UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. — Free Press sports writer Chris Solari breaks down the Michigan State football players who helped or hurt their stock in the Spartans’ 35-16 loss Saturday at No. 10 Penn State.
TE Maliq Carr: This time, it didn’t take a ricochet for the ball to come Carr’s way for a touchdown. The sophomore got a primary look from quarterback Payton Thorne, who threw a back-shoulder fade to Carr. The 6-foot-5, 255-pound tight end — who also plays basketball for MSU — used his box-out skills to ward off two defenders and make a one-handed, falling-down grab for a 9-yard touchdown. It was the second score in as many weeks for Carr, who had two receptions for 21 yards Saturday. His first career TD catch came a week earlier against Indiana after Thorne’s pass bounced off and through running back Elijah Collins’s hands.
K Jack Stone: The freshman’s roller-coaster season finished with a bang. Stone, the Spartans’ long-distance kicker, drilled a 51-yarder as time expired in the first half that was the team’s longest field goal of the season. He also sent two of his three kickoffs for touchbacks. Stone began the year as the starter but lost the job after missing a 44-yard try in the season opener against Western Michigan then had one blocked at Maryland.
Defensive tackles: A lot of credit should go out to Simeon Barrow and Jacob Slade, who battled through a season of nagging injuries but kept coming back onto the field. Third-year sophomore Barrow picked up his career-best fourth sack, while senior Slade had 1.5 of his five tackles going for a loss and a third for no gain while pressuring PSU quarterback Sean Clifford.
Maverick Hansen also went off gimpy at one point Saturday, but the junior fought through the pain to tie a career high with seven tackles. Throw in another workmanlike game for redshirt freshman Derrick Harmon, and MSU’s defensive tackles combined for 4.5 of MSU’s eight tackles for a loss — with all but Slade expected to return next season.
Mel Tucker: Defense kept the Spartans in the game, and their offense pulled them within five points after Payton Thorne’s 2-yard touchdown run with 10:52 to play. Then Penn State’s offense started throwing body blows to wear down MSU’s defenders, 10 plays going 63 yards eating way more than six minutes off the clock.
Facing fourth-and-2 at the Spartans’ 12-yard line with a little over 4½ minutes to play, the Nittany Lions sent four receivers wide left on presnap motion. MSU had just three defenders on that side of the field. Tucker had three timeouts but did not call one. PSU quarterback Sean Clifford threw a quick pass to running back Nate Singleton, who eluded a tackle attempt by safety Xavier Henderson as the other three PSU players blocked linebacker Aaron Brule and cornerback Dillon Tatum. That touchdown and the decision not to use a timeout proved to be the turning point of the game.
WR/PR Jayden Reed: It hasn’t been the senior season Reed returned to MSU for, with injuries affecting him early before he was able to get on track. And if Saturday was his final game as a Spartan, Reed went out the same way he made his debut in 2020: by putting the ball on the turf.
The first came three plays into the game, off a low toss down the line of scrimmage from Thorne that was a backward lateral. Reed dropped it, then did not immediately fall on the ball and got shoved over to allow PSU to recover. He fumbled a third-quarter punt out of bounds, then got stripped again on the next punt as the Nittany Lions pounced on the ball to set up a touchdown that made it 21-3. Reed was targeted 11 times and finished with six catches for just 36 yards.
Run game: Though MSU’s running backs and offensive line performed increasingly better the past few weeks, facing Penn State’s defense was a much more difficult challenge than going against Rutgers and Indiana. After not allowing a sack the previous two weeks, the Spartans struggled all day to protect Thorne and yielded three sacks, six QB hurries and a constant flood of pressure in the backfield. Those blocking struggles persisted in the run game as well, as the Spartans managed just 50 yards on 22 carries before taking out the 25 yards on Thorne’s sacks.
This article originally appeared on Detroit Free Press: Michigan State stock watch: Mel Tucker down, Maliq Carr up