Michigan State Special Teams: One Thing I Like, One Thing I Don’t
Over the past month, Spartan Nation has broken down every position group on Michigan State’s football roster, highlighting one thing we love, one thing we don’t do and one thing to watch.
Today, we conclude this 10-part series by looking at the third phase of the game: Special teams
one thing i like
It’s an absolute luxury for Michigan State to have second-team All-Big Ten punter Bryce Baringer back as a graduating senior.
In his career-best 2021 campaign, Baringer led the Big Ten and finished fourth in the nation with a net average of 48.6 yards per punt on 56 attempts. He was tied for first in the conference with 25 punts of 50 or more yards.
Baringer threw down 18 punts inside the opposition’s 20-yard line and pinned opponents inside their 10-yard line 10 times. He was on the Ray Guy Award watch list for most of the season, an award given annually to the nation’s best bettor.
Field position is a crucial part of the game, and Michigan State has a bettor-certified weapon with Baringer.
One thing I don’t do
After a seemingly endless career at East Lansing, longtime kicker Matt Coughlin finally ran out of eligibility with the Spartans. He leaves Michigan State as the program’s all-time scorer (382 points responsible) and holds the school record for most field goals made in a career (76).
These are big shoes to fill for the next MSU kicker.
The Spartans signed 3-star kicker Jack Stone in the 2022 recruiting class, who is expected to be Coughlin’s heir apparent. Stone was ranked the No. 7 kicker in Class 22, and Tucker and MSU staff liked him enough to award him a scholarship as a specialist.
Stone might prove just as reliable as Coughlin, but until we see how the freshman plays out, Michigan State’s kicking game remains a huge unknown for the 2022 season.
If Stone isn’t ready for the starting job, the Spartans only had two other guys listed as kickers on the spring roster – sophomore Stephen Rusnak and redshirt junior Evan Morris, who serves also a tight end for MSU.
Rusnak missed the only field goal attempt of his career in a game against Purdue last season. Morris hasn’t attempted a field goal in his career, having only been used for kick-offs so far.
The Spartans have won four games by a touchdown or less in 2021. In a close game, the value of a reliable kicker is invaluable. It remains to be seen Michigan State will have a reliable kicking option this season.
One thing to watch
In 2021, wide receiver Jayden Reed was named second-team All-Big Ten as a kick and punt returner for the Spartans. Reed averaged 23.5 yards per punt return and 19.8 yards per punt return with two touchdowns.
However, despite Reed’s success in the rematch, I wonder if Michigan State will continue to use him in that role in 2022. The Spartans lost one of their best receivers in the NFL Draft to Jalen. Nailor, and while I like MSU’s other options at receiver, there’s not as much proven depth at the position in 2022.
Additionally, special teams are a great way for programs to bring in young athletes and spend time on the field. Maybe there’s a youngster on the roster that the coaching staff want to see with the ball in their hands – special teams are a great way to do that.
Regardless of who is there for punts and kickoffs, I expect Michigan State to be good at that. I’m just intrigued to see what special teams coordinator Ross Els has in mind here.
In case you missed it
This article is part of a series examining each group of positions on Michigan’s state roster. You can find the other position groups that Spartan Nation has already covered here: (Quarterback, Running back, Wide Receiver, Offensive Line, Tight End, Defensive Line, Linebacker, Cornerback, Safety, Special Teams).