If you were to look at Michigan State’s point totals and statistical profile from 2022, you would probably conclude that the offense was the stronger half of the team, and I’m not here to argue with that. Although they were held to 20 points or fewer in five of their seven losses, their efficiency wasn’t awful.
The problem is, a healthy part of the aggregate stats - for example, all 20 points against Ohio State and most of their 28-point total against Washington - didn’t start to make their way onto the scoreboard until the game was already completely out of hand. This was an offense that had a tendency to start very slowly, and paired with a defense that yielded every available yard in multiple first halves, the side of the ball more capable of keeping the team in games really did not do its part, either.
And now, the part of the offense that worked most frequently, the passing game, has to start essentially from scratch. Michigan State knew it would lose WR Jayden Reed after 2022, but probably did not expect multiyear starting QB Payton Thorne or star-in-the-making WR Keon Coleman to be gone as well; that, indeed, is where they find themselves after Auburn and Florida State showed up with shopping lists.
Putting aside the big-picture future-tense questions posed as to how Mel Tucker (or anyone else because lol if you’re not Ohio State, Michigan, or Penn State, this WILL happen to you too) will ever build a nationally competitive program if his most important players get bought off by higher bidders, Michigan State’s 2023 faces a very murky present.
The first shot to succeed Thorne will probably go to Noah Kim, a holdover from the last Mark Dantonio-recruited class (2020). Kim got some limited mop-up snaps last season and acquitted himself just fine, and could remain the starter through 2024 if he takes hold of the job. The only real alternative is redshirt freshman Katin Houser, a ballyhooed recruit who at least has the tools.
At receiver, veteran Tre Mosley presumably moves to the front of the line for targets. Fellow senior Montorie Foster and Nebraska transfer Alante Brown will be in the picture as well, but MSU really needs one of its younger receivers to be ready for a significant role. Any of Tyrell Henry, Jaron Glover or Antonio Gates Jr. would be a welcome new contributor.
The tight end group is Maliq Carr and a boatload of transfers and young players who’ve yet to play much if at all. True freshman Brennan Parachek has the recruiting profile to play early, but the number of transfers the staff brought in suggests they don’t think he or other young guys like Jack Nickel and Michael Masunas are ready yet.
On the offensive line, there will be new starters at left tackle and right guard; the other spots figure to be held down by veterans J.D. Duplain (left guard), Nick Samac (center), and Spencer Brown (right tackle). As I’ve tried to say as gently as possible on many occasions, however, the fact of substantial experience returning on Michigan State’s offensive line has for many years running now not meant that the group would play especially well; it would not be the worst thing in the world if a young player usurps a veteran’s position. At some point, the play of Chris Kapilovic’s position group needs to justify his large salary. Anyway, the frontrunners at those open spots are Brandon Baldwin, who stepped in for flag-prone Jarrett Horst some last season and at least didn’t look out of his depth, and Geno VanDeMark, who also got some fill-in experience last year and would be Tucker’s first high school recruit to get into the starting five.
Finally, we have the running backs, where last year’s group loses Jarek Broussard (NFL) and Eli Collins (Oklahoma State), and adds UConn transfer Nathan Carter, USF transfer Jaren Mangham, and freshman Jaelon Barbarin to a room that still has Jalen Berger and Jordon Simmons (Harold Joiner has evidently moved to safety). If nothing else, there are, uhm, a number of options here.
Taken altogether, it’s very hard to be optimistic about this unit’s ceiling. The known quantities, the ground game, were quite easy to shut down for long stretches last year. Meanwhile, the passing game, while also inconsistent, showed a much higher ceiling that might not manifest itself this season with its three primary pieces gone. And I am absolutely not going to discuss the kicking game, which was so bad last year that it completely changed the team’s offensive approach because no kick was safe.
Even given last year’s hugely disappointing results, Mel Tucker didn’t fire anyone, and no one on the offensive staff left. If there isn’t major progress this season, something’s got to give.