And Payton Thorne welcomed back Spartan fans by showing quickly why he won the starting quarterback job.
Thorne handed the ball off to Kenneth Walker III, just as he did a week ago, but the running back this time pitched it back to Thorne. And the sophomore delivered an in-stride strike to Jayden Reed to send the Spartan Stadium faithful and full student section into immediate hysterics.
It was a high-octane start to a productive performance from Thorne as MSU overpowered Youngstown State all afternoon Saturday en route to a 42-14 win in the home opener.
The dominating win over the Football Champion Subdivision foe in front of a crowd of 70,103 was the first game with fans in the stands for MSU since Nov. 30, 2019.
The Spartans (2-0) face the 24th-ranked Miami Hurricanes next Saturday (noon) at Hard Rock Stadium in Miami Gardens, Florida.
The 75-yard deep post pass to Reed on the opening play was one of four touchdown passes for Thorne, who went 15 of 21 for 280 yards before being lifted for grad transfer Anthony Russo with the game in hand late in the third quarter.
On MSU’s third drive of the game, Thorne pulled the ball late on a read option to Walker and ran around the left side for a for a 10-yard score. Two possessions later, early in the second quarter, Thorne again connected with his former high school teammate Reed on an 85-yard touchdown on a similar route on a drive that began at the Spartans’ 2. The junior wide receiver had four catches to finish with 184 yards and the two scores.
Thorne wasn’t finished, with his screen pass to Elijah Collins going for a 20-yard touchdown on the next drive. He added a 16-yard score to Jalen Nailor with a blitzing cornerback in his face on his final play of the game in the third quarter.
MSU’s offense produced 595 yards after getting 511 in the opening win at Northwestern.
MSU showed off its depth at running back, even with Harold Joiner III limited to mostly special teams duty after getting dinged up at Northwestern.
Walker added his fifth rushing touchdown of the season late in the first half to make it 35-7, then didn’t play after halftime. The junior transfer from Wake Forest ran seven times for 57 yards, including the 6-yard score on which he dragged a slew of would-be YSU tacklers into the end zone with him.
That allowed Jordon Simmons to produce his first 100-yard game. The sophomore, who led MSU in rushing last season, finished with 140 yards on 19 carries. And Collins, who battled the after-effects of COVID-19 last season after nearly rushing for 1,000 yards in 2019, looked strong in his first backfield action. He ran for 32 yards before his touchdown catch, but the junior also left the game with an apparent injury and was limping on the sideline following the score.
That wasn’t the only spot MSU flashed its depth.
Defensive tackle Jalen Hunt mostly rested with an injured foot he suffered last week, allowing MSU to rotate starters Simeon Barrow and Jacob Slade with reserves Dashaun Mallory, Maverick Hansen and Kyle King. Freshman Derrick Harmon also saw action.
With three defensive ends out for medical reasons, redshirt freshman Jeff Petrowski started opposite Jacub Panasiuk. Michael Fletcher and Jack Camper got backup work.
Along the offensive line, left tackle Jarrett Horst was hurt briefly and replaced by Luke Campbell. The Spartans subbed in their entire second unit late in the third quarter.