50 defining moments of the 2021 Michigan State football season: No. 1
Today is the last day of this series. Who else but Kenneth Walker III would provide the ultimate defining moment of Michigan State’s 2021 football season?
Welcome to the final article in this 2021 Michigan State football series. Covering the 50 defining moments of this campaign has been a lot of fun, and I look forward to writing this just as much as I did for the first in the series, 50 days ago.
Kenneth Walker III provided the ultimate game-changing moment for last season, and naturally that would be against the Spartans’ biggest rival.
Before I begin, I would like to thank Connor for editing each article. No matter what time I sent in the articles (sorry about that!), they were already perfectly edited and approved on release day to keep the countdown going.
For those of you who missed yesterday’s article, please click here. If you want to check out previous articles in this series, feel free to scroll through my writing profile.
No. 1: Kenneth Walker III’s 23-yard run against Michigan
For the last defining moment, I would like to change things. I believe the “why” is self-explanatory. A touchdown against your undefeated, arrogant rival in the state is one of the best feelings in the world. When I’ve built this list and talked about my rankings with friends, this game has never been lower than #2. It ticks all the boxes I listed for the criteria: clutch, dynamics, “wow factor “, and helped give the Spartans momentum. That game made No. 2 possible, making it the No. 1 defining moment of Michigan State’s 2021 football season.
After Jacub Panasiuk picked up a fumble from JJ McCarthy, it wasn’t an instant score for the Spartans. A waiting penalty on the first down put this drive in serious danger. After some modest gains, Michigan State football faced third and eighth. Wolverine defender Mike Morris was pulled offside on a hard count by Payton Thorne, reducing the number of yards needed to a manageable three. Walker III came out to Wildcat and picked up five yards.
In the ensuing game, the Wolverines were flagged for illegal substitution. Looking at this piece, however, you can see Mike Morris wrapping his arms around Walker’s neck. Not only was Morris unruly prior to the breakup, but I suspect this carries over to his acting as well. At the end of the play, Walker is seen lying on his back with his hands right next to his throat. Due to the penalty, Walker takes a bit longer to recover. The next play is an action pass, where Jayden Reed would have had 10 easy yards if not for Daxton Hill’s athletic break. This sets the stage for Walker and the defining moment of the entire Spartan season.
Thorne lines up shotgun with Walker directly behind him. On the snap, Thorne executes a play option and hands the ball to Walker. Walker takes the ball straight down the middle, with his left side up and David Ojabo breaking free on his right. Walker accelerates quickly and Ojabo, who should have been able to hold Walker at the line of scrimmage (before reading Thorne), is left in the dust. The line clears the way for Walker, with none of the defensive linemen touching him. Walker then cuts to the right, where a Wolverine safety again takes a horrible angle on him.
At first I thought that horrible dive took out the only other Wolverine capable of getting their hands on Walker, but that’s not true. Brad Hawkins, who previously played “Wolverine’s security taking a bad angle” in moment #4, underestimates Walker and is left in the dust. Hawkins was supposed to keep Heyward on this play and takes his job too seriously, missing the obvious signs of a run. The other option was for Hawkins to attack Thorne’s threat reading option. Either way, it takes time that when he turns to try to tackle Walker, the attempt is too slow, and Hawkins just has to jog as K9 sprints into the end zone.
It was a great piece, and a lot of bands deserve recognition here. For starters, Jay Johnson called an excellent reader here. After the first Wolverines penalty, no one would blame Johnson for going back to Walker for another play. Instead, he called a play pass with Walker on a wheel. This gives Walker more time to recover from Morris’ move to the bush league. Johnson then dials in Walker on this play, and the option to play with a mid dive to avoid or neutralize Wolverine’s edge threats was perfect. Walker had success in the middle most of the day, and this game was no different.
The next part to get a shout out to is the Spartan offensive line. The line leads the way for Walker here. While the left rose in their one-on-one matchups, if this game went to Walker, it would be between center and right guard. As a result, neither Wolverine managed to disrupt play. Kevin Jarvis, Matt Allen and a shooting AJ Arcuri sealed all of their defenders, with Arcuri helping Allen push his defender into the play-reading linebacker. With the threat of Payton’s legs Thorne, Ojabo had to read the quarterback for a split second and wasn’t blocked, and that was all Walker needed to get through the holeshot.
Payton Thorne also deserves a shout out here, as he does just enough on the play to freeze Ojabo and let the play develop before Walker tears up for the end zone. Thorne isn’t trying to be the hero of this play and win a first down, he plays the smart and correct read and that gives the Spartans a starting touchdown.
Walker, of course, deserves the rest of the credit. The offensive blocking plan left Walker with just a man or two to beat. He easily diagnosed a horrible safety angle and was able to get around the safety while retaining most of his speed and all of his balance. Then the end zone was his. Walker III scored all five touchdowns for Michigan State that game and that touchdown gave them a lead they would never give up.
Kenneth Walker III has delivered an incredible season for the Spartans. Not only was he virtually guaranteed 100 yards and a touchdown in every game he played, but he was also always down to earth. Mel Tucker recounted how Walker thanked the coach for giving K9 a chance. Walker avoided the spotlight and always deflected blame. He was an excellent footballer but also an excellent teammate. Walker put the spotlight on MSU and gave them an incredible year, and now it’s time for 2022 to begin and for Michigan State’s newest football team members to pick up where Walker left off.
Listening to Gus Johnson’s call is bittersweet. Johnson mentions New York as if it were an assured statement that Walker will be at the Heisman ceremony, but we now know that is not the case. With his injury against Ohio State and no Big Ten title, Walker was dropped from the guest list. He settled in pretty well, winning the Doak Walker award as well as the Walter Camp award.
Walker was a superstar who didn’t act larger than life, and maybe that’s why he didn’t have his “New York” moment. I wonder if Walker was flashy like Baker Mayfield or Johnny Manziel, could K9 have been on that stage?
Although he’s only a year old from Walker, it feels weird to be on the verge of next season and not have him with the rest of the squad. I guess that’s part of being messed up in the mid-2010s, with Shilique Calhoun, Connor Cook, Jeremy Langford and Darqueze Dennard all staying on for their final years. I can’t complain for a second about Walker leaving after this year as he provided the best season of Spartan football I have ever attended and watched live.
Statistically, Kenneth Walker III had a career day against the Wolverines, which was his fifth touchdown (the others being moments #4, 21, 24 and 28). It also added to his total which would eventually give the running back over 200 total yards against the Wolverines. As I’ve mentioned in previous articles about Walker’s day against Michigan, this was a record for most rushing touchdowns against the Wolverines by a single player, ever. Additionally, his touchdown total in that game was good enough for second place all-time in single-game rushing touchdowns for a Michigan State football player.
Thanks for reading this series. Whether it’s the first article you’ve read or the 50th, thank you. It started out as a fun “maybe this should be a series” text for CJ, but I never imagined that I would stick with it and publish every single article. Here I am, 50 days later with each article completed. I guess that really shows that Spartans Will. Go green!
Tomorrow, Michigan State’s 2022 football season kicks off. There are no more defining moments, we have a season to watch now.