Another fast start ignites Michigan State football in rout of Youngstown State

Matt Charboneau
The Detroit News

East Lansing — Jayden Reed’s eyes got big and a smile spread across his face.

He was thinking about his 75-yard touchdown reception from Payton Thorne on the first play of the game Saturday, the second straight week Michigan State began the game with a touchdown on the first play from scrimmage.

Michigan State wide receiver Jayden Reed (1) celebrates his touchdown with Connor Heyward (11) after Reed scores on the first play from scrimmage Saturday against Youngstown State.

The standout wide receiver contemplated if the Spartans could do that in every game, and while he admitted it would be tough, he wasn’t ruling it out.

And why would he?

After all, he and Thorne have been doing this since middle school. Growing up in Naperville, Illinois, the duo has been on the same page ever since Thorne was in sixth grade and Reed in seventh. As Thorne recalled, his dad told him back then that Reed was going to be “special.”

BOX SCORE: Michigan State 42, Youngstown State 14

Fast forward a handful of years and there they were again, igniting another impressive offensive performance as Michigan State rolled over Youngstown State, 42-14, in front a sun-drenched crowd of 70,103 at Spartan Stadium, the first time a nearly packed house watched the home team play in almost two years. 

“We wanted to start fast,” coach Mel Tucker said, once again understating how his team established itself just seconds into the game.

A week after Kenneth Walker III ripped off a 75-yard run to begin the game at Northwestern, Reed was dashing to the end zone for the early lead. The duo got together again later in the first half on an 85-yard touchdown pass that Thorne feathered in between a pair of defenders. By the end, Thorne was 15-for-21 for 280 yards with four touchdown passes with a fifth on the ground, and Reed had four catches for a career-high 181 yards.

“We’ve done that so many times, probably we can count them on all of your hands, honestly,” Reed said in the postgame media room. “I don't know. It's just a very exciting moment getting back out there with him. It's always exciting for me. I'm proud of him, how far he's come. He's a much better player, much better leader. It’s just great watching him grow as a player and everything.

“So I'm excited for the rest of the season. I don't plan on those being the last two plays being made.”

Nor does Thorne, who once again was efficient and made good decisions with the ball.

It helps, too, to have a familiar face on the outside.

“Like he said, those aren't going to be the last two (plays),” Thorne said. “We’re just gonna keep building. We’ve played a lot of football, so I’m excited to see what's coming.”

What’s coming can wait until next week when Michigan State (2-0) heads to Miami (Florida) for its toughest test of the young season. On Saturday, it was about taking care of business against Youngstown State (1-1), an FCS team that played last season in the spring.

The Spartans did just that behind a career-high 121 yards on 16 carries from sophomore Jordon Simmons, 57 yards and a touchdown from Walker, as well as touchdown receptions for Jalen Nailor and Elijah Collins.

Michigan State finished with 595 total yards, the first time it has gained more than 500 yards in back-to-back games since 2014.

“The plan was to come out and attack and be aggressive,” Tucker said. “The opponents change, but the standard does not change. There is no difference. We have to come out and we’ve got to set the tone. We have to establish how the game is gonna go on offense, defense and special names.”

Added safety Xavier Henderson, who had a sack and an interception, “Youngstown State is a good team and we know is definitely capable of staying in the game with us. That’s kind of the mindset. We didn't want them to be a touchdown or two away from us going into the fourth quarter.”

The quick start never faded in the first half.

In between touchdown passes from Thorne to Reed, Thorne scored on a 10-yard run and later connected with Collins on a 20-yard screen pass, as Collins plowed his way into the end zone to give Michigan State a 28-0 lead.

After Youngstown State finally found some traction against a host of backups on the Michigan State defense to cut the MSU lead to 28-7, the Spartans closed the half with a 6-yard touchdown run from Walker to take a 35-7 lead to the locker room.

“It did shock,” Youngstown State coach Doug Phillips said of the opening play. “We knew coming into the game that we had to handle the atmosphere and the emotion and knowing they just rushed for 250 yards that a flea-flicker would probably be a great first play. It definitely got the ball rolling for them.”

Youngstown State had one of its best drives of the game to open the second half, going 75 yards on 10 plays and cutting Michigan State’s lead to 35-14 after a 26-yard scoring run from Christian Turner.

Michigan State’s Matt Coghlin missed a 50-yard field-goal attempt on the next drive, but after forcing a three-and-out on defense, the Spartans extended their lead to 42-14 when Thorne hit Nailor with a 16-yard touchdown pass with 4:32 left in the third quarter.

By then, it was time for plenty of backups to get some work as Anthony Russo took over at quarterback, leading an impressive drive late in the fourth quarter before he fumbled inside the 5-yard line with five minutes left in the game.

“I’m proud of our football team for what we were able to get done today,” Tucker said. “We challenged them during the week to get better and to continue to improve and grind, to put the work in … and we're getting the most out of our guys. They responded.

“But I'm excited about our football team, and I feel a tremendous amount of energy from our fans, our students and Spartan Nation behind this football team. We’re going to continue to grow and get better, and that’s what it’s all about.”

Twitter: @mattcharboneau