Tuesday, September 27, 2022

Column: Despite being better overall, MSU football likely to take step back in the win column

August 9, 2022
<p>Spartans sing the fight song after a 31-21 victory against Pitt in the Chick-Fil-A Peach Bowl on Dec. 30, 2021.</p>

Spartans sing the fight song after a 31-21 victory against Pitt in the Chick-Fil-A Peach Bowl on Dec. 30, 2021.

Photo by Devin Anderson-Torrez | The State News

After a 2-5 COVID-19 shortened regular season record, Michigan State’s 2021 outlook was one that across the nation was looked at with disdain.

We all know how that went.

“I don't know who it was, but somebody projected us to be one of the five worst teams in the country,” Michigan State junior quarterback Payton Thorne said. “So that obviously panned out really well. That was correct. It's all talk preseason, people are all over the place. I've seen teams my whole life who are consistently ranked in the top 10 and they consistently finish the season unranked.”

Whether Thorne was taking a shot as his rival Michigan or perennial underachiever Texas with the last little jab, there’s a drive in the program that is wanting to achieve more. Expectations have dramatically changed for the Spartans after their 11-2 campaign last season, going from cellar dwellers to a top ten finish.

Those expectations aren’t just from the media either. This is a program that since Big Ten Media Days has made it clear that they feel they didn’t achieve anything last year. From the coaching staff down to the players, this is a team that wants to win championships. That’s the standard for them.

After going 11-2, there’s good reason to believe in that, especially with their growth and additions this offseason.

The defense in particular is in a place where people should feel much more confident. After being “dead a-- last” a year ago, the secondary would have a difficult time being worse. The addition of Georgia’s Ameer Speed also gives the secondary a much needed cornerback that can be reliable in pass coverage and bring a unique skillset with his size.

The linebackers, after being one of the thinnest units for MSU last year, suddenly became one of the deepest and potentially dynamic units on the roster. With a plethora of options from the gritty, sure tackler Cal Haladay to the veteran addition of UNLV’s Jacoby Windmon, this is a unit that should be quite interesting this year. 

Aaron Brule, in particular, is one that will be very interesting to watch. As a guy who can play at linebacker but specializes in standing up alongside the defensive line to get after the passer, Brule is a guy who will allow for a new set of schemes to be used on defense if needed.

The defensive line, despite coming together to lead the Big Ten in sacks last season with 42, was often in a high pressure situation when the sacks came. The constant pressure on the quarterback just was not there on a down to down basis. However with guys like Jacob Slade returning and young guys like Simeon Barrow getting more experience, it should get better in 2022.

The offense with Thorne and senior wide receiver Jayden Reed will be in good hands once again. 

  “I've seen the talent and things that people are capable of,” Michigan State linebacker Darius Snow said. “I just think we're more complete. I think we have more depth. We had some individual talent last year and they worked well collaboratively, but I think we have more depth.”

However, despite having what I believe will be a more well-rounded team this upcoming season, I believe this is a team that in the win-loss column will take a step-back this year.

One key statistic I keep coming back to is that Michigan State last season was 5-0 in one score games heading into the fourth quarter. Michigan State Head Coach Mel Tucker said there is no “secret sauce” to winning these types of games and he’s correct in that.

It took a magic punt return from Reed to defeat Nebraska in a tight matchup last year, forcing turnovers against Michigan to finish off the Wolverines at home and big defensive plays from guys like Haladay, Chuck Brantley and others to secure wins against Michigan, Indiana and others.

The argument Tucker makes is that this was a team built for these moments and while that can be true, going 5-0 in games like that is not easily attainable or repeatable as calls from referees can go one way, turnovers can happen and much more.

While that may be more of an arbitrary way of looking at things, the offensive line is really where the results of this season will lie.

After losing a plethora of offensive lineman this offseason to the NFL with Kevin Jarvis and AJ Arcuri and graduating guys like Matt Allen and Luke Campbell, the offensive line is quite thin on returning production. Not to mention, this offensive line was one that was fine, not great last season as Kenneth Walker III covered a lot of holes for this offense.

The line should look something like Jarret Horst and Spencer Brownat left and right tackle, JD Duplain and Matt Carrick at guard and Nick Samac at center with Brian Greene fitting somewhere in the rotation. The bottom line is, health is going to be key with a lack of depth and proven talent from the youngsters. And it has already been a problem.

“In the spring, we were super thin and we did have to modify some practices,” Tucker said. “We actually had to move some walk-on defensive lineman to our offensive line. We did that knowing that coming fall camp, we will be healthy and we'd be full strength and I feel like we're really close to that right now.”

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If the offensive line can remain healthy and take a step forward, this team absolutely can repeat their success from a year ago. But with that major question mark and the many games that tilted favorably towards MSU in the final moments, I’m banking on MSU taking a step back in the win-loss column despite being in a much better position as a roster.

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