It’s no secret Michigan State isn’t having the same offensive production it had last year. After these struggles were on full display once again against Michigan, the Spartans are looking to break the pattern against No. 14 Illinois this weekend.
While redshirt junior quarterback Payton Thorne had comparable stats to Michigan sophomore quarterback J.J. McCarthy, the Wolverines had a dependable ground game, something the Spartans have been lacking.
Michigan had 276 total rushing yards compared to MSU’s 37. Ever since the departure of star running back Kenneth Walker III to the NFL at the end of last season, the Spartans have been unable to have a consistent run game or find offense elsewhere.
In fact, MSU is ranked 118th in rushing offense in the FBS, averaging just 97.5 yards per game, while the passing offense is ranked 69th, averaging 239.4 yards per game.
7:58 “I look at our offense and right now we’re not executing at a high enough level, not at all,” Thorne said.
Although Michigan State suffered a definitive loss against its rivals, the game was competitive going into halftime. This was mostly thanks to the defense that came alive on third and fourth down, holding Michigan to five field goals on plays that could’ve easily turned into touchdowns.
“We’re hanging our defense out to dry,” Thorne said. “Our defense worked their butts off, held them to field goals all night and we didn’t do enough to put ourselves in a situation to be in a fight in the fourth quarter.”
Now with eight defensive players suspended due to their roles in the post game tunnel altercation against Michigan, the offense likely won’t be able to rely as much on the defense to keep the game close against the Illinois.
With a depleted defense and a less than dependable run game, the Spartans will need to look to the air if they hope to bounce back. Although they didn’t connect against Michigan, Thorne and redshirt senior wide receiver Jayden Reed have proven they can change the trajectory of games when they link up.
Sophomore wide receiver Keon Coleman has also made strides in his young career this season. He led the team in receiving yards against Michigan with 155 and scored the lone touchdown on a play in which he had to twist his body in a quick snap motion between two defenders to come down with the ball before finding the end zone.
Unless the rushing offense finds a way to have a breakout game, the best scoring options based on previous games would be to throw to Reed and Coleman.
That brings up the question of play calling against Michigan. It was evident early on that the Spartans were no match for the strong Wolverine rushing defense, hence only finishing with 37 yards, so why did they continually try to run the ball on fourth-and-1 situations?
Thorne said Tuesday that part of it fell on him.
"In terms of the fourth down calls, the first one we were trying to run the ball in and pound it up in there to get one yard and the second one I had the opportunity for a sneak and I didn't do that, so that's on me," Thorne said.
Thorne also said if he would've checked the play called two plays earlier, they could've avoided the fourth-and-1 situation entirely.
"If I had checked the play two plays earlier to a throw and saw the matchup I had, we wouldn't have even been in that situation, I don't think," Thorne said. "They had one of their guys who doesn't play corner guarding Jayden (Reed) out in space and I thought about it for a second but I thought, second down, let's run this one. We still got two downs to get it."
If these offensive mistakes and miscues had been corrected, the game would've been much more competitive, especially with the way the defense was playing. Now, with eight defensive players out, the offense will need to rid themselves of this mental errors if they hope to get it done against the 7-1 Illini.
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