At long last, the highly-anticipated matchup between No. 6 Michigan and No. 8 Michigan State is underway.
For MSU fans, it was not the start they were looking for as the Spartans fell behind quickly with a 10-point deficit at the end of the first quarter. The Spartan offense found its groove in the second quarter, but so did Michigan as the Wolverines hold a 23-14 lead in the locker room.
Here are some thoughts on the first half:
Slow start quiets Spartan Stadium early
MSU received the ball to start the game, and it looked like the offense was flowing smoothly. The first play from scrimmage was a 16-yard completion from redshirt sophomore quarterback Payton Thorne to redshirt junior wide receiver Jalen Nailor, followed by back-to-back runs by junior running back Kenneth Walker III for a total of 15 yards.
Working on Michigan’s 39-yard line, the Spartans faced a third and five. Thorne was pressured by the entire Michigan defensive line and forced a deep ball to a double-covered Nailor which was picked off at the two-yard line by sophomore defensive back RJ Moten.
The Wolverines offense, which typically has relied on its running game as a source of the explosion, went to the air on a third down and quickly took the lead. Michigan junior quarterback Cade McNamara found freshman wide receiver and East Lansing native Andrel Anthony 15 yards downfield. Anthony turned on the jets and sped past the MSU secondary and took it to the house for a 92-yard touchdown.
Kenneth Walker III doing Kenneth Walker III things
Despite two first-quarter interceptions, the Michigan State offense has not had much trouble moving the ball. And like it has all season, it starts with Walker. He had just 23 rushing yards in the first quarter, but when the second quarter started a switch was flipped and Walker looked like Heisman Trophy candidate MSU fans have enjoyed since week 1.
On the first play of the second quarter, Walker rushed up the middle to no opening on the line of scrimmage. He recognized it, bounced out to the left and broke to the endzone for a 27-yard touchdown.
On Walker's next carry on MSU's ensuing offensive drive, he utilized his stellar vision again carrying for an 18-yard gain, followed by a nine-yard gain. A fourth-down conversion near mid-field on a 40-yard pass to Nailor set up the Spartans with a first and goal and Walker carried to the outside for an eight-yard touchdown to suddenly give Michigan State the lead.
With 97 yards on the ground and 101 all-purpose yards, Walker is making his impact felt.
MSU struggling to keep a clean pocket for Thorne
Coming into the game, it was clear that Michigan's pass rush needed extra attention, especially with a star such as senior defensive end Aidan Hutchinson. He, along with junior linebacker David Ojabo, has been a problem for the Michigan State offensive line.
Late in the half, the Spartans were backed up near the goal line. Ojabo came bursting off the edge and hammered Thorne from behind for what appeared to be a strip-sack that was recovered by Hutchinson in the end zone. It was MSU's third turnover of the half and a gut punch to put MSU down two scores.
However, Michigan State caught a break after it was ruled that Thorne's shin was down before he fumbled the ball. The Spartans were able to keep the ball, albeit facing a 3rd and 31, but more importantly, kept a touchdown off the board. MSU will need to do a better job protecting Thorne in the second half.
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