Friday, September 29, 2023

HALF: Kenneth Walker, MSU hit Northwestern in the jaw to take 21-7 lead

September 3, 2021
<p>Senior saftey Xavier Henderson disrupts the throw during the Spartans’ game at Northwestern on Sept. 3, 2021.</p>

Senior saftey Xavier Henderson disrupts the throw during the Spartans’ game at Northwestern on Sept. 3, 2021.

Photo by Devin Anderson-Torrez | The State News

Michigan State leads Northwestern 21-7 at half as MSU jumped out to a quick 14-point lead after a pair of Kenneth Walker III touchdowns on MSU's first two possessions. The game has been relatively even since that point.

Here are some quick thoughts from Michigan State's first half against Northwestern.

Kenneth Walker is a bad, bad man 

The anticipation for the Wake Forest transfer was through the roof, but his start defied even the most outlandish expectations. Walker’s first snap as a Spartan was a 75-yard house call to give MSU a 7-0 lead 13 seconds into the game. He bounced the off-tackle run to MSU’s sideline and out-ran every single player on the field, showing the big play ability and elite speed that made him one of the most sought-after transfers in the country this offseason. 

Walker eclipsed 100 yards on MSU’s second possession and scored again, this time only from three yards out but still showed his explosiveness with a cutback to walk in the endzone unabated to increase the lead to 14-0. 

Walker had 137 yards and two touchdowns on 10 carries in the first half, providing MSU with a bulk of their offense. 

Walker is the first MSU running back to break 100 yards and score a touchdown since the 2019 season after MSU did not accomplish either feat throughout 2020. The running back job was his coming into the game but he put a lock on the job and threw away the key with this first half outburst.

Payton Thorne is the starting quarterback; not fazed in first half

The biggest question coming into the game was who would be under center leading MSU, Anthony Russo or Payton Thorne. It became apparent during warmups that the job was Thorne’s after taking the first-team reps during warmups and talking with Michigan State Head Coach Mel Tucker multiple times on the field. 

Thorne’s job has not been particularly hard so far after Walker gave MSU the lead on the first play and MSU’s defense has stifled Northwestern, but he has not made any glaring mistakes as the signal caller so far. Thorne has kept the offense in rhythm and has not forced any throws into tight windows.

Thorne threw a touchdown in the second quarter to running back Jordon Simmons on a screen pass that was not read by the Northwestern defense whatsoever. At the half, Thorne has 94 yards and a touchdown on 9-17 passing. 

MSU’s front six solid, lapses from cornerbacks

Northwestern’s offense has not done much so far in the first half. They might just be bad, but this is the first half of the season so the conclusion so far is that MSU’s defense has been stout against Northwestern, particularly against the run.

MSU has allowed 23 rushing yards on 18 attempts from Northwestern so far, not allowing Anthony Tyus III or Hunter Johnson any yards on the ground. MSU has rotated a number of guys through on the defensive line and at linebacker. Quavaris Crouch and Cal Haladay started the game as the two linebackers but Chase Kline has seen time as well. They have been effective in stopping the run and covering Northwestern’s running backs coming out of the backfield on passes. 

The only glaring error in MSU’s defense so far has been on the outside at cornerback. Eighty-eight of Northwestern’s 195 yards on offense in the first half came on two plays on their first two drives. Johnson hit wide receiver Bryce Kirtz for a 41 yard pass on the first possession of the game who beat cornerback Kalon Gervin down the sideline. Then, Ronald Williams got burned by Stephon Robinson Jr. for a 47-yard completion on the next possession. Luckily for MSU, they did not result in touchdowns but it could be a lingering problem in the second half if Northwestern gets desperate. 

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