Michigan State mailbag: What to make of midseason transfer portal entries

Matt Charboneau
The Detroit News

Michigan State found a way to win last week against Nebraska, and as much as Spartans fans love being undefeated, it did lead to more questions about the team.

Add in a few players entering the transfer portal over the weekend, and there’s still plenty to talk about as the Spartans get set to host Western Kentucky for homecoming on Saturday night.

In this week’s mailbag we talk scholarship numbers, player rotations and injuries while even peeking ahead to the game against Michigan the day before Halloween. Enjoy.

► Question. With the departure of three more scholarship players, do you think Mel Tucker uses those scholarships or pockets them for the '23 class? — @pfnnewmedia

► Answer. Well, considering teams are limited to 25 scholarships for each recruiting class, there are limited options when it comes to “pocketing” a scholarship. Michigan State currently has 22 players committed to the 2022 class, and it seems like they’ll almost certainly get to 25, which would have happened with or without the recent transfers. It does open up the possibility of further exploring the transfer portal, something Tucker is not against and has said he’ll continue to do in the future. The point is, don’t expect them to pocket anything. Not in this day and age when you don’t know who you might lose and when.

► Q. Will Drew Beesley return soon? Was the offense’s struggles in the second half last week more about Nebraska’s defensive adjustments, or instead, a lack of adjustment or talent on the OL?  Or both? — @SpartyH

► A. Two for a one, eh, Sparty? Everyone is tight-lipped about injuries these days, but it sure doesn’t sound like Beesley will be back anytime soon. Everyone saw the defensive end ride off on a cart last week and he spent the second half sitting on a gurney in the end zone with his right foot in a boot. So, it could be a while. As for the offense, plenty of it was the fact the Cornhuskers are pretty good up front and the fact the Spartans’ attention to detail wasn’t what it was the first three weeks. There were missed blocks, missed holes by the backs, poor throws from Payton Thorne and, yes, some poor play-calling. It all added up to an ugly second half, but the odds of a quick bounce-back are good considering so many of the mistakes are easily correctable. If it was a case of being outmanned, well, then you’re dealing with a bigger problem.

► Q. Percentage chance we get through undefeated until the Michigan game? And if so, do we win, and how long does the win streak continue? — @FestiveGary

► A. Just imagine how festive Gary would be if Michigan State was, indeed, unbeaten to that point? I’d have to put it less than 50% right now. Yes, I believe Michigan State has a decent shot to beat Western Kentucky, Rutgers and Indiana and sit at 7-0. The odds tell me, though, that it might be tough. Perhaps it’s the air attack of Western Kentucky or the defense of Rutgers that gets the Spartans. Maybe the Hoosiers find a rhythm. It can happen, and I think we’d all love it if that game was between two unbeatens, but I think it will be tough to pull off.

Three Michigan State defensive players, including linebacker Chase Kline, recently opted to enter the transfer portal.

► Q. Are midseason portal entries just a function of it being after week four or is there something more going on? — @drankin21

► A. Both Chase Kline and Kalon Gervin have already redshirted, so it doesn’t mean much to them, and Alex Okelo hadn’t played a game. Not much is known on Okelo, but he wasn’t on the field for the open practice during preseason camp, so I’m guessing it was fairly straightforward with that one. As for Kline and Gervin, there’s nothing more to it than they were seeing limited snaps and, in Gervin’s case, he’d lost his starting spot. Some fans might not like it, but this is the new reality for a lot of guys. If they’re not seeing the field, they’ll look for that opportunity somewhere else.

► Q. How do the recent entries to the portal affect the defensive rotation? — @GPSparty

► A. It won’t affect the rotation significantly, but it will be an adjustment. Kline wasn’t playing a lot, but he was getting a handful of snaps, even getting a half-sack against Nebraska. This could give senior Noah Harvey another crack at the field, but keep an eye on freshman Ma’a Gaoteote, who safety Xavier Henderson said this week is getting more work. At cornerback, Gervin was getting regular work but played only special teams against Nebraska. With Ronald Williams and Chester Kimbrough locking down the starting spots and the emergence of Charles Brantley, snaps were limited. Emmanuel Flowers could be an option if injuries pop up, and Louisville transfer Marqui Lowery has been battling an injury but could be close to returning.

► Q. Does anyone know if Payton Thorne was banged up and that’s why he was so off in the last few possessions? — @SaleemSiddiqi1

► A. That might be a fair question considering a couple of the hits he took. However, he seemed fined right after the game in the interview room and on Wednesday afternoon after practice, he looked good, as well. So yeah, maybe he was a bit off from the big hits, but he doesn’t appear any worse for wear at this point.

► Q. Let’s talk about that punt return for a touchdown. Who drew up that play because you could see Tucker on the sideline after that play subtlety signal to one of the coaches how awesome that play was?  Was it a trick play? How did literally no one on Nebraska know it’s going to Jayden Reed? — @swimmingturtle7

► A. Who drew it up? Not sure, but the belief is it was special teams coordinator Ross Els. As for how the Huskers didn’t pick up on it? Well, have you seen them routinely find ways to lose games? It’s kind of their thing. The kick going to Reed worked perfectly for the Spartans because it was basically a shanked punt, one that was supposed to go to Jalen Nailor. But as Reed told us, the play could have worked if it was kicked either way. The key was getting the Nebraska punter to kick it to the wrong guy.

► Q. Harold Joiner. Will we see more of him and Jordon Simmons against WKU? — @jamiesb5

► A. Maybe, especially when it comes to Joiner. He hadn’t really been a part of the offense until last week and they like him as a pass-catcher out of the backfield. So I’d expect a few more snaps for Joiner. As for Simmons, I don’t think so. He’ll be there to spell Kenneth Walker III, but he won’t suddenly be getting a ton of carries, at least ones that otherwise would have gone to Walker.


Twitter: @mattcharboneau