MSU’s first look at higher level athletes produced the kind of challenge you would expect. Nothing looked as easy as it did during the first two weeks, until late, but on a national stage in difficult conditions, Jay Johnson’s Offense produced 454-yards and 38-points. That was quite the statement for this Offense to make on September 18, 2021. That confirms the Offense is well ahead of anyone’s best schedule in hoping to get back to producing at a high level. For the first time since 2014, MSU has scored more than 30-points in its first three games.
The Offensive Line gave up a few sacks early and had to fight for everything they got, but in the end they have a ton to celebrate. Kenneth Walker tore Miami up with 172-yards on the ground, and caught an early Touchdown pass. Connor Heyward stood out in his evolving role, making key blocks, catching passes, and providing visible on-field leadership. And then there’s the Spartans Quarterback, in only his fourth career start, leaving a huge mark on the map in south Florida.
Thorne never seemed to panic in a game that was tighter than the final scoreboard suggests. He made the best of the breaks he got, showed poise when it was needed, and methodically led the Offense through tougher waters than MSU has seen last year at Penn State. When it came time to close the deal for good, Thorne knew exactly where to look.
Long before the big finish, Walker did his best work of the day. After a dangerous Miami drive stalled and ended with a missed UM Field Goal try, Walker led the most important drive of the 1st Half as MSU went 80-yards to take a 10-7 lead. Walker led from the ground and then scored with a 7-yard Touchdown pass after dancing around and through a few Hurricane chasers. If anyone around college football didn’t know about Kenneth Walker before today, they sure know him now.
Thorne threw the pass of the day when he found Jayden Reed for the Touchdown to put MSU up 24-14. On a 3rd Down when everyone watching knew MSU had to throw it, Thorne zipped one on the spot to Jayden Reed for the big score, and Spartan Nation’s Florida contingent went nuts. When Thorne finished things off for good with the 39-yarder to Jalen Nailor, his fourth Touchdown pass of the day, you could feel a momentum and energy around Spartan Nation that has not been around for years. It’s really just getting started around Mel Tucker’s Spartan Nation, and the Offense is now leading form the front.
Miami brought tempo early and often, but D’Eriq King could not physically handle the Spartans persistent attack. The Defense had many more looks at sacking King than they ended up with, but they got to King when it mattered most as MSU dominated Miami 21-3 in the pivotal 4th Quarter. The Defense didn’t score, but they were the difference in the final 15:00 of play.
King is as experienced a Quarterback as Michigan State could ever face and he did a fine job of taking what the Spartan Defense gave him in throwing for 388-yards and 2-Touchdowns. But King turned the ball over twice by air, and coughed it up on the single biggest play of the game today. On the snap immediately after Florida native Charles Brantley was tossed out for Targeting, at the start of the 4th Quarter, the game flipped to MSU for good. After the Targeting Time Out, Drew Beesley came flying off the edge and popped the ball loose before King could throw it. Complimenting the forced fumble, Jacub Panasiuk got on the ground and secured the ball to give MSU the momentum boost to finish big.
The Defense did a pretty good job of bending but not breaking overall. They may have given up 440-yards but MSU held another opponent under 21-points, and won the turnover battle a remarkable four-nil. They did a decent job of getting pressure on King all day, but did not quite get home before the final minutes as much as Mel Tucker and staff would like. MSU gave Miami a lot of space off the line of scrimmage most of the day, which Miami took decent advantage of, but when the rubber hit the road the Defense won the most important plays of the game and outlasted the acclimatized and tempo fueled Hurricanes. This was the play Spartan Defenses will point back to and gain energy from for many years to come.
For the third week in a row Spartan Special Teams downed a Punt inside the 5-yard line. Bryce Baringer is making a difference for Spartan Football so far. His kicks meant more when the game was in the balance, and it is pretty clear that this unit has something going when it comes to punting the ball.
That was not a good miss from Matt Coghlin in the 2nd Quarter. A 6th year Kicker from the left-hash knows the value of his alignment. Coghlin looked lined up to the right before the ball was snapped, and missed the kick not too far off the right post. That didn’t cost MSU in the end but it is the kind of kick Coghlin needs to make as daylight saving time ends and Big Ten games come into larger focus.
This unit’s biggest mistake of the day came at the 12:01 mark of the 3rd Quarter. After the Defense forced a Miami Punt, Maliq Carr came in too hot trying to block the Punt, didn’t get a piece of the ball, and crashed hard into the Punter. That revived the Miami drive and stalled MSU’s rising momentum at that time. As we’ve discussed in past weeks, it’s more often the big Special Teams mistake that costs teams than anything else.
The Spartans stamina looked good through the 1st Half of the late summer Miami sun. Thankfully, clouds set in for most of the 2nd Half, and MSU had plenty of juice to finish. The tough weather conditions probably showed up more in mental errors than physical exhaustion, which is exactly what MSU hoped for. You can’t win the 4th Quarter 21-3 with cramps, sucking hard for air, or lacking the kind of blocking and tackling strength needed. Miami did not make that easy. Their fast-tempo Offense put MSU on its heels at times and tested the Spartans conditioning in full.
There really is no magic trick to condition a football team for conditions that extreme. There’s a real advantage for a team living and practicing in that environment. Turning the heat on, cutting off the air conditioning, arriving a day early, all of those things might help a little bit, but none of them truly level the playing in those game conditions.
There were sloppy points of this game, penalties on both sides, mental mistakes, but that’s what happens when you play a late summer game at Miami. Credit the extensive work the Spartans did in raising the level strength and conditioning to wear Miami down at home and close it out in the 4th Quarter. Not only did MSU win the Turnover Margin by four, they went five for five in the red zone. Those numbers best explain the notch Mel Tucker just added to his “Wins Over Top 25 Team” belt that is now well under construction.
Spartan Nation could be heard early and often in Miami today. That’s not exactly a short trip from East Lansing, and their loud support helped confirm that this program’s reboot is well on its way. Michigan State Football was off the main stage of the sport for a long time after Nick Saban left. It took Mark Dantonio many hard years to put Spartan Football back on the national map. And though the final years of the Dantonio era were lean, Spartan Football didn’t go too far away. Spartan Nation showed up too in Miami today, and sent their own message around the Big Ten and beyond that Michigan State Football still has a very healthy national following.
The bold 38-17 win at Miami was not only a statement for Mel Tucker’s Spartans, it was a loud roar from a wide and vast Spartan Nation that is ready for Michigan State Football to get back in the national spotlight again.