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Michigan State Beats Central Michigan: Post Game Grades for The Spartans

Michigan State played essentially two completely different games in this win. The grades reflect the problems (and positives) seen in the season opener.

Syndication: Detroit Free Press Junfu Han / USA TODAY NETWORK

Michigan State played Central Michigan and won. This was how it was supposed to go. On paper, Michigan State was a multiple touchdown favorite, with every indicator showing a probable blow out. Instead, Michigan State came into the game looking under prepared and incoherent.

Yes, Michigan State figured it out and took over the game in the second half to win 31-7, but the win raised a lot of questions.

The grades below may seem harsh after a win, but they are based on the expectations for this game. Admittedly, they will also be part of the larger tendency to overreact to week 1 results. Week 1 is NOT the season. It has first game nerves, players getting used to game speed again, and a variety of other oddities. Still, the output on the field should be judged.

The “Game Specific Grade” is an attempt to step back and ignore who they are playing and look at the performance through the lens of just this game. The grade based “on a curve” is an attempt to take the performance and scale it based on the quality of the opponent. In this game that is going to make the grade largely worse as CMU is not expected to be even in the realm of the middling, let alone tougher opponents MSU will face this year.

Offense: B (Game Specific Grade) / C- (On a curve based on competition)

Effectively two different offenses played for Michigan State during this game. It was technically the same players on the field throughout the game but it certainly didn’t look like it.

The first quarter offense was a disaster. The offensive line failed to get consistent push against a much smaller CMU defensive front. This led to five negative yard plays, and pressure on a truly shaky Noah Kim. Combine that with a series of truly embarrassing drops by the receivers and tight end Maliq Carr and it was an ugly start to the 2023 season.

On the bright side, the running back duo of Nathan Carter and Jalen Berger held the offense together in the first half and showed they could be the foundation for success this year. Carter clearly has big play capabilities and Berger was consistently strong when given any room to run.

Eventually, Noah Kim was able to settle down and from a late second quarter drive onward he controlled the pace of the offense. When his receivers started catching the ball he started to look more comfortable and in control. In the early second half, Kim delivered a series of throws on key drives to blow open the game that were as good as any college QB. This included two back shoulder throws, one in the open field and one to young receiver Henry for his first catch and touchdown that was truly beautiful.

Kim and the receivers were a big reason the offense looked so bad in the first half, they were also key to the point explosion in the second half.

The objective B is because the offense showed a lot in the second half. The C- on the curve is because they should have blown the CMU defensive line off their feet right from the start and simply did not.

Defense: B+ (Game Specific Grade) / C (On a curve based on competition)

Any time you hold an opponent to seven points the defense is doing something right. Still, the first half looked very very shaky for this MSU defense. The Spartans should be able to rely on their front seven controlling the line of scrimmage. Instead, CMU ran all over MSU early on. And when it wasn’t the running backs causing havoc it was the ultra athletic QB for CMU, Bert Emanuel, Jr., making MSU’s defense look silly.

Combine the lack of stopping power with untimely - and plentiful - penalties early in the game and it looked like a bad night for the defense. Eventually, CMU started making mistakes and stopping themselves.

In the second half, the Spartan defense seemed to actually show up. Whether it was actual adjustments, or simply the players shaking off the nerves and rust, the Spartans were substantially better in the second half.

The B+ in the game was for the eventual outcome of only allowing 7-points while looking shaky, but the C on the adjusted curve for competition is because MSU benefited from CMU self sabotaging in the first half and got lucky the opponent only scored 7 in a first half that easily could have seen at least one more touchdown if not more for the Chippewas.

Special Teams: D (Game Specific Grade) / F (On a curve based on competition)

Outside of a successful field goal - that is important - MSU looked fairly inept on special teams. Their returns were decent but not great. The punts were inconsistent and the coverage on one punt that dropped on the CMU 2 yard line was pushed into the endzone by the coverage man. In a game where MSU did not dominate any phase of the game in a truly acceptable way, special teams stood out as sub par.

The lone bright spot was that long field goal. MSU will absolutely need points from the field goal kicker, perhaps this is a sign the team will have more in 2023 than they did in 2022 from their place kicker.

The D for the game is because of the multiple mistakes made. The F on the curve is because lower talent teams like CMU should be opportunities for Michigan State’s depth to show up in special teams differences. Instead, MSU looked like they were on par with CMU’s special teams (other than that field goal) and that is a concern.

Coaching: C (Game Specific Grade) / D (On a curve based on competition)

Michigan State simply did not look ready. Defensive penalties extended multiple CMU drives.

The offense looked out of sync and the play calls didn’t look like they helped. Kim looked notably better anytime they let him play with pace or put him on a designed roll or movement. Instead of leaning into this nature, the offensive game plan looked like it was designed to kill clock and limit the exposure of Noah Kim and this shaky offense. It took until the second half for the play calling to match Kim’s needs and get rolling.

The defense got chewed up for much of the first half. Multiple times penalties extended drives for CMU that MSU more often than not got lucky didn’t end up in more points. Coaches can’t play for their players, but this defense has a lot of experience up front, seeing them look that inept to start the season was jarring. If Emanuel can run all over MSU like this, it is terrifying to think what Michael Penix, Jr. can do when Washington comes to town.

Some key mistakes on special teams may not necessarily be about coaching, but it added to a perception that this team was not ready.

There wasn’t that huge tactical error you might think of for bad coaching, but this game gave a lot of ammunition for critics of Mel Tucker and his coaches. This is why in this game the coaches got a C, but on the curve based on competition I think it’s a D. By comparison, CMU’s coaches seemed to have their admittedly less talented players ready to go right from the start. Season openers almost always have some scare put into the bigger/better team, but that first half will linger in the psyche of many observers.

Overall: B- (Game Specific Grade) / C- (On a curve based on competition)

Michigan State got outcoached and outplayed in the first half. In the second half MSU looked like what they were expected to be, and the final score was respectable. Still, the B minus is deserved as is the grade based on the competition because MSU should have been up by two touchdowns at the end of the first half. Instead, they struggled to find themselves, to look coherent, and play organized football. The second half on paper looks dominant, but time will tell if that was really the start of the more coherent MSU approach to 2023, or simply a factor of CMU running out of gas after playing above its talent level for a half.

How do you grade Michigan State for this game?