The Michigan State Football Program held its weekly media availability for assistant coaches/players on Tuesday.
Offensive coordinator Jay Johnson spoke first, initially answering questions about the run game ahead of the team’s missed field goal at the end of regulation in the double overtime loss to Indiana. Johnson said although the coaches wanted to keep an eye on the situation and place their kicker as best as possible, the Spartans were focused on getting to the end zone as well.
“It was a combination of both,” Johnson said of the decision to go for the touchdown or play for the field goal. “We were aware of the clock management on that piece, but we were also trying to name a game that we thought had potential for a goal.”
When asked if quarterback Payton Thorne has the ability to change plays at the line, Johnson said he does, but certain circumstances could limit his options.
“It varies,” Johnson said of Thorne’s options when reviewing a play. “Some weeks these options are certainly there, other weeks, depending on what we’ve been looking at and what we think is best, they’re not there. It kind of depends, it’s a bit situational.”
Discussing what he liked about the offense against Indiana, Johnson said he liked the strength of the running game and the explosive plays the team could make.
Johnson expressed his opinion on the importance of introducing the running game, saying that a competitive-level Michigan State team must be able to perform effectively in both the passing and running games.
“You have to emphasize defense,” Johnson said. “At the end of the day at that level you have to be great at running the ball and throwing the ball.
“We were a bit off, I think we’ve evolved and are progressing and doing better things there. Yes, it’s frustrating, but we need to be able to do both and we will continue to find ways.”
When asked if this upcoming offseason will bring open quarterback competition between Thorne, Noah Kim and Katin Houser, Johnson said he believes there’s always competition, adding that he’s excited and aware of the future that his boys will be ready for anything.
“Is there a competition? I don’t know, I think to some degree there’s always competition,” Johnson said. “I think it’s going to be fun to see what happens in the future, but that’s why every guy has to come and perform every day and these guys know that and I know they’re all up to the challenge.”
Several players also spoke to the media, including Thorne, linebacker Cal Haladay and tight end Maliq Carr.
Speaking about the Penn State offense threats, Haladay mentioned Nittany Lions running back duo Nicholas Singleton and Kaytron Allen as guys to watch. He also mentioned Sean Clifford, senior quarterback sophomore, and the experience he brings to the table.
“They’ve got some good backs, they’ve got two of them, they’re both young too, but they’ve got experience now,” Haladay said of Singleton and Allen. “They’ve played 11 games now and they’re both really good defenders, quick, good sighted, explosive.
“Quarterback, sixth-year guy, he knows how to run the (offense), he has experience and gets the job done. He has a good arm, he can run the ball, he knows how to manage the game well.”
Haladay, a Pennsylvania native, spoke about returning to his home state to play in front of family and friends and said while his family is loyal to Penn State, he knew they would cheer for him.
“It certainly creates a little interesting dynamic,” Haladay said of his family’s loyalty to Penn State. “All my siblings go to Penn State so it’s kind of funny but they sure all wear the green because they support me in everything even though they go there.”
Early in the second quarter against Indiana, a tipped pass from Thorne out of the hands of running back Elijah Collins found its way into Carr’s hands for his first touchdown as a Spartan. When asked what was going through his mind during that game, Carr said he just saw the ball and instinctively moved to get it out of the air.
“The ball just popped up, it was just up in the air and I was like, ‘Okay, fine, just slide under and catch it,'” Carr said. “Honestly I have no idea, it just happened.”
When asked about his mindset when he goes on a pass, Carr said he feels like he always has an open mind, adding that he feels like he can get down with almost anything that gets his way be able.
“In my head, personally, I think I’ll always be open, even when I’m not open,” Carr said. “If it’s just up in the air, I’m pretty sure I can get it.
“That’s how I was always taught, if the ball’s in the air, go get it.”
Carr was asked if he would not wear gloves, to which he adamantly replied that he would not wear gloves in the future. He mentioned a story from his youth football days involving dropping a pass with a glove on and has vowed never to wear it since.
“When I was about 7 or 8 years old I wore a left glove in a game and dropped a pass that I never dropped. I said I’ll never wear them again.”
When asked if he feels his game has improved over the past few weeks, Thorne said he feels better than last season, although his stats don’t necessarily give that impression.
“I think overall this year I’m a better player than last year and the stats might not reflect that, but I know I’m a better player now than I was a year ago and that comes down to these things, Processing things quickly, I feel like I see the defense well at the moment.
When asked how the running game helps the offense as a whole, Thorne said it’s very helpful and opens up defense and provides opportunities for big plays through the air, including some of the team’s patented flea flickers.
Thorne said the team is focused on moving forward after losing to Indiana, saying the Spartans will have time to think about it in the offseason and their focus is on Penn State.
“You have to put it behind you,” Thorne said of Saturday’s loss. “We can think about it after the season if you want, but right now Penn State is what we have to take care of, we have one game left on our schedule and we have to play well.”
Discussing the challenge Penn State’s defense will provide, Thorne paid tribute to the Nittany Lions as a talented team from front to back.
“Penn State has a very good defense, they have really good players,” Thorne said. “Their front line, they have some very talented defenders, they have some good pass rushers, linebackers are solid … and then the runners-up, they’re very good, they’re one of the top runners-up in the country.
“Like I said, they are one of the best defenses in the country and definitely one of the best secondaries in the country.”