Spartan Essentials: Michigan State dominates Pittsburgh at Peach Bowl

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Offense

The offense started quickly, moving the ball and scoring on the first two shots, but then stalled for more than two quarters. Pitt did a good job stopping the MSU game and the Spartans did a good job stopping during that streak. Frustration escalated as MSU didn’t execute the ball well, didn’t catch the ball often enough and got in its own way with penalty flags blocking the player. He snowballed to leave a big hole in the middle part of the Peach Bowl.

At the end of the 2nd quarter, it looked like the Spartans had a chance to come out. The Spartans led, MSU recovered the ball after half-time, and things looked good for the pivot ‘mid-eight’ after Atlanta native Jordon Simmons converted a 3rd run to place MSU inside the squad. Pitt’s 30-yard line. Then things took a turn for the worse for Payton Thorne. His first pass down was picked up at Pitt 13 by Brandon Hill, and the Panthers seized the momentum of the game with a rush of 87 yards to go up 14-10.

Only out of halftime on the third game, Thorne and the MSU offense hit rock bottom. Thorne tried to scramble for what he could under pressure, but the ball came out and into the hands of Cam Bright, who took it 26 yards in the other direction to put Pitt comfortably in place and in control, 21-10. What seemed like a great opportunity for the Spartans to regain control through the mid-eight turned into a Panther explosion that pushed MSU deep into its heels, and out of place for any further error.

Thorne was out of sync. Some of his passes were out of rhythm, others faltered and others were completely abandoned. Life wasn’t easy on the offense without award-winning Doak Walker Kenneth Walker, III, but luckily they still had the 4th quarter to go and a trendy defense that allowed them to get the ball back to start the games. last fifteen.

The Spartan offense wasn’t perfect in the last quarter, but they were close to it and did their best when it was needed most. Thorne was 8 for 10 on the 70-yard run that reduced the lead to 21-16, but MSU got in its own way one last time with a false start on the 2-point try. These yards could not be caught on the longer conversion test. It seemed to turn Thorne’s fire into full swing, and at the same time began the Panthers’ process of feeling the game start to slip away.

The offense recovered the ball with 5:32 left and it was up to Thorne to go grab the peach. After a clever grab and lunge from Maliq Carr on the 3rd and 10th, MSU was in Pitt territory. The 2nd and the 10th on the 36th, the biggest controversy of the match broke out. Jalen Nailor had a good position on the Pitt defender coming down the MSU sideline when contact and interference appeared to come as the ball approached, but no flag was thrown and the ball bounced out of bounds. Mel Tucker was right there, as was the host of screaming, loud and angry Spartan fans at the non-appealing air of criticism. Tucker’s conversation with officials was measured and rescheduled within the timeout Pitt called out, and even sought to continue after that ride was over. But this journey was not yet finished.

Out of the time out on the 3rd and 10th the Spartans knew what they had to do and Nailor bounced back with one of the all-time cathces in MSU Bowl history. The high-light grab put the ball to the Pitt 22, with a hastily shaded green swing. So many members of the vast Spartan nation knew the ball was probably going next, and for perhaps the last time at MSU, Thorne to Reed was real magic again.

Thorne saw Jayden Reed field one-on-one, set him up for Reed to pick him up, and the offensive MVP of the Peach Bowl was decided in the same corner as Reed’s first touchdown, putting the Spartans back in the lead, 22-21. This time around, the 2-point conversion went off without a hitch as Thorne quickly found Nailor to put Michigan State in the lead 24-21. After the tough stretch that followed the game’s first practice, Thorne matured on time as Georgia’s sweetest peach.

The Spartans ended up throwing it 50 times, spreading the ball across eight different receivers and getting big plays from Reed, Nailor, Keon Coleman (did you see his back flips after the game?), Carr and Connor Heyward, from the Atlanta area, whose versatility and courage started the Q4 score for MSU. Most predictors thought this game would come down to MSU’s ability to move the ball through the air, with the nearly impossible task of replacing Kenneth Walker. While that looked bad enough for most of the 2021 Chick-Fil-A Peach Bowl, the Spartan offense was nearly perfect when they needed it most.

Defense

The MSU defense couldn’t know what to expect with Panthers quarterback Nick Patti replacing All-American and Johnny Unitas Award winner Kenny Pickett who chose to save himself for the draft. NFL. Unfortunately for Pitt, Patti didn’t last long, breaking her collarbone during an inspired lunge for the pylon while scoring Pitt’s first touchdown of the day.

The Panthers had to go one step further and call in big sophomore Davis Beville for the remaining 47:33. It added more stress to Pitt’s running game and gave the Spartan defense a clearer idea of ​​what needed to be done from there. Once again, the Spartans held an opponent to 21 points or less. Michigan State finished the 2021 season 11-2, and opponents have been limited to under three points (24 points or less) eight times. Say what you want about that defense in 2021, but also bring out that hard statistic when you do. He’s in ink for good. You can also mention that Defense came off the field in 10 of the 12 Pitt 3rd Downs of the Peach Bowl 2021.

To Pitt’s credit, they fought hard to produce a solid running effort. Pitt ran for 134 positive yards (taking -30 for sacks) as everyone watching knew they had to run well. But the Spartan defense also knew they could start to change the game if they kept the Panthers out of the end zone in the 2nd half. The only Pitt Touchdown in the 31:02 final came less than a minute into the 3rd quarter after Thorne fumbled and Pitt’s Cam Bright got bailed and scored. The defense locked on Pitt’s offense the rest of the way, keeping the Spartans on hand.

As the Spartan offense began to shift, the bigger problem for Pitt seemed more likely to become the deciding factor. There’s only a limited number of practice reps your third-string quarterback can get in a season, let alone before he can jump into a New Years Six Bowl against an opponent. ranked 10th. The Spartan defense sent Pitt’s offense off the field in four shots throughout the 2nd half until the last practice of the game, when Beville impressively converted a 4th and 8 of his own 21. Beville then hit on three passes in a row, and suddenly the Panthers were at MSU 26 looking good for at least a chance to equalize. It also seemed like a good time for Mel Tucker to pass one of his three timeouts, but neither he nor Scottie Hazelton’s coordinated defense ever hinted at a thrill.

The final fireworks display exploded during this 1st Down of MSU 26 when linebacker Cal Haladay, originally from eastern Pennsylvania and a true throwback, closed the night. The Spartans’ most cunning and arguably most instinctive defender kidnapped Beville, sidestepped the idea of ​​kneeling and tested his legs near the sideline 78 yards to send the Spartan nation into a final frenzy. Haladay’s six pick was a shocking dagger that left the Panthers just 22 seconds on the clock. They haven’t recovered.

Pitt was in such a bad mood that they completely botched the final kickoff and MSU pounced on it at Panther-22. It was all down to Haladay’s return and the Spartan defense’s good work down the home stretch. Haladay’s effort is considered one of the biggest games of an MSU defender in modern Spartan history. The Red-Shirt Freshman picked up the ball, took the Peach Bowl for good and won defensive MVP honors at the same time. For a unit more maligned than it probably deserved, and praised a little less than it honestly earned, what a satisfying ending for the 2021 Spartan defense.

Special teams

You know you have to be careful with these games during bowling season, they often get funky. Tonight was no different. Matt Coghlin looked less than 100% healthy after missing a fairly short Field Goal (33 yards) early in the 2nd quarter. His health appeared to affect Spartan decisions during the 4th Downs and conversion attempts the rest of the night. Coghlin hit a 36 yard yardstick at the end of the 1st to add one final entry to his long list of Field Goals in green and white. It might take a bit of work to figure out which one is longer, her final gladiator hair length or that half-decade-long list of 3-point kicks.

The Spartans’ second leg didn’t have a chance to do much, which you have to credit Pitt with, but they avoided some big mistakes as we saw in the last kick of the game. Once again, Bryce Baringer got his foot right on the ball, dropping two of his three inside the 20s to give the Spartans an advantage on the pitch. Baringer will be a force again in 2022, as will the Spartan Special Teams unit.

Intangible assets

It’s hard to put any real value on this 4th quarter comeback for Mel Tucker’s Spartans. In a year when so much has gone so well for MSU, from the first snap it seemed to be going in the wrong direction for most of the night. The offense just didn’t look like it could start without Kenneth Walker, MSU’s year-round X-factor. But Connor Heyward and other Spartan veterans continued to cut, shoot, and strive to get back into the Peach Bowl. As they did, Payton Thorne regained his form and suddenly the best starting quarterback in MSU history after a year won a comeback to the Peach Bowl against a 12th-ranked team on which s ‘support for the future. It was a huge night for Michigan State Football, filling Spartan Nation with maximum optimism and preparing Spartan Football for a run into the 2020s.

Bonus points

The 11-winning seasons are no small feat. There is so little room for error when all but a few teams across the country play more than 13 games in a season. The 2021 Spartans were already a great story before the return of the Peach Bowl. MSU has won 10 games for the seventh time in the past twelve years. We talked in detail last time about how this compares to the rest of college football, and you can imagine how slim the list gets when you zoom in on the more exclusive club with 11 or more wins. This is Michigan State Football’s first 11-game winning season since 2015, but its sixth in the past twelve years! It’s the Spartan Football brand these days, folks. And Mel Tucker’s time… it’s just beginning.

This is the last article in the Spartan Football Essentials series. As always, thanks for taking a look and stay tuned to Spartan Nation for big things in 2022.


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