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Opponent Offense Preview: Michigan State Spartans

A record setting QB and deep group of skill position players march into Husky Stadium on Saturday.

Akron v Michigan State Photo by Nic Antaya/Getty Images

Last season, QB Payton Thorne broke the Michigan State season passing touchdown record with 27, breaking the previous record of 25 set by Kirk Cousins. The expectation was that he would build on that performance, and combined with a deep wide receiver corps, the Spartan offense would improve upon 31.8 points per game. So far, Thorne has been underwhelming, despite leading the offense in two blowouts.

Let’s see how this Michigan State offense plays and how they match up against Washington.

The Players

So, is QB Payton Thorne good? I assure you that not even Michigan State fans can answer that question. The Spartans have scored 87 points in their first two games, with Thorne throwing 4 touchdowns, though all in the first game. Even while blasting Akron 52-0, he threw two picks and zero touchdowns, and the offense was set up by the defense all game to capitalize on short fields and turnovers. After concluding last season with a solid 60% pass completion rate, his accuracy has dropped this year, displaying some sloppy fundamentals and missing open receivers. So far this year he has a 58 pass grade and 72 run grade from PFF.

At his best, he’s a leader who shows great command of the offense and can distribute to his weapons. He doesn’t have a huge arm but last season showed an ability to hit the deep ball. He’s also got some mobility and has been sacked only two times this year. Part of the reason for his struggles could be that Michigan State is trying to hit on more explosive plays, forcing more low percentage deep throws. But no matter how he plays the rest of the season, he’ll have a talented wide receiver group help him.

Akron v Michigan State
WR Jayden Reed is Michigan State’s best weapon on offense, and his health is in question for Saturday.
Photo by Nic Antaya/Getty Images

Headlining this group is WR Jayden Reed, a 6-0 185 pound senior. It should be noted it’s up in the air whether or not he plays this weekend due to injury. When he does play, he’s an explosive threat in pass game and special teams. He’s got fast feet and short area quickness, and can line up outside or in the slot. Perhaps his best asset is his competitiveness and ability to make contested catches. Despite leading the team in receptions with 8, he’s actually been outshined so far this year by his teammate, WR Keon Coleman.

Coleman is a lanky 6-4 playmaker who has been a pleasant surprise for the Spartans. He’s got 6 catches for 120 yards and a touchdown, while Reed has 107 yards and no touchdowns. He’s the other deep threat on offense. The experienced WR Tre Mosley rounds out the group and so far leads the team in receiving touchdowns, with two. It is also worth pointing out former long-time Husky commit WR Germie Bernard is having a nice start to his Michigan State career, with 73 yards and a touchdown. TE Maliq Carr is an intriguing player, too. He hasn’t put up many stats this season, but is a highly athletic 6-5 pass catcher who is a classic matchup nightmare. Any game could be his breakout.

Running the ball will be the tandem of RBs Jarek Broussard and Jalen Berger, who combined have 362 yards and 6 touchdowns on the season. Berger is the headliner, and the Wisconsin transfer has added more explosion to his game. For the Badgers, he was a typical Wisconsin running back: physical and ruthlessly efficient. This year, he’s averaging nearly 7 yards a carry and finding himself in the second level more than expected. Broussard is much smaller at 5-9 and is a shifty runner with burst in short areas. While he doesn’t possess the top end speed, he’s significantly more physical than most tailbacks his size and has nice hands catching passes out of the backfield.

COLLEGE FOOTBALL: SEP 10 Akron at Michigan State Photo by Adam Ruff/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

The Scheme

Like pretty much every college team, you’ll see a healthy dose of the pistol formation. Even with the eyeballs on Thorne going into the year, this has been a run first team through two games. They are top-35 in both the percentage of their yards they get from running plays, and percentage of total plays that are runs (57% run rate). Washington, meanwhile, has run it 43% of the time. Head coach Mel Tucker has a defensive background, and wants his offense to be physical and to pound the football, while taking calculated deep shots. Despite how conservative that sounds, they scored 4 passing touchdowns last year on flea flickers so they aren’t afraid to mix it up.

The End

Much like Washington, Michigan State is looking at this game as their first real test. Keen observers of the Spartans this season will tell you that almost all of Thorne’s bad throws were to receivers not named Jayden Reed. He’s Thorne’s favorite target and his health will play a big part in whether Thorne finds his rhythm in this pass game.

Mel Tucker will get his team to play hard, and they won’t be afraid of the moment or atmosphere. This is a team that beat playoff-bound Michigan on the road last season, as well as Penn State. Even with their offensive struggles, they have scored points and executed when needed.

Poll

How many points will Michigan State score?

This poll is closed

  • 2%
    0
    (12 votes)
  • 0%
    1-7
    (1 vote)
  • 2%
    8-14
    (15 votes)
  • 20%
    15-21
    (117 votes)
  • 46%
    22-28
    (264 votes)
  • 18%
    29-35
    (106 votes)
  • 8%
    35 or more
    (48 votes)
563 votes total Vote Now