50 defining moments from the 2021 Michigan State football season: No. 15

Sep 3, 2021; Evanston, Illinois, USA; Michigan State Spartans running back Kenneth Walker III (9) runs the ball against the Northwestern Wildcats during the second quarter at Ryan Field. Mandatory Credit: Jon Durr-USA TODAY Sports
Sep 3, 2021; Evanston, Illinois, USA; Michigan State Spartans running back Kenneth Walker III (9) runs the ball against the Northwestern Wildcats during the second quarter at Ryan Field. Mandatory Credit: Jon Durr-USA TODAY Sports /

Today marks just over two weeks until Michigan State football begins its 2022 season. Last year, Kenneth Walker’s first carry set the tone for the season.

Welcome back to day 36 in my 50-day Michigan State football series. Today marks the start of the top 15 defining moments from last year. This moment was the first impression we would get of Michigan State football, and Kenneth Walker III made sure it was a good one.

For those of you who missed yesterday’s article, please click here. If you would like to look at previous articles of this series, feel free to scroll through my writing profile.

No. 15: Kenneth Walker III’s 75-yard TD run vs. Northwestern

Why No. 15?

Entering this play, no one knew what to expect from Michigan State football entering the season. Kenneth Walker III was an unknown, Mel Tucker had all of two Spartan victories to his name, and the team had lost multiple contributors and starters to graduation and the transfer portal throughout the offseason. Then Walker took the handoff, and one of the best and most surprising seasons in Michigan State football history was underway.

On this play, Walker took the handoff, made a cutback, and had to slip one diving arm tackle. Then, he was off to the races. Walker was one of, if not the fastest player on the field that night, and it showed. He found one hole that was open, cut to it, and was gone. The Northwestern Wildcats could have had 12 or 13 men on the field, and none would be able to chase down K9.

While this is not nearly as long as the play description of Walker’s 94-yard run, it was just as incredible. This play was video game-like, as who would think a run up the middle results in a nearly untouched touchdown? Kenneth Walker III was special, and he proved this to Spartan Nation on his first play.

Walker became the first workhorse at running back to top 1,000 yards since Jeremy Langford.

Most of the credit on this play belongs to Walker, but I would like to mention the offensive line. While it appears that the planned dive was foiled, the Spartan offensive line held their blocks long enough for Walker to dissect the play and pick the best lane to cut back to. In a super simplistic view, the offensive line is responsible for letting the running back advance the ball, and they performed this task perfectly. It was not how Jay Johnson or even Walker planned the play, but it was a much better outcome than they could have imagined.

Walker gets a lot of credit here. He quickly diagnosed the play while taking a handoff from Payton Thorne and knew that the called design would not work. Instead of attempting to be patient, something Le’Veon Bell or Elijah Collins would do, he looked for an escape to gain more yards. Obviously, he found it, and then he froze a would-be tackler and slipped the arm tackle to burst 75 yards for the score.

Additionally, can you please rewind the very end of the play to laugh at Northwestern’s No. 28 (Chris Bergin) diving for Walker’s feet from multiple yards behind? It has been 11 months since the play, and I still watch all the way through just to laugh at that one moment. Bergin came nowhere near Walker. He also did not dive until Walker was at the Northwestern 3 while Bergin was at their 8. I would have paid good money to be in the film room with (former award-winning linebacker) Northwestern head coach Pat Fitzgerald to see his reaction to that dive. I am pretty sure that even Superman himself could not have made the tackle. The diving tackle form was also something else, with only one arm being extended.

Walker’s freelancing style was exactly what the Spartans needed this year. Michigan State has always been a run-first team, and being patient when our offensive line is still building would not work. We saw this in 2019 with Collins, and in the Peach Bowl with Collins and Jordon Simmons. When our offensive line was able to dominate, Collins racked up massive amounts of yards. When we faced our biggest opponents, however, he would go quiet as they did not have this same vision. This was what made Walker and his one year as a Michigan State football player so magical.

This play ranks higher than his Rutgers rush due to the situation. Both plays were blowouts of Big Ten road opponents, but this one came with so many questions surrounding the season. You can only make one first impression, and the Spartans took full advantage of that on this play.

This said, the game was still a blowout at the end of the day. Northwestern was able to cut it close at points and threaten, but the game felt like Michigan State football had an extra two or three men on the field every play. I cannot rate this higher due to this. This was by far the best play from the Northwestern game, and there are still 14 moments left in this series. Everyone is in for a daily treat these last two weeks.

Statistically, this was Walker’s first touchdown on the season, obviously, and the first of his four in the game. It also accounted for 75 of his 264 yards in the game. Those 264 yards were good enough to put Walker 7th on the list of single-game rushing leaders for Michigan State football history.

Tomorrow marks one of the coldest moments of the 2021 Michigan State football season, both slang-wise and in terms of weather.

Next. 3 freshmen who could start for MSU football. dark