Michigan State first-half observations: Big play, turnovers put Spartans in early hole

Matt Charboneau
The Detroit News

East Lansing — No. 8 Michigan State trailed at halftime as No. 6 Michigan got two touchdowns from Andrel Anthony and forced two turnovers to take a 23-14 lead over the Spartans on Saturday at Spartan Stadium.

Here are some observations on the Spartans' play in the first half:

Michigan State quarterback Payton Thorne has thrown a pair of first-half interceptions.

UM, not MSU, turns to big play

Michigan State’s offense has made a living on big plays this season, but on the first possession of the game, it was the Wolverines that popped one as East Lansing native Andrel Anthony took a pass 93 yards for a touchdown to give Michigan a quick 7-0 lead.

Anthony darted in front of safety Angelo Grose then outran Xavier Henderson and the rest of the defense to the end zone.

On the flip side, Michigan State’s offense felt conservative for the first time all season, at least in the first quarter. On the first possession, Payton Thorne settled for a 3-yard pass to tight end Tyler Hunt when Jayden Reed was open 15 yards down the field. If the Spartans put together a rally, they’ll have to stop holding back.

Turnover troubles

Turnovers are big in any game, and they’ve already played a significant role as Thorne has been intercepted twice with Michigan turning both into points.

Neither interception was bad — the first acted like a punt as Michigan took over at its 2, and the second was on a tipped pass — but they gave the Wolverines the ball, nevertheless.

The Spartans did show some resolve late in the first quarter and early in the second as they finally found some offensive rhythm, ending with a 27-yard touchdown run from Kenneth Walker III. They then responded with another big drive, sparked by a 40-yard pass from Thorne to Jalen Nailor on fourth down to set up another Walker score, taking a 14-13 lead with 7:16 to play in the second quarter.

Damage control

Michigan State’s defense has been solid all season keeping teams out of the end zone, and outside of the early big play on Saturday, it was up to its standards.

Three times the Spartans limited the Wolverines to field goals, once when Michigan took over at the Michigan State 30 after an interception and a personal foul penalty.

It’s been something the Spartans have done all season, allowing teams to score touchdowns inside the red zone less than 50% of the time. They were doing well again on Saturday until the Wolverines found the end zone late in the second quarter on a 17-yard pass from J.J. McCarthy to Anthony. It was the 13th red-zone touchdown MSU has allowed this season.


Twitter: @mattcharboneau