An 11-2 overall record in 2021 could be hard to replicate for third-year coach, Mel Tucker & Co.
It is time for the 2022 Wisconsin Badgers football season preview extravaganza to begin! Over the next (almost) two months we will be preparing you for the upcoming football season. We’ve got previews of every team on Wisconsin’s schedule, we’ve got positional breakdowns of each group at UW, we’ll have predictions for the full conference, rankings of the top units in the Big Ten as well as a couple of larger features that we think are interesting.
Next up, Michigan State.
Team: Michigan State
Head coach: Mel Tucker, third season, 13-7
2021 record: 11-2 overall, 7-2 Big Ten Conference
Game info: Saturday, Oct. 15, 2:30 or 3:00 p.m. CT, Spartan Stadium, East Lansing, Mich.
Top returning players
- Senior, WR Jayden Reed, 59 receptions for 1,026 yards and 10 touchdowns, 78.9 YPG. Twelve punt returns for 215 yards and one touchdown.
- Sophomore, QB Payton Thorne, 235 completions for 3,240 yards, 27 touchdown passes, 10 interceptions, 249.2 YPG.
- Sophomore, LB Cal Haladay, 89 tackles, two interceptions (both returned for touchdowns), four pass break-ups, one forced fumble.
- Senior, S Xavier Henderson, 96 tackles, three sacks, one forced fumble, two pass break-ups and one interception.
- RB Jarek Broussard, transfer from Colorado. Broussard tallied 289 carries for 1,556 yards and seven touchdowns in two seasons with the Buffalo. He was the 2020 Pac-12 Offensive Player of the Year.
- DE Khris Bogle, a transfer from Florida. Bogle recorded 69 tackles (12 for loss), eight sacks and a forced fumble in 35 games with the Gators.
- LB Aaron Brule, a transfer from Mississippi State. Brule recorded 141 tackles (17.5 for loss), 7.5 sacks and two fumbled recoveries in 40 games over for seasons with Mississippi State.
- CB Ameer Speed, a transfer from Georgia. Speed recorded 25 tackles and one pass break-up in five seasons (48 games) with Georgia. Speed spent his first two seasons at Georgia with Mel Tucker and his now reunited with his former coach.
Top newcomers from Wisconsin!
- RB Jalen Berger, who isn’t technically FROM Wisconsin, but is an old friend of ours. Berger spent the 2020 season and part of the 2021 season as a member of the Wisconsin Badgers before being dismissed from the program in October. Berger had 24 carries for 88 yards and a touchdown prior to his exit in 2021. He was said to not be reacting well to the addition of transfer RB Chez Mellusi and allegedly missed meetings and work outs. During the 2020 season, Berger had 60 carries for 301 yards and two touchdowns.
2021 season review
Michigan State had quite the glow up in Mel Tucker’s second season at the helm, finishing with 11 wins vs. two wins in 2020 and the Spartans capped off the season with a 31-21 win over No. 12 Pitt in the Peach Bowl. The Spartans also finished ranked in the Top-10 (No. 8 in Coaches Poll, No. 9 in the AP). MSU finished third in the Big Ten East, behind Michigan (12-2 overall, 8-1 conference) and Ohio State (11-2 overall, 8-1 conference).
The Spartans resurgence could mostly be attributed to the play of its quarterback, Payton Thorne and running back, Kenneth Walker III. Thorne broke Kirk Cousins’ school record for touchdown passes (25) by tossing 27 touchdowns.
Walker III had the best season of his collegiate career after transferring from Wake Forest to Michigan State, carrying the ball 263 times for 1,636 yards and 18 touchdowns, en route to winning the Doak Walker Award.
Walker III, who was the first Spartan to win the award, recorded just 579 rushing yards in each of his two seasons at Wake Forest.
Michigan State went 3-1 against Top-25 teams during the 2021 season, including their Peach Bowl victory. The Spartans’ only loss to a top-25 team came at the hands of No. 4 Ohio State, who decimated MSU, 56-7.
Michigan State’s signature win of the season came in their rivalry game against No. 6 Michigan. The Wolverines took a 23-14 lead into halftime, but Michigan State outscored the Wolverines 23-10 in the second half to take home the 37-33 win. Walker III, who recorded 197 rushing yards in the game, scored the go-ahead and eventual game-winning touchdown (his fifth of the game), with 2:04 left in the fourth quarter.
Michigan State’s Peach Bowl victory was also a come-from-behind win, as they entered the fourth quarter down 21-10. In the final frame, Thorne threw touchdowns passes to Connor Heyward and Jayden Reed while Cal Haladay capped off the win with a 78-yard interception return for a touchdown with 22 seconds left, ending Pitt’s final bid at a tie or a win.
Key stat: Walker III was the first Spartan to rush for 1,000 yards in a season, since Jeremy Langford (1,522) did so during the 2014 season.
2022 season preview
With Walker III gone, Tucker went to the transfer portal again for running back production and picked up Jarek Broussard and Jalen Berger to fill the void left by the second-round pick of the Seattle Seahawks. Broussard was the 2020 Pac-12 Offensive Player of the Year, and his looking like he will settle into the starting role, with Berger settling into the back-up position.
Berger, a former 4-star recruit, did show signs of a good burst at Wisconsin, but never carried the ball more than 15 times in a game and had issues behind the scenes, leading to his exit from the program.
Tucker is also doing his best to improve the program, as it’s 2022 recruiting class ranks No. 26 in the nation (247 Sports) versus No. 47 in 2021 and No. 46 in 2020. Michigan State was also the landing spot for eight transfers from across the college football landscape, which landed them with the No. 16 best transfer class.
While filling the void left by Walker III will be difficult, the Spartans are solid at quarterback and wide receiver. The tandem of Thorne and 1,000-yard receiver Reed could both easily put up similar numbers in 2022 compared to the break-out seasons they had in 2021.
Defensively, the Spartans have a solid group, anchored by linebacker Cal Haladay and safety Xavier Henderson, both of whom had great 2021 seasons with 89 tackles and 96 tackles respectively, while Haladay returned both of his interceptions for touchdowns, including his game-sealing pick-six against Pitt in the Peach Bowl. The addition of Ameer Speed, a 6-foot-3 corner, from Georgia will also help the Spartans in solidifying their passing defense.
Even with the improvements that Tucker is making and the experienced passing game, replicating the 2021 season will be difficult, as Michigan State will host Minnesota, Ohio State and Wisconsin, while playing as visitors at both Michigan and Penn State.
Winning the Big Ten East for the first time since the 2015 season could also prove a daunting task, as both Ohio State and Michigan are predicted to follow-up their 2021 seasons with similar results in 2022.
Michigan State is an interesting program, who saw a sudden increase in Tucker’s second season. The loss of Walker III bodes well for the Badgers rush defense, so if Wisconsin looks to steal a win on the road, it will need to lock down Thorne and Reed to have a chance. Even with the stars they have on defense, the Spartans do still have some holes, as they allowed just over 25 points per game in 2021.