Michigan State football: Reassessing the Spartans after a 3-0 start
If Michigan State head coach Mel Tucker’s objective was to move forward and make the Spartans faithful forget about the disappointments of 2020, it worked.
After the Spartans returned to East Lansing from Miami with their 38-17 victory over the Canes, the disappointment of last season is definitely in the rear-view mirror.
The Spartans are now 3-0.
Expectations were low coming into 2021
Coming off a dismal 2-4 season, Tucker hit the transfer portal hard during the offseason, and the Spartans had a host of new faces for this season. But the expectations for the team were low, and concerns over team chemistry loomed.
A Spartans running back hadn’t found the end zone in over a season, and Tucker was looking toward the addition of Wake Forest transfer Kenneth Walker III to provide an answer.
The buzz started on the first play from scrimmage for the Spartans in 2021, when Walker broke a 75-yard touchdown run against Northwestern — he would finish the game with 4 touchdowns and 260 yards.
That started some chatter, but was it a fluke?
From there, the next week was all about quarterback Payton Thorne and the air attack, as the redshirt sophomore led the offense with a 4-touchdown performance against Youngstown State.
The chatter continued, and got a little more intense — and cynical.
Of course, that was a good start, but it WAS just Northwestern and Youngstown State and what will happen when the Spartans square off with a stronger opponent? The tale of the tape would come when Michigan State traveled to South Florida to take on a top-25 opponent, No. 24 Miami.
And the Spartans answered the call.
But this time, it wasn’t just Thorne OR Walker, but Thorne AND Walker who got the job done in Miami. The redshirt sophomore QB threw for 4 touchdowns and 261 yards, and Walker ran for 172 yards on 27 carries and had a receiving touchdown.
Vindication: Victory in Miami
The Spartans iced the game with a 21-point fourth quarter.
Miami QB D’Eriq King would finish 38-of-59 passing — both being Miami school records — for 388 yards. But the Spartans defense forced 4 turnovers at the hands of the Canes’ QB, with King coughing the ball up twice and throwing a pair of interceptions.
The Spartans finished with a slight 454-440 advantage in total offense on the day, with 193 coming from their rushing attack.
But the big key was winning the turnover battle.
Bottom line: The MSU offense is back
Through the first 3 games, Thorne, who was only named the Spartans starter behind center hours before the opener, has thrown for 9 touchdowns and 726 yards, completing 48 of 77 attempts with no interceptions.
Walker, while not having been able to equal his performance against Northwestern, has been equally impressive. The junior has run for 293 yards on 57 carries and 5 touchdowns, along with 3 receptions for 17 yards and a touchdown.
On offense, the Spartans are averaging just over 39 points per game, scoring 38 or more points in all 3 games. The defense has allowed over 20 points just once, and is holding opponents to 17 points per game.
7-1 heading into November?
MSU returns to East Lansing to host Nebraska next Saturday (6 p.m. CT).
From there, the schedule continues to be in the Spartans’ favor through October. Believe it or not, a 7-1 record is certainly possible with the level of football MSU is playing right now — Indiana and Rutgers will present a challenge the next really tough test looks to be Michigan on Oct. 30. The rivalry game might mean more this year than it has in a while.
But for now, the 3-0 start is the first for Michigan State since 2015 – what was it that happened in 2020 again?