EAST LANSING, Mich. – Kenneth Walker III made plenty of noise in his sensational debut in the Big Ten.
- When: 12:00 PM ET, Saturday, September 11, 2021
- Where: Spartan Stadium, East Lansing, Michigan
- TV: Big Ten Network
Michigan State’s new workhorse running back will likely have a reduced workload against Youngstown State in the team’s home opener on Saturday in East Lansing.
The Wake Forest transfer rushed 23 times for 264 yards and four touchdowns, including a 75-yard scamper on the first play from scrimmage, in the Spartans’ 38-21 win at Northwestern on Friday.
“That was a momentum play,” coach Mel Tucker said. “We see that every day in practice from him. That’s what he does.”
Walker, who had 13 touchdowns for the Demon Deacons last season, had a modest reaction to his giant performance.
“We got to show what we could do as a team,” said Walker, who was named the Big Ten’s Player of the Week. “I knew they (his teammates) had my back ... I wasn’t expecting to get four touchdowns or 264 yards. It’s more of a team thing.”
The running game was so effective that quarterback Payton Thorne, who beat out Temple transfer Anthony Russo for the starting job, only threw 25 passes. He connected on 15 for 185 yards and a touchdown.
“I thought I played OK. ... I definitely missed a few things that we can capitalize on that I think could have made the game a little bit larger of a margin,” Thorne said.
The defense held the Wildcats to seven points until the fourth quarter.
“We have to build on it,” Tucker said.
The Spartans will be heavily favored against the Penguins, which should allow them to give their second- and third-stringers a chance to see the field.
Youngstown State also won its home opener, defeating Incarnate Word in overtime, 44-41. Running back Jaleel McLaughlin had 288 all-purpose yards and two touchdowns.
Youngstown State finished 1-6 last season, which was held in February-April due to the pandemic, and 6-6 in 2019.
“All these wins just mean so much,” said coach Doug Phillips, who was named head coach in 2020. “Is it important for me? No, it’s important for those young men in that locker room that work every day and you’re getting them to believe and be selfless.”
The Penguins’ quarterback, Demeatric Crenshaw, had eight more rushing attempts than pass attempts in the opener. He gained 81 yards on the ground on 20 carries and scored two touchdowns.