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Previewing The Enemy: Michigan State Spartans

Welcome to Land-Grant Trophy week.

No. 11 Penn State football (9-2, 6-2 Big Ten) will host Michigan State (5-6, 3-5 Big Ten) for a Senior Day matchup Saturday. The Nittany Lions are seeking that elusive 10th win and a potential New Year’s Six bowl berth.

The Spartans, on the other hand, have fallen from last year’s heights and are now dealing with legal issues amid a tunnel scuffle following their game against Michigan.

Still, Michigan State boasts some impressive players in all three phases of the ball. Before 4 p.m. rolls around on Saturday, let’s see what the Spartans have to offer.

The Team

Michigan State entered 2022 with a No. 15 ranking after an impressive Peach Bowl win last season. But, the Spartans have not appeared in the polls since a week three loss to unranked Washington and have since stalled to a 5-6 record.

Michigan State has conference wins over Wisconsin, Rutgers, and No. 14 Illinois and is fighting for bowl eligibility against Penn State.

Mel Tucker is the head coach and comes to East Lansing from the same job at Colorado. He was briefly the interim head coach of the Jacksonville Jaguars in 2011. The Cleveland, Ohio, native has an 18-13 record as head coach of the Spartans and finished third in the Big Ten last season, boasting an 11-2 record.

Jay Johnson is in his third season as the offensive coordinator after holding the same position under Tucker at Colorado. Quarterback Payton Thorne is third in the Big Ten in total passing yards, but the Spartan offense is eighth overall in scoring offense and 12th in rushing offense.

Defensive coordinator Scottie Hazelton is also in his third year in his role after spending time at Kansas State, Wyoming, USC, and the Jacksonville Jaguars, among other spots. Michigan State is allowing 26.7 points per game, which is 10th in the conference. Its 5.8 points per play are tied with Indiana for worst in the Big Ten.

Offense

Junior Payton Thorne is in his second year as the Spartans’ starting quarterback. His 134.7 passer rating is ninth in the Big Ten and he’s thrown for 18 touchdowns with a 63.4 completion percentage. The Illinois native’s 10 interceptions are tied for second most in the conference.

Thorne’s favorite target through the air has been Keon Coleman, whose 707 yards are fifth best in the Big Ten. His seven touchdowns also pace the team. The 19-year-old sophomore also is a guard for the Spartans’ basketball team but received minimal playing time as a freshman last season.

Michigan State features a one-two punch at wideout as Jayden Reed is right behind Coleman with 600 catches on 49 receptions, which is just one less than the team leader. Reed’s 60 receiving yards per game is good for seventh in the conference. James Franklin said Tuesday that he’s impressed with both wideouts.

Tight end Daniel Barker also stuck out to Penn State on tape. He has 239 receiving yards and two touchdowns on 21 catches this season. His backup, Maliq Carr, has 188 yards of his own through the air. He transferred from Purdue after the 2022 season.

Redshirt sophomore Jalen Berger is the workhorse at running back. He transferred in after spending two years at Wisconsin and was also recruited by Penn State. Berger is averaging 4.7 yards per carry and is up to 669 rushing yards this season, which is good for 14th in the conference.

Jarek Broussard is the No. 2 guy at running back and has 292 yards and three scores this season. He’s new to the program and previously spent four years at Colorado.

Franklin also noted that he’s been impressed with center Nick Samac. The Spartan offensive line has allowed 15 sacks this season, which is tied with Penn State for fourth-best in the Big Ten.

Defense

On defense, redshirt sophomore linebacker Cal Haladay leads the team with 109 total tackles. Franklin said Penn State has a “ton of respect” for him, among some other players on the defense. The Pennsylvania native also has 1.5 sacks, 10.5 tackles for loss, and a forced fumble this season.

Will linebacker Ben VanSumeren isn’t far behind Haladay with 69 tackles in 2022. He also has two sacks and passes defended. UNLV transfer Jacoby Windmon, who plays in a defensive end/sam linebacker combo role, has also impressed Penn State on tape. He paces the team with 5.5 sacks and 10.5 tackles for loss, which is tied with Haladay. He grabbed an interception against Wisconsin, too.

However, Windmon will be unavailable against Penn State after he was indefinitely suspended by the team following a tunnel scuffle in Ann Arbor.

Franklin identified defensive tackle Jacob Slade as a force on the defensive line, but he just has 15 tackles this season. Simeon Barrow leads the line in stops with 36 and has also added three sacks this season. Derrick Harmon also has two sacks and has accrued 26 tackles up front.

Defensive end Avery Dunn rounds out the line and has 27 tackles and two sacks in 2022.

Cornerback Kendell Brooks’s 93 tackles are good for second-most on the Spartans. Brooks, Haladay, and VanSumeren all are top-10 in the conference in tackles per game. Brooks has three passes defended and three forced fumbles this season but is yet to record an interception.

Michigan State has only two interceptions this season, which is last in the Big Ten. Cornerback Charles Brantley has the only one among defensive backs, which he took the other way for six points. Brantley also has a sack, a team-high six passes defended, and 48 total tackles this season

Franklin was impressed on tape by free safety Xavier Henderson, who has 30 tackles and two forced fumbles this season. The fifth-year player leads all active Spartans with 235 tackles.

Angelo Grose and Ameer Speed round out Michigan State’s secondary. Speed’s five passes defended are good for second-best on the team and he has 58 tackles to his name. Grose, a safety, has four passes defended and 53 tackles this season.

Grose is also on indefinite suspension and will not be available.

Special Teams

Sixth-year player Bryce Baringer is the punter and is a semifinalist for the Ray Guy Award. His 48.4 yards per punt lead the nation and Michigan State paces the FBS in net punting.

Ben Patton and Jack Stone have split kicking duties this season but have combined for just five total field goals. They both are 15-for-16 on extra points and Patton holds the team’s longest field goal this season at 48 yards.

Jayden Reed is the returner and has housed two punts in his Michigan State career.

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About the Author

Ryan Parsons

Ryan is a redshirt senior majoring in business and journalism from "Philadelphia" and mostly writes about football nowadays. You can follow him on Twitter @rjparsons9 or say hi via email at [email protected]

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