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‘Ton of room to improve’ as No. 14 Michigan State faces Akron

Sep 2, 2022; East Lansing, Michigan, USA;  Michigan State Spartans quarterback Payton Thorne (10) throws before a game against Western Michigan University at Spartan Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Dale Young-USA TODAY Sports
Credit: Dale Young-USA TODAY Sports

The Mid-American Conference portion of Michigan State’s 2022 schedule continues Saturday with a home game against Akron.

The 14th-ranked Spartans opened the season on Friday with a spotty 35-13 victory over Western Michigan. Michigan State led 21-3 early in the second quarter, then went scoreless until it clinched the victory with two touchdowns in the last six-plus minutes.

Spartans coach Mel Tucker was unhappy with the lapses.

“We’re just too inconsistent right now with what we’re doing,” he said. “We look really, really good, and sometimes we look really, really bad.”

Quarterback Payton Thorne threw for four touchdowns but was angry at himself for completing only half of his 24 attempts and getting picked off once. Thorne said afterward there was “a ton of room to improve.”

Tucker wasn’t surprised Thorne was hard on himself.

“I thought Payton did some good things in the game,” Tucker said. “It doesn’t surprise me when he comes up here (at the podium) right after the game and says he was disappointed in his performance because he’s a perfectionist. That’s just how he is. It’s never good enough.”

With All-American Kenneth Walker playing these days for the NFL’s Seattle Seahawks, there were questions about the Spartans’ running game. Wisconsin transfer Jalen Berger seized the role of lead back by gaining 120 yards on 16 carries on Friday. Colorado transfer Jarek Broussard added 54 yards on 10 attempts.

“I think you can see both of those guys are capable of carrying the football and being productive,” Tucker said.

A new star emerged on defense, as UNLV transfer Jacoby Windmon was named National Defensive Player of the Week and Big Ten Defensive Player of the Week. The senior defensive end recorded four sacks and forced a fumble.

The Spartans suffered a significant blow as linebacker Darius Snow was declared out for the season after suffering a leg injury. Snow had 81 tackles last season.

Michigan State is heavily favored against the Zips, but Tucker said he doesn’t expect a lack of fire.

“We’re super motivated,” he said. “We have a lot to prove … I would think our fans and students would show up and be ready to go, and I can’t imagine we would need any type of manufactured hype or whatever to get ready to play.”

Akron, which had won a total of three games the previous three seasons, opened the Joe Moorhead coaching era with a 30-23 overtime victory over St. Francis (Pa.) on Thursday. Akron’s DJ Irons threw for 270 yards and two touchdowns.

Moorhead was Oregon’s offensive coordinator the past two seasons. He also was the head coach at Mississippi State before taking over the downtrodden Akron program.

Irons was sacked six times, and the rushing game only averaged 3 yards per carry against a team from the Northeast Conference.

Moorhead said he wasn’t surprised the game was close.

“I was preaching the same message we have since January,” he said. “You can never get too high, you can never get too low (in) anything that happens during the course of the game. And we talked about it in the pre-game. We said: ‘Guys, it’s invariable that there’s going to be adversity in this game.

“I can’t tell when. I can’t tell how much. I can’t tell how long, but we’ve got to recognize it. We’ve got to plan our response, and we’ve got to overcome it.'”

–Field Level Media