The difference in Michigan State’s offense was visible from the first snap as Kenneth Walker III gave MSU its first lead 13 seconds into the game on a breakaway run.
Jarrett Horst and J.D. Duplain sealed the defense off in the middle of the field, Connor Heyward and Jayden Reed set the edge with key blocks and Walker did the rest.
Walker received a bulk of the praise after the win against Northwestern, winning Big Ten Offensive Player of the Week and national player of the week from Maxwell. However, Walker was quick to give credit to the offensive line, who consistently opened running lanes for Walker and kept Payton Thorne upright, leading to a successful night for the Spartans’ offense.
The strong performance of the line is a welcome sight to see for Michigan State, who has struggled to create a consistent push the past two years. MSU ran for 326 yards last Friday, the most MSU has had since 2014, and showed that they can bully teams at the point of attack, which has not been present at MSU for a long time.
“It felt really good,” graduate student offensive lineman Luke Campbell said. “I've always known that this group has it in 'em and just to see us start to play at such a high level where we can get to, our way to our potential, it felt good but I'm nowhere near satisfied.”
Campbell was a part of the fluid rotation upfront for MSU against Northwestern, seeing time at both left and right tackle in the second half. It was his first game since 2019 after missing all of last year due to Hernia surgery.
Campbell was emotional on the team bus to Evanston when he realized that it was all real and he would be able to play for MSU again. After a year away from football, he wasn’t sure if he would be able to play another game again.
“I mean, there were definitely days I pondered if this was possible,” Campbell said. “But I just take it one day at a time and I rely on my faith. My faith is what keeps me strong.”
Campbell’s experience at both guard and tackle gives him an opportunity to play often this year despite not being one of the starters on the offensive line. He said it felt amazing to be back out there competing with the group he has spent over half a decade with and wants to improve on the week one performance individually and as a group to reach a “dominant” level.
“Our potential is still so untapped,” Campbell said. “We got so many good guys on our offensive line, we got so many dudes we can rotate. We want to dominate. We want to own the field. We want people to fear us when they watch us on film.”
The rotation showed that MSU has depth at each position up front that is capable of getting that consistent push, along with good blocking from the wide receivers and tight ends, to spring the running game for big plays.
Michigan State played nine offensive linemen against Northwestern, rotating every position in the second half besides center. The coaching staff will continue to look at every combination upfront and use depth at every position to try to reach that dominant level each and every week.
There isn’t much the offensive line can do to top its week one performance, but after years of not being able to perform successfully to any extent, a repeat performance week in and week out would be welcome. The key for improvement, Campbell said, is continuing to work and maintain hope.
“If we do the right things and we keep attacking it, then this is what will happen,” Campbell said. “Just hope, you gotta have hope. You always have to have hope. Once you lose hope then that's the end of it.”
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