Better or worse? Previewing Michigan State's offense in 2022
This is a part of an ongoing series examining Michigan State’s depth, talent and overall balance — today, we hit with the Spartans’ offense.
In 2021, Payton Thorne set a single-season record at Michigan State with 27 passing touchdowns, a mark that surpasses past legends such as Kirk Cousins, Connor Cook and Drew Stanton — to name a few.
Of course, Thorne had a lot of help, including a robust offensive line and superior talents in WRs Jayden Reed and Jalen Nalor. While Nalor is now with the Minnesota Vikings, Reed remains in East Lansing and appears primed to be one of the top playmaking receivers in college football this fall.
Michigan State’s o-line is younger and more inexperienced than it’s been in years — certainly so during the Mel Tucker era — but is relatively healthy and on-point as MSU moves toward fall camp in the upcoming several weeks.
Following an 11-2 season, Michigan State would have to pull off a miracle in order to exceed what it accomplished one year ago. Tucker is the only MSU coach to start 2-0 against in-state rival Michigan and was just one win way (vs. Purdue) from staying in the thick of a Big Ten title/College Football Playoff push late last fall.
Oh, and don’t forget about the run game in 2021, led by Wake Forest transfer Kenneth Walker III, who is among the best transfers during the modern portal era; it’ll be extremely difficult — and highly unlikely — for the Spartans to replicate what Walker did this past season.
Personnel: Not even close to even
With the loss of center Matt Allen, running back Kenneth Walker III and wide receiver Jalen Nailor, the Spartans’ offense will certainly be looking to fill in the pieces and establish chemistry this fall. It’s beyond difficult to replace a mainstay such as Allen, who was one of the most consistent centers in all of college football. Michigan State needs to address the tackle position, so it’ll be important to get senior Spencer Brown — who knows the system and lay of the land — up to full speed as soon as possible.
The addition of guard Brian Greene from Washington State, a grad transfer, should help solidify the middle — but again, it’ll be an uphill climb for a program having to replace the bulk of its o-line experience.
Passing: Should be OK
As mentioned, Thorne will still have Reed to rely upon this fall — but who else will emerge as a go-to for the record-setting Spartans quarterback?
Tre Mosley has been severely underrated during his time in East Lansing; it’s safe to assume that he’ll be a linchpin of the passing attack, along with Keon Coleman, and lead by example and experience. With 530 yards and 3 touchdowns, Mosley put up roughly half of the receiving yards and 30 percent of TDs when compared to Reed’s performance in 2021.
With Reed, Mosley and Coleman, the Spartans should have three solid options at receiver. The departure of Connor Heyward, though, raises some questions at tight end/H-back. Heyward was a great power option who possessed sneaky athleticism for a big guy. He showed that off with a leaping TD vs. Pitt in the Peach Bowl.
Rushing: Nowhere close to 2021
Wisconsin transfer Jalen Berger and Colorado transfer Jarek Broussard appear to be the favorites for the Spartans’ backfield. But don’t forget about Davion Primm, who had an impressive spring and could be a valuable secondary option behind the two assumed workhorses.
Potential can be discussed to no end, but the simple fact remains that MSU has the slimmest of chances of having another Walker-like ball-carrier leading the way this fall — it’ll be nearly impossible to replace the nation’s No. 2 rusher (1,636 yards) who scored 18 touchdowns. Walker’s 2021 exceeded all combined stats from existing Spartans running backs — so let that one marinate in your mind for a second…
Factor in a developing o-line, and MSU has the right recipe for some growing pains once the 2022 season begins.
Special teams: Always solid
Over the past 10 years or so, Michigan State has routinely fielded one of the nation’s top special teams units. Reed showed off speed on returns, scoring a couple touchdowns in the process, and the kicker/punter roles have always been strong for the Spartans. Expect more of the same this year with Bryce Baringer, one of the top punters in the country, headlining special teams in East Lansing. So far, it looks like freshman Jack Stone could be the kicker/FG expert — so there might be a little hiccup with a youngster filling that role, but it shouldn’t be too far of a drop from previous seasons.
Overall: Good but not great
Michigan State probably won’t win 11 games this season. Heck, it probably won’t win 9 or 10. But there could be an argument, at season’s end, for the Spartans being the best 8-win team in the nation, especially if some of those losses are at Michigan and Penn State, or even at home vs. Ohio State. Tough schedules are the norm for Big Ten programs — it won’t be easy this year for MSU, as the Big Ten East again looks to be one of the top divisions in college football.