Did you know Payton Thorne and Jayden Reed played high school football together? That question was echoed many times throughout Spartan Stadium Saturday afternoon. Especially after the first offensive play of the game when the QB-WR duo connected on a 75-yard touchdown. The throw was not only perfectly placed by Thorne, but came after getting a toss back from Kenneth Walker lll in the form of a flea flicker. It was the first of a career high four touchdowns for the quarterback.
Much can be said about Youngstown State and their level of play, but a win is a win. Michigan State is 2-0, already having matched their win total from 2020, and a third of the way to securing a birth in a bowl game. “The opponent may change, but the standard doesn’t” said Head Coach Mel Tucker postgame. The Spartans did not take their opponent lightly, and they certainly won’t next week when they travel down south to face the Miami Hurricanes.
Running Backs Run Wild
All eyes were on junior transfer Kenneth Walker lll as he entered the game as the reigning Big Ten offensive player of the week. One of the Spartans six total touchdowns was courtesy of Walker, and he also contributed 57 yards rushing. He didn’t put up the numbers he did against Northwestern, but cutbacks, broken tackles, and hard running were all on full display from MSU’s lead back.
However, sophomore Jordan Simmons stole the show on Saturday carrying the ball 16 times for 121 yards. Simmons was the catalyst of the offense. Every time he touched the ball it was hard for the defense to bring him down. His 7.6 yards per carry was not only efficient, but hard-earned. Spartan fans have to be pleased to see the offense that struggled to carry the rock last season, have two athletic assets coming out of the backfield this year.
It’s the aggregation of marginal gains. Every player getting a little bit better, everyday. When you add that up, your team will get better.”Head Coach Mel Tucker on Improving His Team Week-to-Week
It was a shame that they couldn’t of made it three though. Michigan State’s coaching staff let Elijah Collins see the field for the first time after riding the bench last week in Evanston. The junior running back was given the ball on four straight plays during a drive in the second quarter. Three impressive runs and a 20-yard screen pass for a TD put the Spartans up 28-0. However, Collins limped off the field after the score and was seen with a walking boot on his right foot in the second half. Coach Mel Tucker had no update on his player during his press conference.
No More Quarterback Competition?
Being that he is the quarterback, everyone watching was able to see the solid game put together by Payton Thorne. September 3rd at Northwestern, he only completed 15 passes, just enough to get the job done. On Saturday, Thorne also had 15 completions, but it was the way he made them, that made the difference for the Spartans. Nothing was forced from the red-shirt sophomore. His deep ball was on point, not just on the flea flicker to Reed. The run-pass option was executed perfectly as well. One of them allowed Thorne to scamper into the end zone, late in the first quarter.
Anthony Russo ended up replacing Payton Thorne in the second half when the win was pretty much secured. Although Russo played okay, the offense was firing on all cylinders with their starting QB. As a result, MSU’s offense put up 500 total yards in back-to-back games to start the 2021 campaign.
It also helped that offensive coordinator Jay Johnson was very creative with his play calling. On a scoring drive in the second quarter, the offense ran a jet sweep, bootleg play-action, and run-pass option on three consecutive plays. None the less, Michigan State should be satisfied not only with the way Thorne performed against YSU, but also with him being the starter going forward.
Next weekend, Michigan State travels to Hard Rock Stadium to take on the Miami Hurricanes. This win over Youngstown State serves as a dress rehearsal for their toughest opponent thus far. “We are a desperate football team that is hungry to get better” said Mel Tucker postgame. Let’s hope that hunger and the momentum from Saturday’s win, continue next weekend.
Follow Alex Mayer on Twitter; @almay_99