Michigan State Football had their annual spring game this past Saturday. Almost 15,000 fans entered Spartan Stadium to watch players run drills, get some reps in situational plays, and watched less than an hour of scrimmaging. This wasn’t full on contact team scrimmaging, but still an opportunity for players to get reps and try and earn a roster spot.
Spring Game Takeaways
Some takeaways from the spring game include what appears to be open roster competitions for the quarterback and running back positions. Mel Tucker had previously announced a quarterback competition for the starting spot. Michigan State has returning starting quarterback of the past two seasons, Payton Thorne, and Noah Kim, the redshirt junior who will give Thorne a good fight for the starting role.
In the spring game, Kim showed some real sparks of athleticism. Noah Kim showcased his quick feet and ability to move around in the pocket and improvise and a quick release with quite a bit of velocity on some of his throws. He did make some inaccurate throws but also threw a couple right on the money deep down the field. One of which was dropped and the other was the highlight of the scrimmage, a deep throw to Antonio Gates Jr for a score.
For Payton Thorne, he played well in the scrimmage. He seemed composed and was accurate on his throws. Thorne also was able to showcase his running ability, rushing in for a score. Would he have been tackled short of the goal line in a live action game is up for debate.
Thorne also revealed in an interview that last season he had played through multiple injuries, a probable leading factor as to why his statistics dipped last year. Thorne said he suffered an injury, “the second drive of the third quarter of the Western Michigan game.” Which was early in the season, so for the entirety of the season he was playing through injuries. He was somewhat vague regarding the specifics of the injuries but did say that there was a tear in his lower body and later in the season he suffered an upper-body injury.
The running back starting position is also in competition between last year’s starter Jalen Berger and transfer Nate Carter. Berger led the Spartans rushing attack last season with 683 yards, averaging 4.6 yards per carry, and 6 touchdowns. This is Carter’s first season with the Spartans. He transfers from Connecticut where last season before his shoulder injury he rushed for 405 yards and averaged 6.2 yards per carry in 4 games. Fans hope the Spartans can re-establish their ground attack to open up their passing where Michigan State found such success in 2021.
As a Michigan State fan, I’ve been with the team through its ups and downs. I was in Spartan Stadium for the Notre Dame fake field goal and the last second hail mary touchdown against Wisconsin, these were exciting times. Fast forward a few years, Connor Cook’s days were over, quarterbacks Brian Lewerke and Rocky Lombardi’s era had come and gone, Mark Dantonio quietly resigned as head coach and Spartan fans wondered if their team could ever regain the glory of the early 2010’s.
Coaching Changes and Beyond
After Dantonio left, Michigan State hired head coach Mel Tucker who signed a six-year $33 million contact. Then covid happened and the whole 2020 season is a mess for everyone. MSU did beat Michigan during the covid shortened 2020 season which made up for the disappointing overall 2-5 record. Then in 2021 Michigan State struck gold with running back Kenneth Walker and fans faith was restored.
During the 2021 Peach Bowl I was at a wedding. Not only at the wedding, but I also officiated the wedding for a friend of mine. After crushing the officiating responsibilities, giving a lovely introduction which left some in attendance in tears at the beauty of the moment, then after the I do’s I returned to the bar area where a massive TV was showing the Peach Bowl. For the following few hours I was glued to the TV watching MSU battle Pittsburgh while a wedding party celebrated behind me. As much as I wanted to celebrate my friend getting married, this was MSU football and I hoped he would understand (he didn’t).
After the success of the 2021 season fans were hopeful for the upcoming season. The following 2022 season to be kind was frustrating, disappointing, and sad to watch as a fan. After seeing the high of the 2021 season and then having to sit through the 2022 season I walked away feeling like Brando in The Godfather, “Look how they massacred my boy.”
In Need of Revamping in 2023
Michigan State is in dire need of a revamped 2023 season. Questions heading into the season include the security of Mel Tucker’s job as head coach, if our defense will improve to at least average, if Keon Coleman can improve and step into a WR1 role in place of Jayden Reed, and if Payton Thorne can stay healthy.
After the fantastic 2021 season, Mel Tucker was given a 10-year $95 million contract extension. Fans and media members questioned the decision after 1 good season but remained hopeful that it’d be worth it. Then the fantastic 2021 season was lead to the disastrous 5-7 2022 season. His job may be in jeopardy if 2023 is a repeat of 2022.
One of if not the major problem for MSU over the past few years has been its defense. Last year MSU ranked 101/131 in YPG allowed with 416.5, tied for 97th in turnover margin, rushing defense ranked 102nd, passing yards allowed ranked 87th, and our defense ranked 125th in passing efficiency allowed. These are terrible defensive rankings and MSU has decided to stay with defensive coordinator Scottie Hazelton. Hazelton and Tucker both have a lot to prove this season.
Keon Coleman: Something to Prove
Another member of the Spartans that has something to prove this season is WR Keon Coleman. With the departure of Jayden Reed, Coleman has the opportunity to improve on his successful 2022 season. Last year Coleman led MSU with 58 receptions, 798 yards receiving, and 7 touchdown catches. Coleman is a big body receiver at 6’4, 215 lbs. With one of Payton Thorne’s favorite targets gone (Reed), Coleman could have a breakout season to become one of the best WR’s in the Big Ten if not the country.
If Payton Thorne wins the quarterback competition and remains the Spartans starting QB, after his recent interview, fans now must worry if he can stay healthy. If he can, I look for him to have a monster year throwing to Keon Coleman, Tre Mosley, Montorie Foster Jr, Antonio Gates Jr, and Maliq Carr to name a few key receiving targets for Thorne.
I look for MSU to have a bounce back season with a winning record even with the 2nd toughest schedule in the country. If the 2023 season is a repeat of last season, if we can beat Michigan, at least we’ll have a year of bragging rights.
Article written by Woodward Sports guest writer, David Goward
Photo Credit: © Dale Young-USA TODAY Sports
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