Michigan State was fortunate to get through the 2021 season with a healthy starting quarterback for all 13 games.
That’s not a knock on the Spartans’ offensive line, it’s just the reality of football. Both O-line coach Chris Kapilovic and offensive coordinator/QB coach Jay Johnson noted MSU’s good fortune this spring.
Head coach Mel Tucker often talks about the importance of preparation, and that’s as true for the Spartans’ eventual backup quarterback as any other position on the team. Behind starter Payton Thorne, Michigan State has three clear options: redshirt sophomore Noah Kim, redshirt freshman Hamp Fay and true freshman Katin Houser.
So, who has the lead among the three for the backup spot?
While Tucker has not come out and announced who the backup is, his starting quarterback may have subtly hinted at who the current leader is for the job.
“I think we’ve got some good quarterbacks,” Thorne said. “I think Noah Kim has really played well from the spring, and it’s been fun playing with him in the summer, getting workouts in and everything. After that, we’ll see who falls after that. I don’t think we have a set depth chart yet. That would be a better question for Coach Johnson then me.”
Admittedly, that’s not a whole lot to go on, but it is interesting that Kim was the first and only quarterback that Thorne mentioned by name when asked about the quarterback room. Also, the fact that Thorne said, “we’ll see who falls after that”, after taking about Kim may be an indicator as well.
Of course, it’s entirely possible that I’m reading too much into what Thorne said. But, Kim being the leader for the backup quarterback position would come as no surprise to me.
After watching Michigan State’s “spring game”, it was pretty clear to me at that time that Kim was the leader of the group, based on the way he threw the football and his chemistry with MSU’s wide receivers.
Here’s what I had to say about the QB competition back in April:
We got to see five quarterbacks make throws during position drills, 7-on-7 drills and scrimmage sessions vs. a live defense. Payton Thorne is the clear starter right now, and based on what I saw, Noah Kim appears to be leading the pack for the backup spot.
Kim impressed me with his arm strength and accuracy, particularly on his deep throws. He had one of the 'highlight plays' of the day on offense, dropping a 45-to-50 yard dime during 7-on-7 drills to a tightly covered Jayden Reed, who made a one-handed grab and fell into the end zone.
Kim also has the advantage of having been in MSU's system longer than fellow backup options Hamp Fay and Katin Houser, and perhaps that's why Kim was able to match Thorne's comfort level during practice — he was relaxed and under control throughout the day.
There's a long way to go between now and September, and Mel Tucker himself said that nothing has been decided about who will back up Thorne, but Kim looks to be in the lead for now.
However, a lot could have changed over the last four months. At 6-foot-4 and 220 pounds, Fay is a big, strong and athletic guy who could bring a new element to the Spartan offense. Houser, meanwhile, was the highest-rated prospect out of high school of Michigan State’s options. The true freshman was ranked No. 213 nationally and the No. 13 QB in his class.
Thorne said that the quarterback room has good chemistry, and each guy is working together to put the Spartans in the best possible position to win, regardless of who ends up taking snaps in games.
“I think we’ve got good quarterbacks and we’ve got good guys, and I think that’s more important than anything,” Thorne said. “In a quarterback room, how do your guys mesh? Because, most places it’s only one guy can play at a time. I know that. You don’t really send out two quarterbacks for one play. At some point, there’s only one guy out there.
“I think we’ve got a group of good people, and guys that I know they know what they’re doing. They’re good mentally, and then you help each other through practice. And then, when the game comes, you help each other with that too, so I think we’ve got a good group and I’m excited about what we’ve got going in the future.”
Michigan State still has nearly three weeks of practice before the season-opener against Western Michigan, so there’s still time for the quarterback situation behind Thorne to work itself out. Regardless of who the backup might be, Tucker is confident in Johnson’s ability to coach the position and he’s been pleased with the overall progress so far.
“Jay Johnson does a really nice job with our quarterbacks,” Tucker said. “He played the position, he’s really good with technique and fundamentals. The guys already have a really good, solid base to improve and that’s what I see from our guys – constant improvement.
“When they improve with the fundamentals and their techniques, and they have a better understanding of the offense, what they’re role is and just have more command and they have more confidence because they have more success on a day-to-day basis.
“They’re just more confident, they have more command, they’re more sound and solid and that leads to more consistency. And, at that position especially, consistency and performance is critically important.”