The No. 15 Michigan State Spartans defeated the Mid-American Conference’s Western Michigan Broncos on Friday night, by a final score of 35-13. But all was anything but easy when fans striped Spartan Stadium under the lights.
Junior quarterback Payton Thorne completed 12 of 24 pass attempts, threw for 233 yards, and tied Connor Cook a program record for number of games with four or more passing touchdowns (four). He also threw an interception on a questionable Patrick Mahomes-like cross-field pass on the run.
While MSU fans may have wanted to see more domination from their Spartans against an unranked MAC team, there were some positive takeaways. Then again, some of them weren’t so great. Let’s dig into what we saw.
Jacoby Windmon, Jalen Berger and other transfers
UNLV senior transfer Jacoby Windmon dominated in his MSU debut with four sacks on Broncos freshman quarterback Jack Salopek, plus a forced fumble. He finished the night with seven total tackles. Windmon has since been named Walter Camp National Defensive Player of the Week.
The pass rush didn’t let up all game, as Michigan State’s defense had seven sacks by the end of the night. In addition to Windmon’s four sacks, fellow transfers Khris Bogle (Florida) and Aaron Brule (Mississippi State) also took down the quarterback. Chester Kimbrough, who returned this season after transferring from Florida in 2021, recorded a sack as well.
It was nice to see sophomore running back, Wisconsin transfer, Jalen Berger have a good game, highlighted by a 50-yard run. Berger ran for 120 yards, averaging 7.5 yards per attempt, and scored a touchdown. Last season, Doak Walker Award and Walter Camp Award winner Kenneth Walker III averaged 6.2 yards per rushing attempt on the season. Walker only had four games with more than 7.5 yards per attempt. Not to compare Berger to Walker overall, but just goes to show that Berger had a productive first outing as a Spartan.
The offensive line’s slight improvement should allow Michigan State to achieve balance on offense, at least. In 2021, MSU relied on trickery to confuse and mislead the defense, because Michigan State was such a threat on the ground. It opened up the big play.
Colorado senior transfer running back Jarek Broussard had a nice game as well, rushing for 54 yards, averaging a decent 5.4 yards per rush attempt. Washington State transfer offensive lineman Brian Greene played 25 snaps as well and earned an overall grade of 60.3 and a pass-blocking grade of 81.4.
Struggles on offense
Michigan State didn’t have much possession of the ball. In fact, Western Michigan held onto the ball for almost twice as long as MSU and over 60 percent of the game (37:22-22:38). That’s a problem.
A little past the midway point of the fourth quarter, MSU only held an eight-point lead. If not for streaks of touchdowns in the first half after the Broncos went up 3-0 early, the Spartans may not have won the game.
Not to mention, Western Michigan turned the ball over twice, including fumbling in the red zone one time and fumbling again in MSU territory the other time. If even one of those possessions is converted into a touchdown, that final score could’ve looked a little different. Thorne’s ill-advised pass across his body, of course, wasn’t a good look, especially since the veteran quarterback had room to run. It’s a play that Thorne called “stupid” after the game.
This is Thorne’s offense now. Michigan State fans have heard so much this offseason about how mature Thorne is. While yes, his pre-snap is above and beyond, there were some mis-steps in his decision-making on Friday. I’ve already mentioned the interception, but some throws were errant and some of the play-calling by offensive coordinator Jay Johnson didn’t really help at times.
Thorne needs to work on his deep ball, badly. Michigan State wouldn’t need to worry about Friday’s game if some more of those deep passes to both senior wide receiver Jayden Reed and sophomore Keon Coleman hit more frequently.
Thorne’s passing chart against Western Michigan looked like this:
Michigan State quarterback Payton Thorne’s passing chart versus Western Michigan: pic.twitter.com/owzQvJ4GnR— Ryan O'Bleness (@ryanobleness) September 3, 2022
Reed wasn’t incredibly active on Friday, as he finished with two receptions for 31 yards. He got banged up a bit during the game, but wasn’t out too long. Coleman led the receiving group with 84 yards and one touchdown. Junior Tre Mosley and freshman Germie Bernard also had receiving touchdowns.
Back to the offensive line, a lot of those questions have turned into answers. The team lost a lot of starters and depth up front. However, instead of senior Jarrett Horst starting at left tackle, it was sophomore Brandon Baldwin.
At left guard, it was senior J.D. Duplain, senior Nick Samac at center, senior Matt Carrick at right guard and junior Spencer Brown at right tackle. That was as expected.
Jack Stone, the only scholarship kicker on the roster
Senior punter Bryce Baringer made his return by pinning Western Michigan at the 4-yard-line on his first appearance of the season, a 67-yard booming kick. True freshman Jack Stone replaces kicker Matt Coghlin as the only scholarship kicker on Michigan State’s roster.
Coghlin dealt with an injury late last season, putting some uncertainty into that area for Michigan State.
Stone was able to make all five of his extra point attempts, but he did miss his only field goal attempt of the night, a 44-yarder that went wide left. Sophomore walk-on Stephen Rusnak and walk-on graduate transfer Ben Patton (Auburn), who joined the team late in fall camp, will be Stone’s top competition for the kicking job.
MSU’s kickoff specialist was Stone and he had three touchbacks on six attempts.
After the first game of the season, there are already health concerns about some of the team’s best players. Senior safety Xavier Henderson and junior linebacker Darius Snow left in the second quarter and never returned.
Snow collided with a teammate and limped off the field. As of postgame, the severity of Henderson’s injury remains unclear. It’s also unclear how he was injured. He spent the second half on the sideline with a brace on his right leg and a towel over his face.
After the game, head coach Mel Tucker said he didn’t have an update on either player. He said he may be able to provide an update in his press conference on Monday.
Henderson is a fifth-year senior, veteran to this team and a captain, so losing him would be a massive loss for Michigan State. Snow moved to linebacker this past spring and his versatility is being used to help with matchups this season. These are potentially major losses.
There’s a lot to process after Week One. Michigan State should fair better against Akron next week. The Zips could barely escape FCS Saint Francis on Thursday. Thorne may not even need to play in the second half.
For the rest of the season, Michigan State can have confidence that the team will be well-prepared for in-game situations. Defeating Michigan could also prove to be an issue if the Wolverines decides to go with J.J. McCarthy as quarterback. Ohio State’s defense even looks a little vulnerable after Week One win against Notre Dame. It will be a long-shot to win against the Buckeyes, but the game should at least be watchable.
The over-under prior to this season for Michigan State in regards to a win total was 7.5. Even with seven or eight wins, the Spartans still have a lot to look forward to, but it would be surprising if MSU doesn’t hit the over here.
Last season, MSU was probably worse than the record indicated. There were a lot of close calls and lucky bounces. If the Western Michigan game is an indication, there might be more where that came from, but this team has plenty of potential as well.