February 4, 2023


Free Press sportswriter Chris Solari looks back on Michigan State Football’s 35-16 loss at No. 10 Penn State and looks ahead to the Spartans’ offseason (or a possible bowl game).

Chris Solaris three things we learned

Line fights: After two games in which run blocking seemed improved and Payton Thorne didn’t get sacked, the Spartans’ offensive line looked overwhelmed against the Nittany Lions’ wild front seven. The MSU quarterback has been officially rushed six times and forced out of the pocket on several other occasions, being dropped three times. The Spartans finished the game with just 25 rushing yards on 27 carries, including the three sacks that cost MSU 25 yards.

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Depth stretched: Some of those blocking issues came from the absence of three veterans along the offensive line, forcing younger players Brandon Baldwin and Geno VanDeMark to slip into starting roles. Injuries and suspensions decimated MSU’s defensive depth all along the line, and the high school Spartans suffered big hits without safety Jaden Mangham and cornerbacks Charles Brantley and Ronald Williams against Penn State. Those losses gave rookie Dillon Tatum his first start as a cornerback (after starting to safety earlier in the year), and they made for more defensive snaps for rookie Malik Spencer and redshirt rookie Khalil Majeed to safety.

reed, stone away: In the days after the game, wide receiver Jayden Reed announced his intention to sidestep his extra year of NFL draft eligibility, which came as no surprise. Then freshman kicker Jack Stone announced he plans to enter the transfer portal — what was a surprise — after scoring a season-long 51-yard field goal at PSU. Two others who would have expired anyway after this season, tight end Daniel Barker and safety Kendell Brooks, have also announced plans to begin preparing for the NFL Draft.

Three things to see

Bowl unlikely: There’s a tiny chance that MSU could get a bowl call at 5-7, but a lot would have to happen. There are two of 82 spots left in the bowl, and two teams still have a chance to record six wins and qualify — Buffalo (vs. Akron on Friday) and Army (vs. Navy on Dec. 10). New Mexico State, whose game against San Jose State was canceled earlier in the fall, added a 12th game against Valparaiso at FCS levels on Saturday. But the Aggies (5-6) have received an NCAA waiver for playing two FCS opponents, only one of which would count for bowl eligibility to skip other five-win teams. And MSU would also be behind Rice, UNLV and Auburn based on last year’s Academic Progress Report results, and those teams would have to decline a bowl invitation since both UNLV and Auburn would already have fired their coaches. So there’s a 99.9999% chance that MSU’s season will be complete, which would be the Spartans’ third non-bowl spot since 2006 (2016 and 2020).

Signing Day: The next big event on coach Mel Tucker’s calendar is the three-day early signing phase, which begins December 21. Stars. Tucker and his staff need to keep this group together — especially after five players have already unsigned themselves — and try to bring a few others down.

Who is coming back: In addition to Reed and Stone’s departure, several other Spartans face decisions. Some, like Tre Mosley, Jacoby Windmon, and Jacob Slade, are NFL Draft-related. For some, like Stone, it’s about whether a player feels they can play a bigger role at another school and switch. Some may have come from the aftermath of the suspensions of the Michigan Stadium tunnel incident. However, Tucker knows for sure that 11 players will not return because they are ineligible — Barker, Brooks, safety Xavier Henderson, punter Bryce Baringer, cornerbacks Ameer Speed ​​and Ronald Williams, tight ends Tyler Hunt and Powers Warren, and offensive linemen Matt Carrick, Brian Greene, and Jarrett Horst.

Contact Chris Solari: [email protected]. Follow him on Twitter @chrissolari. Read more about the Michigan State Spartans and sign up for our Spartans newsletter.

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