Coming out of spring camp, two time team captain QB Payton Thorne was expected to lead the Spartans for a third straight season. In a surprise move, he transferred to Auburn (where he was named the starter) and understudy QB Noah Kim was named starter at Michigan State. Neither offense has been tested much this season, and the Spartans are eager to get revenge after last season’s debacle in Seattle. Against inferior competition, MSU has scored 45 and 31 points and generally have looked solid offensively. PFF ranks them 45th best in the country, ahead of teams like Ohio State and Texas. It’s taken them longer in games to get going than they would like, but the slow starts haven’t stopped them averaging 38 points per game.
In the pass game, it’s been all about the emergence of QB Noah Kim as the replacement for Thorne. With 571 yards and 5 touchdowns, completing 67% of passes with no turnovers, he’s been a steady quarterback capable of leading the offense and hitting big passes. While not as consistently aggressive going downfield as Washington’s offense, his 12.4 yard average depth of target and 10.8 yards per attempt compare very favorably to Michael Penix’s 11 yard ADOT and 10.9 YPA. PFF also attributes 8 “big time throws” to Kim, showing he is capable of making throws that are, well, BIG TIME.
So far he’s been kept clean through savvy pocket presence and an improved offensive line compared to last year. PFF notes he’s been pressured 13 times by defenses this season, but has yet to take a sack, and only officially “scrambled” once. He also has not been hit while throwing a single time.
His main targets are WR Jaron Glover, WR Tre Mosley, and WR Christian Fitzpatrick. Glover is a 6-1 redshirt freshman who had one catch last season, and already has five this season. His best performance was against Central Michigan where he made some big 2nd and 3rd down catches down the stretch. He’s currently leading the team in receiving yards and yards per catch. Second in yards is WR Tre Mosley, an experienced multi-year starter for Michigan State with at least 20+ catches in three seasons. He’s currently leading the team in receptions (8) and tied for the lead in touchdown catches (1). Lastly there is Fitzpatrick, the 6-4 receiver entering his third year in the program. He’s a player many fans have been excited about due to his size and have hoped for a breakout. After four total catches and 20 yards in his first two seasons combined, he’s now got 5 catches and 103 yards on the season. TE Maliq Carr hasn’t seen the ball much this season but is a 6-6 highly athletic prospect who can be dangerous to a defense.
Ultimately this is a Big 10 program with a head coach with an SEC background, so they want their identity to be as a physical running team. In bringing in RB Nathan Carter as a transfer from Connecticut, they have found one of the Big 10’s best running backs. At least through two games against Central Michigan and Richmond, he’s shown power, speed, and vision while gaining 224 (6.1 YPC) yards and scoring 4 touchdowns. He displays all the hallmarks of being a featured running back in a Big 10 offense, and was already a fan favorite in the pre-season with his weight room exploits. RB Jalen Berger is entering his second year in the program after rushing for 600+ yards and 6 touchdowns last season, but has only has 10 rushing attempts this year.
Outside of a rough first quarter in their first game of the season against Central Michigan, and a slow start last week, this offense has started to find a rhythm. Through two games they have wanted to establish the run, with 69 rushes to only 56 passes - with Nathan Carter running the ball there’s good reason. Many fans believe last year’s disappointing season had a lot to do with a decline in the run game and departure of Keneth Walker III to the NFL. With Carter leading the way, and Kim bringing balance with the pass game, there is a hope they found their rushing mojo again. OC Jay Johnson has also never been afraid of running trick plays. Especially with their big OOC opponent coming to town, I would anticipate them trying some crazy things to get the win.
How many points will Michigan State score on Saturday?