The Michigan State Spartans 2023 Football squad took the field for the first time Friday night against the Central Michigan Chippewas. Michigan State struggled in the first half as the Chippewas looked better prepared and more physical in the trenches. Eventually, the better talent up and down the roster, as well as some key players settling in (Noah Kim, Maliq Carr to name a few), allowed Michigan State to dominate the second half and pull out a win that at least looks big on paper.
Coming into the game, Michigan State’s roster, season approach, and outlook had either extensive question marks or flat out “no clue” level of predictions. The football played against CMU provided some (potential - see disclaimer) insights into the 2023 season of Spartan Football.
First Game Disclaimer: The results against a team like Central Michigan should be taken with a healthy dose of salt. No disrespect meant to the Chippewas, but despite three wins against MSU in the last 30 years, this year’s CMU squad is not a team that will measure up against the likes of future MSU opponent Washington or the broader Big Ten. Combine that with the nature of college football not having a pre-season meaning season openers are rife with nerves and oddities that lead to over reactions and false indicators.
Regardless of the opponent, Michigan State came into this game with some serious questions to answer. Even if the ultimate question of, “what will this year look like?” cannot be answered by this game, there are some answers we can take from this game.
Questions Coming Into the Game:
Who Will Start at QB?
Noah Kim. Started and played the game until the final four minutes of garbage time. In a repeat of the mystery of 2021, when Payton Thorne was considered in a dead heat with his competition then played every snap of the first game before becoming the designated starter, Noah Kim played this game all the way through.
It didn’t start super well for Kim, as he started 1 of 5. His early struggles included some blatantly missed throws, but he was not helped as some of his most experienced and highly touted receivers dropped pass after pass after pass. Tight end Maliq Carr dropped at least three alone, and he wasn’t alone, including a huge drop on a hail mary at the end of the first half that hit the receiver in the chest before falling to the turf.
Eventually Kim settled in. By the end of the third quarter he had a series of throws that broke the game open and showed potential to be BIG time if he can build on this down the road.
Noah Kim answered the question of, “who actually started the game” the concern will be if he answered it well enough to truly say who SHOULD be starting at Richmond.
Is the Offensive Line Healthy?
Michigan State has some returning veterans across the offensive line, the problem is injuries during the pre-season had even stalwarts like Center Nick Semac questionable for this game. And during this game injuries played a role as the offensive line looked shaky for most of the game.
Center Nick Semac was not listed as a starter by the TV crew but saw early action on the field. Despite his experience, Samac had multiple plays where he got simply beaten by CMU defenders. By the second half, Michigan State had moved to other options at center. Even those were not great, as an early second half false start by the backup center stifled some early momentum in that half.
The line may have mostly looked as we expected (minus Semac), but the results were not great. Central Michigan forced five plays for loss in the first half, and harassed Noah Kim early and often. That is a disturbing performance for a unit expected to hold up against Big Ten opponents.
Are There Stars that Can Emerge at Running Back and Wide Receiver?
Again, one game may not answer this in the big picture, but it can show some indication if there are potential breakout seasons at these crucial offensive positions.
The running backs were the true highlight of the game. Even in a first half defined by shaky quarterback play, even shakier line play and a seeming total inability to catch the ball, Nathan Carter and Jalen Berger were a solid one two punch. Carter showed some of the big play ability that has been rumored from practices. Jalen Berger showed why he was the eventual go-to running back a year ago, and exactly why he will be in the mix a lot this year. The two running backs should give Michigan State something to work with even when everything else is not on offense.
Outside of the running backs it was definitely a tale of two halves. In the first half, not a single receiver (nor tight end - yes, I am talking about you Maliq Carr) looked reliable. Noah Kim, and/or the game plan, clearly wanted to get the ball into the hands of Maliq Carr. Unfortunately, Carr’s hands decided they were allergic to the football. Except for a late catch in the end zone in the 4th quarter (well after the game was decided), Carr struggled in this one. The hope is its first game nerves.
Returning veterans like Montore Foster and Tre Mosley grabbed valuable receptions while the most interesting performance may have been young receiver Henry. Henry showed some flashes (including a simply ridiculous one handed catch through contact in the endzone for his first career catch AND first touchdown) that could foretell star status in the making.
Can the Secondary Actually Hold Up/Contribute?
Michigan State’s 2023 defensive strength could be its front seven (the d-line and the linebackers). While MSU has had strength here across the last few years, it’s been the secondary that consistently was the Achilles heel for this team. Central Michigan - a team that came into this game with its own open question about QB - may not be the true indicator for the future, but it was still going to be an important indicator for this crucial group.
Central Michigan followed the Spartans lead and only played one QB, Bert Emanuel, Jr., for the game. Emanuel delivered mostly what is on the scouting report. He has incredible athleticism and vision to scramble for long runs that is unfortunately paired with a shaky sense of accuracy. Michigan State mostly got lucky that Emanuel continued to prove he is less than threatening as a passer. Considering the limitations of the CMU QB it is very difficult to tell if MSU’s secondary has improved. Charles Brantley flashed savvy aggressiveness in the first half, contributing big time tackles to stifle a more dominant CMU and keep the Spartans in the game. Outside of that, the secondary largely played a supporting role in this game.
Questions Coming Out of the Game
Will the QB play for Michigan State in this game truly answer the question for the season? (Or even the near future?)
Short answer, no. Noah Kim’s first half was shaky enough to give any observer pause committing to him as the long time starter. That said, Kim settled in and improved mightily during the game. The poise it takes to come back from that shaky start could serve Kim well in the long term. Further, Kim did more than settle in. In the second half he started delivering some throws that were difference makers.
Katin Houser has a vocal fanbase that will undoubtedly continue to call for his ascension to the starting QB role. Despite opening his lone series in garbage time with two negative yard plays and an almost interception, Houser will still be “the guy” for many until truly proved otherwise on the field.
For now, it looks like Kim will be the guy, but if we see repeats of the first quarter of this game that may not be the long term. Still a situation to be watched.
What Is the Outlook for This Team After One Game?
This game was in many ways the classic season opener. For fans wondering why most teams don’t play a major marquee opponent in week 1, they should watch this game. Teams are simply not ready to play. Young players haven’t seen enough game speed and everyone is still figuring out their way to contribute.
Central Michigan looked like the more prepared team during the first half. Michigan State looked like a team with a lot of questions - which is exactly what they were coming into this game.
Michigan State settled in and dominated the second half the way most fans and prognosticators expected. At this point this shows MSU has a floor that is lower than we had hoped (seriously, that first half was UGLY at many positions) but we are nowhere near defining their ceiling. There were flashes of potential that it will take another few weeks - and frankly better competition - to know if that is for real.
Questions for Next Week
- Can the Offensive Line Actually Dominate a Lesser Opponent? (Yes, Richmond is lesser)
- Will Noah Kim Really Get All the Snaps for a Second Week?
- Can We Learn Anything About MSU’s Secondary?
- Will MSU Look Better Prepared Against Richmond?