Michigan State searching for Walker replacements this spring

Nick King/Lansing State Journal / USA TODAY NETWORK
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Michigan State leaned on Kenneth Walker III a lot during its turnaround season, handing him the ball 22 times a game with much success.

This spring, and in the fall, someone else will need to run the ball for the Spartans because Walker skipped his senior season to enter the NFL draft. The top candidates for the role may be a mystery until the season starts Sept. 2 against Western Michigan.

When spring drills end Saturday, the lack of healthy offensive linemen has led coach Mel Tucker choosing to have a practice instead of a game with fans in the stands at Spartan Stadium.

“I would love to be able to play a traditional game if we could,” said Tucker, who won the Big Ten Coach of the Year award last season. “But our numbers won’t allow us to do it.”

Walker had some eye-popping numbers during a breakout season.

He ranked second in the FBS with 1,636 yards and was among the nation’s leaders with 19 touchdowns. The Wake Forest transfer became the first Spartan to win the Doak Walker Award as the nation’s best running back, was The Associated Press’ Big Ten co-offensive player of the year and finished sixth in Heisman Trophy voting.

There’s no doubt Walker was the pivotal player that helped Tucker go from a 2-5 record during the pandemic-shortened 2020 season in his first year to winning 11 games and finishing No. 9 in the AP Top 25.

Walker left the program before the Peach Bowl, leaving a huge hole to fill behind a rebuilt offensive line Tucker says is “thin.”

There is no shortage of running backs motivated to make the most of the opportunity to share the carries Walker has left behind.

Wisconsin transfer Jalen Berger made a favorable early impression this spring with elusive moves that have made it it hard for the defense to bring him down.

“Berger, he emerged,” Tucker said.

Davion Primm, who redshirted as a freshman last season, has also caught Tucker’s attention.

“I’m not putting him in the hall of fame or anything,” Tucker said.. “You ask about players that have gotten better. He’s flashing.”

Elijah Collins, who ran for 988 yards in 2019, and Jordon Simmons, who had 70 carries for 278 yards last season, have the most experience among returning players in the backfield.

Michigan State is returning Payton Thorne, a standout starter at quarterback, and that should help the running game by forcing defenses to respect the pass. Thorne set a single-season school record with 27 touchdown passes last year, breaking Kirk Cousins‘ mark, and is among the all-time leaders with 3,414 yards passing and in passing efficiency.

Just don’t expect Michigan State to transform into a pass-happy team.

“We’re still going to base things starting with the run game,” offensive coordinator Jay Johnson said. “We need to do that. That’s what our program is, the physicality that coach Tuck wants.”

Clemson gives raises, contract extensions to staff

Ken Ruinard/USA TODAY NETWORK
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CLEMSON, S.C. — Clemson’s board of trustees approved raises for special teams coordinator and cornerbacks coach Mike Reed and defensive tackles coach Nick Eason.

Reed and Eason also received one-year extensions keeping them tied to the Tigers through Jan. 31, 2026.

Reed, who’s been with the Tigers since 2013, had his yearly salary increased $50,000 to $800,000. Eason, the former Clemson standout defensive lineman, joined the staff this past season. He also had his compensation upped by $50,000 to $800,000.

Seven other assistants were given one-year extensions by the trustees’ compensation committee, but without a raise in salary.

Co-defensive coordinators Wes Goodwin and Mickey Conn had their contracts extended through Jan. 31, 2026.

Defensive ends coach Lemanski Hall, tight ends coach Kyle Richardson, offensive line coach Thomas Austin, running backs coach C.J. Spiller and wide receivers coach Tyler Grisham all got one-year extensions through Jan. 31, 2025.

New offensive coordinator Garrett Riley last month received a three-year contract at $1.75 million per season.

Clemson will pay its 10 on-field assistants $7.475 million this season, an increase of $925,000 from the total for 2022.

The Tigers went 11-3 last season, winning the Atlantic Coast Conference title for the seventh time in the past eight seasons.

South Carolina’s Beamer suspends three freshmen from program

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Corey Perrine/USA TODAY NETWORK
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COLUMBIA, S.C. — South Carolina coach Shane Beamer said freshmen Monteque Rhames II, Anthony Rose and Cameron Upshaw were suspended from the football program.

There was no reason given for the suspensions in the school’s statement Friday. Online records showed Rhames, 18, was booked last night and was being held at the Alvin S. Glenn Detention Center on charges of carrying weapons on school property and obstructing justice.

“Our student-athletes know what is expected of them,” Beamer said. “They know that both the university and the football program will hold them accountable for their actions and decisions.”

None of the three have played for the Gamecocks.

Rose is a 6-foot-1, 190-pound defensive back from Miami who enrolled in January 2022 and redshirted this season. Rhames and Upshaw were part of South Carolina’s latest recruiting class and enrolled last month.

Rhames is a 6-5, 235-pound defensive lineman from Sumter and Upshaw is a 6-2, 193-pound safety from Perry, Florida.