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Michigan State is off to a 2-0 start in the second year of the Mel Tucker era in East Lansing. Two wins matches the amount of wins the team had a year ago, when they went 2-5 in a COVID shortened season.
The best part of MSU’s 2-0 start is that both wins came pretty convincingly and the Spartans dominated both games.
A lot has gone right for the Spartans as they walked into Ryan Field and beat the defending Big Ten West champion Northwestern Wildcats 38-21, and followed it with a 42-14 win over Youngstown State.
We took a look at the film from those two games, and have come away with five big takeaways:
Payton Thorne was the right choice for starting QB
Payton Thorne got the nod over Anthony Russo as the starting quarterback for this season. Russo was presumably the favorite for the position all offseason after transferring from Temple. Thorne, overcoming adversary and winning the competition, brought a nice sense of hope to the position. Thorne is also now proving why he was truly the right choice. Through two games, Thorne is 30/46 passing for 465 yards and 5 TDs while carrying the ball for 47 yards on 8 attempts. Throughout both games, Thorne shows the ability to command the offense, while making plays for himself, as well as others. There is a lot to be excited about when looking at Thorne on film. Thorne is poised for a big year, and a big future as MSU's QB. If there is one critique on him, it is that he needs to sure up his accuracy just a hair.
Connor Heyward is excelling in his position change
There has been a lot of disgruntled Spartan fans over the last few seasons regarding the MSU running backs room, and Heyward was subject to some of that criticism. Mel Tucker and his staff made the decision this season to move Heyward to the tight end/h-back position, and boy has it worked. https://twitter.com/MSUOverAllOfYou/status/1434205003200274435?s=20 Heyward is not afraid to get physical, and it shows with his strong ability to block in the running game, and set the edge, or being used as a pull-blocker. Furthermore, Heyward has always been a plus receiver out of the backfield, and he is translating that skill-set at the TE position, giving MSU a quality receiving option at the position.
Kenneth Walker is really ... really good
It is no secret after Kenneth Walker's 23 carry, 264 yard performance that the Wake Forest transfer was going to be a good player for the Spartans. What we didn't know until looking at the film, is how special of a player he can really be. The combination of vision and ability to make a cutback that Walker possesses, may be the best I have ever seen in a Spartans backfield. https://twitter.com/colton_pouncy/status/1437082063472111616?s=20 Walker's skill set is perfect to pair with the developing O-line at MSU and could be a recipe for a huge season.
Cal Haladay is a force at LB
The waning years of the Mark Dantonio era, more specifically the recruiting aspect of them, has been wildly criticized (and probably rightfully so). A lot of the 2019 and 2020 recruiting classes has transferred out of the program, but the eye for talent Coach Dantonio showed for all of those years still peeks through. Cal Haladay is the prime example of this, as the linebacker who was a member of the 2020 recruiting class has earned a starting role on this defense as a redshirt freshman, and he looks good. https://twitter.com/bigalfredosauce/status/1437557467987288067?s=20 When watching the film of MSU's defense, Haladay is showing signs that we saw from the likes of Joe Bachie, Max Bullough and Greg Jones , and is doing it as a redshirt freshman.
Pass defense needs work
Now, this wouldn't be an honest list without any negatives, and the number one negative is the MSU pass defense is a cause for concern. There are two reasons for this concern:
The natural pass rush is not there
There are no solidified CBs on the roster
First, the pass rush, without blitzing we are not seeing the MSU DEs get home on any 3 or 4 man pressures. Relying solely on blitzing to get pressure on opposing QBs can get the defense in a lot of trouble. The first problem plays into the second problem we see, and that is that there is no CBs on the roster that are top tier star players. MSU doesn't even have one solidified CB yet in the rotation. We have seen 5-6 guys get cycled through the position, and no one has yet to really step up. This weeks test against Miami will be a real tester to see if its panic mode or if we can relax a little bit, when it comes to the MSU pass defense.