Tuesday, June 25, 2024

Michigan State's run game returns to form against Illinois

November 5, 2022
<p>Redshirt sophomore running back Jalen Berger (8) catches the ball during the second half of a game against University of Illinois at Memorial Stadium on Nov. 5, 2022. Spartans beat the Fighting Illini with a score of 23-15. </p>

Redshirt sophomore running back Jalen Berger (8) catches the ball during the second half of a game against University of Illinois at Memorial Stadium on Nov. 5, 2022. Spartans beat the Fighting Illini with a score of 23-15.

Michigan State football earned a signature win over No. 14 Illinois in Champaign Saturday night. Head Men's Football Coach Mel Tucker constantly emphasizes the need to play complementary football and for the first time in a while, the Spartans finally did.

While the defense stole the show, the offense also stepped up in ways unseen thus far against a Big Ten opponent. Both the run and pass game were on the same page and occasionally intertwined to create scoring opportunities.

With redshirt senior wide receiver Jayden Reed and sophomore wide receiver Keon Coleman under heavy coverage for most of the night, redshirt junior quarterback Payton Thorne was forced to look to his running backs not just to run, but also to receive.

Fifth-year running back Jarek Broussard was the only one to find the end zone, but redshirt sophomore running back Jalen Berger and redshirt senior running back Elijah Collins both put up some impressive numbers and came up big when the team needed them to.

Collins had 10 rushing yards and 20 receiving yards, while Berger finished with 81 rushing yards and 29 receiving yards (second on the team) and Broussard finished with 13 rushing yards and 21 receiving yards.

“I thought we ran the ball very physically,” Thorne said. “It was a great job by all of those guys. Obviously Jarek (Broussard) got in the end zone, Jalen (Berger) had a lot of physical runs and then Elijah (Collins) he just gets us out running and he’s a physical guy, so it was a good job by all three of those guys.”

Broussard’s 11-yard rushing touchdown is what gave the Spartans a two score lead, something they haven’t had in Big Ten play. He was given the go ahead to punch it into the end zone on a second-and-7 play in which he found a huge hole up the middle to get a quick six points in the third quarter.

Saturday’s game proved that when the run and pass game are able to work in unison, the Spartan offense can be a threat. Throughout the earlier games in the season, the pattern was either the run game would be explosive or the pass game, or neither. Now that MSU was finally able to work together, it is one step closer to becoming bowl eligible, just needing two more wins out of the three games remaining.

Although according to fifth-year safety Xavier Henderson, that's not the top focus right now.

“We're just focused on trying to get better, especially deep inside the ball,” Henderson said. “We're progressing, we're gonna watch the tape, fix the things we messed up and we'll dive right in. We're a next-game team.”

MSU's next game is at home, where it will stay for two weeks to take on Rutgers and Indiana before travelling to Penn State to end the season on the road. While the Spartans may be taking the 'next game' approach, they will have to take down two of their upcoming opponents if they hope to become eligible for a bowl game.

In order to do this, MSU will need to replicate its performance, both offensively and defensively. The Spartans continually rely on Reed and Coleman for scoring and Reed was able to come up with a few catches and a touchdown, but with heavy coverage, they were forced to look elsewhere.

The running back room had to step up if they wanted to win and that's what they did. They adjusted quickly to play a hybrid between their usual position of taking handoffs and making catches out of the backfield to sustain drives and create explosive plays that ultimately gave the Spartans the win.

They will need to continue to do so over the next few weeks if they hope to become bowl eligible, which is where the narrative is quickly shifting, but they proved Saturday that team has what it takes to get it done. It will just be a matter of execution.

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