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Michigan State cruises past Penguins, 42-14

Correspondent photo / Robert Hayes Youngstown State sophomore Chris Fitzgerald (left) tackles MSU's Jordon Simmons Saturday afternoon.

EAST LANSING, Mich. — It was, perhaps, a bit of shock and awe out of the gates for Youngstown State.

Playing in front of a full home crowd for the first time since 2019, Michigan State’s Payton Thorne connected with Jayden Reed for a 75-yard flea flicker touchdown pass on the game’s first play, bringing the 70,103 in attendance to a roar and giving MSU a lead it would not relinquish.

From there, MSU kept the pedal down, building an eventual 28-point lead en route to a 42-14 victory over Youngstown State.

“Obviously it’s frustrating to come out and start like that,” YSU linebacker Grant Dixon said. “But we came back to the sideline, we regrouped and reset. A trick play like that, we just have to rebound, set it behind us and be ready for the next drive.”

Thorne pieced together an efficient day, tossing for 280 yards and four touchdowns on a 15-for-21 performance. He also notched a rushing touchdown. Two of Thorne’s four touchdowns were deep post or seam routes over the top of YSU’s secondary.

The Penguins’ (1-1) run defense didn’t fare much better, as MSU’s committee approach at tailback amassed 272 yards on 38 carries.

A week after Michigan State’s Kenneth Walker III gashed Northwestern for 264 yards and four touchdowns, the Wake Forest transfer amassed 57 yards and a touchdown on seven attempts. Jordan Simmons led the Spartan ground game with 121 yards on 16 carries, and MSU as a whole averaged 7.2 yards per carry.

“They have a lot to throw at you,” YSU head coach Doug Phillips said. “You have a 220-pound running back to tackle, and then on play-action passes you have to defend the pass. We have to be better defensively. … We knew going in we had to have great run fits, we had to eliminate big plays and we had to tackle. Those were the three things going in, and those are the things in the first half we didn’t get done today.”

YSU had a chance to clip MSU’s lead to 14-7 and regain some momentum, as the Penguins were marched into the red zone. However, a Demeatric Crenshaw pass up the seam intended for Sam St. Surin was intercepted by Michigan State safety Xavier Henderson, who made a phenomenal break on the pass before snagging it with one hand.

“It was huge. You’d like to score there and finish the drive to get within 14-7 and try to gain some momentum,” Phillips said. “In games like this, you have to keep it close. You start keeping it close, and the other team who’s expected to win starts getting worried or concerned. We didn’t.”

Indeed, after that pick, Thorne hit Reed for another deep bomb, this one an 85-yarder to the house to put MSU up 21-0. Afterward, Elijah Collins collected a screen from Thorne and took it 20 yards to the end zone to extend that Spartan advantage to 28.

Reed finished the day with four catches for 181 yards and those two scores.

Meanwhile, the Penguin offense struggled through most of the day. Shifty tailback Jaleel McLaughlin was kept to 34 yards on 13 carries, while Crenshaw went 10-for-23 for 81 yards and one interception. As a whole, YSU was outgained 595-304.

Crenshaw finally put YSU on the board with 4:10 left in the first half on a 6-yard run in which he rolled over top of one of his linemen while pushing the ball across the goal line. He rushed for 69 yards on 18 carries.

However, MSU answered with a methodical drive that was capped off with a 6-yard run by Walker and left 17 seconds on the clock in the first half.

The teams traded scores in the third quarter, as Christian Turner ran in a 26-yard score for YSU before Thorne threw for his final score of the day, a 16-yard strike to Jalen Nailor.

Phillips was encouraged by Turner’s score, and said YSU wanted to use this game as a chance to develop its schemes. Turner finished with 48 yards and his score on five carries.

“I truly believe we have an offense, but it’s not there yet,” he said. “We knew it was a great opportunity to work on the passing game and develop our young quarterback. We have to put him in situations so he comes out better, stronger and more confident. I think if you talked to him, he’d be the first one to say he grew as a quarterback today.”

The Penguins now enter a bye week with plenty to focus on before gearing up for play in the Missouri Valley Football Conference.

“We’ll get into the playbook and film study more. It’s a bye week, so that’s big for us to really lock in on everything we made mistakes on and go forward from here,” Crenshaw said.

The quarterback said the experience of playing on the Power 5 stage is something the Penguins can learn from.

“Nobody was scared or anything like that. It was just getting used to the environment so when we play teams in our league, it’ll be more comfortable,” he noted.

Phillips remarked, “To be able to learn from this game, have four quarters of this game and to be able to learn from it and teach from it and improve from it, I think is tremendous as we go into league play. I look forward to every time we take the field, because I believe we can get 1 percent better.”

The Penguins will host Western Illinois on Sept. 25.

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