Spartan Football Essentials: Roughing Out Another “W” at Rutgers

Spartans Sloppy From the Start, But Flash Enough Big Plays to Outlast Rutgers 31-13.
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Offense

This unit started off sluggish but opened things up by air in a hurry. Payton Thorne continued to progress in his seventh career start by putting up 295-yards and 3 Touchdowns in the 1st Half. The ending of the 2nd Quarter got a bit ugly as MSU stumbled all over and left points out on the field. But on the backs of Thorne’s deep balls, MSU built their 21-13 lead. Thorne kept the Offense pretty steady on a pretty unsettled day, finishing with 339-yards and continuing to put the Big Ten on notice the Spartans have a solid Quarterback under center that’s gaining confidence each week.

The Offense looked a little too run-happy before the passing game opened things up. Rutgers knew MSU wanted to run Kenneth Walker, and seemed committed to keeping him from breaking loose, but that only worked for so long. Walker’s 94-yard Touchdown run in the 3rd Quarter wasn’t just the longest run in Spartan Football history, it was the longest play from scrimmage ever in Green and White. Has any player in Spartan Football history left such a bold mark in only six games?

Speedy Nailor was probably the breakout star of this historic day for Spartan stats. For those in Spartan Nation that thought last week was a big one, his highlight reel exploded in the 1st Half today. Nailor’s 208-yards and 3 Touchdowns set records that might stick around a while, and his breakaway NFL speed left little doubt that Rutgers, and likely few others, have a good answer for Nailor’s top speed. The Speedy one finished with 221-yards for the day and put the entire Big Ten on notice that MSU has two elite Wide Outs to defend.

The Offense left points on the field but still scored more than 30-points today. The 588-yards of Offense for the day, with records all around, confirm that the Spartan Offense is really nothing like we’ve seen at MSU in a pretty long time.

Defense

This unit was strained in the 1st Half to bend but don’t break, and did just that when MSU needed them most. The Defense held Rutgers to only Field Goals in the 2nd Quarter when they were put some tough spots. Some of that was on their teammates some by a couple of questionable penalties. But that stretch of grit from the Defense was enough to solidify the one-score Halftime lead.

The 2nd Half was a lot like the first in that more was asked of the Defense than anyone would’ve liked. Scottie Hazleton’s group stood up to the challenge again. MSU shut Rutgers out in the 2nd Half to help close the deal. This game may be remembered for its unique mix of sloppy and explosive plays but the Spartan Defense was the glue that held it all together.

We saw once again a number of different players getting quality reps and building real confidence. So many in MSU’s Defense are still new to the scheme, to team, and still really new to playing together. Their 4th Down stand when Rutgers had to have a Touchdown was one of the plays of the day, and their response after the 4th Quarter turnover was just what the doctor called for to close it out. This unit made a difference today and they appear to be gaining some ground in real time.

Special Teams

There’s no question this unit struggled today. From top to bottom, it was not very good. From the bizarre fake Field Goal decision early to the incredible kind of fake MSU called, that was one of the all time and ill timed clunker trick plays in Spartan Football history. There was more head scratching during Special Teams plays today than the entire season so far.

It’s not clear what MSU was trying to accomplish that first Field Goal try of the day. What should have been a typical 43-yard try for Matt Coghlin turned into a slowly developing trick that was far from a spooky season treat. The idea that Punter Bryce Baringer could run 6-yards in a naked bootleg was failed from the start, and backfired pretty hard. MSU’s clock mismanagement at the end of the 1st Half caused confusion, disruption, and ultimately a badly duck-hooked kick from Coghlin as the Half ended.

With multiple choices for a Special Teams low point of the day, MSU’s Punt debacle (multiple penalties and then a kick out of bounds) in the 3rd Quarter confirmed it was not just a 1st Half thing. Spartan Special Teams was easily the sloppiest unit of the day. Spartan Nation saw a pretty stark contrast from what’s been a fine first half of 2021. They have some work to do at leaves peak in Big Ten country, but they have plenty to build on from the Spartans first six-wins.

Intangibles

MSU lit the spark for Rutgers today. The combination of the low percentage Field Goal fake and the 3rd & 18 conversion at the start of the game seemed to give Rutgers their first sip of belief. MSU’s sloppy 1st Half ending came just in time for Greg Schiano to then rush off the field to deliver a Halftime reminder speech. Schiano had more than enough 1st Half content to convince his Scarlet Knights that they were not only still in the game, they could actually come back and win it.

Ultimately, MSU’s strength, speed, and talent carried the day, but this game never should’ve been that close. The issues that made MSU made a mess of today start with Mel Tucker and staff. They did more to let Rutgers hang around than any player or unit. It wasn’t a matter of MSU players failing to execute, it was a lack of organization and preparation that cost them a clean game. A more talented team would’ve made the Spartans sweat for all 60-minutes, and easily even stolen the win. Michigan State Football did not look sharp or prepared as well as they could have been today. Let’s see how the coaching staff and team leaders tighten things up next week. Indiana is no pushover.

Extra Points

This has not been the first-half of 2021 anyone expected for Spartan Football. For a program that slid back sharply over the prior five seasons, Michigan State Football now back on the national scene. Spartan Football will be ranked inside the Top 10 next week and is back on track to play for championships down the stretch. Not even the strongest sunshine blower in Green and White could have painted that kind of landscape through six-games of 2021. What an incredible run Mel Tucker and Spartan Football are on right now.