continues to demand a significant amount of targets, though connecting on those targets has been inconsistent at best. Meanwhile, Mosley has been a low usage, but high production receiving option. Over the past four games, Mosley has had 10 receptions with three touchdowns.

As you may recall, Bernard was enrolled at Washington on January, however, he did not attend any classes and quickly transferred to Michigan State upon finding out his wide receivers coach (and primary recruiter), Junior Adams, had left the Husky program. I don’t think anyone should be surprised if Bernard was to be featured in some potentially explosive plays.

Fitzpatrick saw the most action of his short career last week, and his size provides for a nice target. Montorie Foster returned from injury against Akron. He gives the Spartans another quick twitch wide receiver who can do nice things out of the slot or out wide.

Syndication: Detroit Free Press Junfu Han / USA TODAY NETWORK

Tight end/H-Back

Starter: Tyler Hunt

Backup: Daniel Barker, Maliq Carr

Hunt earned a second start for the season and until he’s not the first onto the field, I’ll pencil him in to the starting spot. If you’ve watched Michigan State this season, you know all three tight ends will see time and likely a target or two in the passing game. The tight end who blocks the best will almost certainly receive the most snaps. If this offense is to achieve its ceiling, it requires more out of the tight end position in all facets.

Syndication: Detroit Free Press Junfu Han / USA TODAY NETWORK

Left tackle

Starter: Jarrett Horst

Backup: Brandon Baldwin

Horst returned to his role as the primary left tackle against Akron and the day went rather unremarkable as is preferred for that position. Baldwin’s role was reduced (it should be noted he got snaps at right tackle), but the standing of the left tackle position has improved after two games of satisfactory outcomes from the two-deep.

J.D. Duplain, Nick Samac, Matt Carrick and Spencer Brown all made their second consecutive start for the season and I do not anticipate that changing in Week Three. Brian Greene saw early time at right guard, replacing Carrick, and as they did in the opener, Geno VanDeMark, Dallas Fincher and Ethan Boyd received a handful of live repetitions as well.

Syndication: Detroit Free Press Kirthmon F. Dozier / USA TODAY NETWORK

Left guard

Starter: J.D. Duplain

Backup: Geno VanDeMark

Syndication: Detroit Free Press Junfu Han / USA TODAY NETWORK


Starter: Nick Samac

Backup: Dallas Fincher

Syndication: Lansing Nick King/Lansing State Journal, Lansing State Journal via Imagn Content Services, LLC

Right guard

Starter: Matt Carrick

Backup: Brian Greene

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Right tackle

Starter: Spencer Brown

Backup: Ethan Boyd

Syndication: Lansing State Journal Matthew Dae Smith/Lansing State Journal / USA TODAY NETWORK

Defensive tackles

Starters: Jacob Slade, Simeon Barrow

Backup: Derrick Harmon, Maverick Hansen, Dashaun Mallory, Jalen Hunt, Alex VanSumeren

Last week, Slade and Harmon got the starting nods, Harmon was in place for Barrow who did not play the second half against WMU after experience a minor (easy for me to say) injury. I’m willing to bet Barrow returns to the first unit, but Harmon appeared to hold his own so far this season.

Hansen was active against Akron until he suffered an upper body injury. Unfortunately, this has been a theme early on for the defensive tackles as both Mallory and Hunt have yet to play due to their medical statuses and Slade was shaken up against Akron as well (but did return). Based on the bumps and bruises of group, it is possible true freshman Alex VanSumeren could see additional playing time.

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Defensive ends

Starters: Jacoby Windmon, Jeff Pietrowski

Backup: Khris Bogle, Brandon Wright, Zion Young

Windmon earned back-to-back Defensive Player of the Week honors in the Big Ten after forcing three fumbles and being a consistent presence behind the line of scrimmage versus Akron. Pietrowski received the start at the opposite end last week, while Bogle, Wright and Young cycled in for relief.

Something to watch is how defensive coordinator Scott Hazelton is utilizing the defensive ends on passing downs. In both games this season, three-man groupings of defensive ends have been used on the same play. On at least one occasion, the Spartans fielded zero defensive tackles and placed four defensive ends on the field at once.

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Starters: Cal Haladay, Ben VanSumeren

Backups: Aaron Brule, Ma’a Gaoteote

Haladay and Ben VanSumeren will be the primary linebackers once again, following the season-ending injury to Darius Snow. Chances are better than not that Brule will receive additional opportunities and the two-man position group will evolve to a three-man rotation. Gaoteote played against Akron and continues on his path of growing within the position. There may be some spot chances for him to play this week.

Syndication: Lansing State Journal Matthew Dae Smith/Lansing State Journal / USA TODAY NETWORK


Starters: Ameer Speed, Charles Brantley

Backups: Ronald Williams Jr., Marqui Lowery, Khary Crump

Speed and Brantely were the first cornerbacks on the field. Brantley ended up with 28 snaps and graded out well (87.3 defensive grade from Pro Football Focus), while splitting time with Williams, who had 26 snaps (67.1 grade).

The defensive backfield is going to be tested, this will be the first true litmus test for this unit. Washington has a group of wide receivers who seem underappreciated and dangerous, particularly with a quarterback like Michael Penix Jr. who has the ability to make every throw.

Syndication: Detroit Free Press Junfu Han / USA TODAY NETWORK


Starter: Chester Kimbrough

Backup: Justin White

At nickel, Kimbrough has found his home and it seems he could be blossoming in his role. It’s been a nice surprise to see how well Kimbrough has played early this year. The Spartans will also use White — a specials team captain this week — at nickel, though at times, the Spartans pull the fifth defensive back off in exchange for a third linebacker in run-heavy circumstances.

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Starters: Angelo Grose, Kendell Brooks

Backups: Jaden Mangham, AJ Kirk, Xavier Henderson (likely to miss game)

My favorite takeaway from the matchup with the Zips was Brooks’ play in replacement of Henderson. Brooks showed good coverage skills and, as always, supported the run defense with high-impact tackling. He has also forced a fumble in back-to-back games.

Grose got dinged up a little but appeared(?) to be okay. Health is something to monitor for the entire team here on out, but particularly for the Safety position. Yes, Michigan State has improved the overall roster depth, however, it is still not to the point where the team can lose both starting safeties and feel good with their prospects like term in the Big Ten schedule. Xavier Henderson seems likely to not play against Washington.

Syndication: Lansing State Journal Nick King/Lansing State Journal / USA TODAY NETWORK

Special teams


Starter: Jack Stone

Backup: Ben Patton, Stephen Rusnak

Jack Stone had a nice bounce-back performance with a field goal make in his only attempt last week, and judging on aesthetics (flight of the ball), along with the fact that it went through the uprights, the kick looked great. Hopefully he’s found a level of comfort as he will be facing his first large hostile crowd.

Syndication: Lansing State Journal Matthew Dae Smith/Lansing State Journal / USA TODAY NETWORK


Starter: Bryce Baringer

Backup: Ryan Eckley, Evan Morris

Baringer makes the ball go boom, flying far across the field. In what is predicted to be a one-score game, he could be a critical component of the Spartans’ efforts to be victorious against Washington.

Syndication: Lansing State Journal Nick King/Lansing State Journal / USA TODAY NETWORK

Punt/Kick returner

Starter: Jayden Reed/Jarek Broussard

Backup: Jarek Broussard/Jayden Reed/Germie Bernard/Tyrell Henry

Reed looked like he had another punt return touchdown only to have his moment spoiled by an all too obvious penalty. The staff will continue to put the balls in his hands on special teams, though Broussard seems to have assumed primary duties on kick returns.

However, with Reed banged up, it’s possible the staff keeps him off of special teams this week — if he even suits up at all.

Syndication: Lansing State Journal Matthew Dae Smith/Lansing State Journal / USA TODAY NETWORK

Long snapper

Western Michigan v Michigan State Photo by Jaime Crawford/Getty Images

Starter: Hank Pepper

Backup: Michael Donovan

Pepper needs to maintain what he is doing and we shall all be happy.