Week 3 scouting report: Michigan State

An inconsistent run game has forced the Spartans to rely on a pass-heavy offense.



Michigan State University head football coach Mel Tucker speaks at his first press conference as MSU’s head coach at the Breslin Student Events Center on Wednesday, Feb. 12, 2020. (Neil Blake/MLive)

Austin Hanson, Sports Editor

Through two games, Michigan State has been one thing – inconsistent.

The Spartans opened the season with a 38-27 home loss to the now 1-1 Rutgers Scarlet Knights. They followed that performance with a 27-24 win over No. 13 Michigan on the road in Ann Arbor.

Against Rutgers, Michigan State rushed for just 50 yards. The Spartans went on to gash the Wolverines for 126 yards on the ground the following week. Thus far, Michigan State has fully embraced a running-back-by-committee mentality. In just two games, seven Spartan ball-carriers have seen action – four of which have been running backs.

The most heralded of the bunch is sophomore Elijah Collins. The Detroit native rushed for nearly 1,000 yards in 2019-20, missing just one game on the season.

However, Collins has not found the same degree of success in 2020-21 – mainly because he isn’t getting a great deal of touches. Collins played just one series against Michigan, netting no yards on his only carry. In the prior week, Collins averaged less than a yard per carry – racking up eight yards on nine touches.

True freshman Jordon Simmons has taken the majority of the Spartans’ touches out of the backfield. Through two weeks, Simmons has carried the ball 28 times for 98 yards.

Junior Connor Heyward and sophomore Brandon Wright have also seen action in the backfield.

Junior quarterback Rocky Lombardi has demonstrated an ability to run a little too – carrying the ball 12 times for 43 yards.

Wide receivers Jayden Reed and Jalen Nailor have also gotten backfield touches.

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Michigan State has not scored a rushing touchdown this season.

An inconsistent run game has forced the Spartans to rely on their passing attack – which has been solid.

Lombardi has thrown for nearly 700 yards and six touchdowns this season. The Clive, Iowa, native’s only blemishes are two interceptions in his season-opener. Lombardi’s efforts have helped Michigan State’s receivers put up some stellar numbers.

Reed caught 11 passes for 128 yards and two touchdowns in Piscataway, New Jersey, Week 1. In that same game, Nailor hauled in six passes for 84 yards and a touchdown. The following week, true freshman Ricky White corralled eight passes for 196 yards and a touchdown. White’s performance earned him Big Ten Co-Freshman of the week honors.

On the other side of the ball, the Spartans’ front seven has proven sturdy. Michigan State has recorded 17 tackles for loss this season.

Linebackers Antjuan Simmons and Noah Harvey have been the Spartans’ most prominent run-stoppers. The pair has combined for 5.5 tackles for loss this season.

The Spartans have also recorded three sacks this year.

Coaching across from Hawkeye head coach Kirk Ferentz – the longest tenured active head coach in college football – will be Mel Tucker. Tucker was named head coach of the Spartans this offseason after 12-year coach Mark Dantonio retired Feb. 4.

Prior to his arrival at Michigan State, Tucker was head coach of the Colorado Buffaloes. Tucker coached the Buffaloes to a 5-7 overall record during his one-year tenure in Boulder. Tucker is now 6-8 as a head coach.