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Ken Walker's 9 best plays during his 5-TD domination of Michigan last season
Seaside Joe 1238: It took 122 years for a Michigan State player to score five times against the Wolverines
The Michigan-Michigan State football rivalry goes back to 1898 and has taken place 114 times in the last 122 years. There have been many times in the history of the sport that running backs have been the focal point of an offense well more than is expected today, but not until 2021 did a Spartans running back score five touchdowns against the Wolverines.
Kenneth Walker III may be of this world, but he seems misplaced in this era.
When Michigan and Michigan State met for the 114th time this past October, it was the first time since 1964 that both teams were ranked in the top-10, as well as the only time both the Wolverines and Spartans were 7-0 or better. In the modern game, we might expect to highlight a matchup of quarterbacks, like Trevor Lawrence vs. Tua Tagovailoa, or even back to 2011 when Michigan State quarterback Kirk Cousins faced off against Wisconsin’s transfer superstar Russell Wilson.
Instead, this battle for the Paul Bunyan Trophy would include respectable college quarterbacks Cade McNamara and Payton Thorne. But any Heisman talk in 2021 could only center around the matchup between Michigan defensive end Aidan Hutchinson and Walker.
Game. Set. Walker.
Facing potentially the best defense he had ever studied for in his career to that point (Michigan ranked 7th in points allowed, was placed 4th on this list of best college defenses of 2021, and FootballOutsiders had the Wolverines 13th in FEI), Ken Walker was given the ball 23 times and he finished the day with 197 yards and five touchdowns.
He also caught a career-high three passes, and while that is not a lot, as you will see below these were plays that signal dual threat abilities that will probably be highlighted during Walker’s rookie season with the Seattle Seahawks.
But as I’ve written throughout this series, games like this one became standard for Walker during his three years between Wake Forest and Michigan State as one of college football’s most dominant home run threats at any position since 2019.
Previously on Ken Walker III’s college career: Walker’s freshman season, Walker’s career-day vs NC State, Walker’s holy shit moments vs Virginia, how Walker got to Michigan State, will Walker be a third WR, Walker’s 4-TD debut for the Spartans, Walker blows through Miami like a tornado, there was no better college RB in 2021 than Ken Walker, Walker vs Rutgers, root against Walker at your own peril
Walker’s 197 yards against then-6th ranked Michigan was his fifth contest with at least 120 rushing yards through his team’s first eight games and featured many of the plays we had come to expect from him: Another touchdown run of 50+ yards, more broken tackles, a combination of patience, vision, and burst that is second to no other college running back, great hands, great feet, and a few direct snaps in wildcat.
After the game, Walker gave credit to his teammates rather than campaign for the Heisman.
He's only the third Michigan State player to score five rushing touchdowns in one game, and he's the only Spartans running back with five rushing touchdowns against the Wolverines.
Coming into this game, Walker was second in the country in total rush yards and had garnered Heisman talk. This performance will only add to that talk, but Walker is quick to give credit elsewhere.
"Overall, I don't feel like it's a Heisman moment, but I feel like it was just a great team win," he said after the game.
The Spartans were also down 30-14 midway through the third quarter, needing three touchdowns by Walker in the final 20 minutes in order to come away with a 37-33 rivalry win. Thorne had a couple of great moments, but were it not for Walker’s five touchdowns, Michigan State would have been blown out with their quarterback throwing no touchdowns and two interceptions with 3.5 adjusted Y/A.
Thorne knew where credit was due.
"I will say, three of (Walker’s) touchdowns today, I wasn't expecting a huge play," Thorne said. "On the first one, we were in the huddle, and I said let's just forget the red zone, let's just score right here and he did, so that was good. The other one was not a home run play, but as you see with him, any play could be a home run. The o-line was doing a good job, I'm sure he'll give them credit."
“So that was good.”
Head coach Mel Tucker expressed the same sentiment with Walker and the likelihood that he would deflect credit towards his teammates.
“He’s a special player, he’s a team player and we all know that he’s a Heisman-type guy,” Tucker told FOX Sports about Walker after the game.
The further we go down the Kenneth Walker rabbit hole, the less it makes sense that ANY Seahawks fan would take issue with the team adding a player who has the resume and reputation of Walker, a running back who you want on your football team whether it’s 1898 or 2022.
These nine plays are nine more reasons why Walker should be a second round steal.
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Facing a 10-0 deficit after the first quarter, Walker takes the handoff at Michigan’s 27 but immediately runs into a wall. As was often the case in college, Walker stayed upright and while he doesn’t have to go as far or deal with as much mayhem as Marshawn Lynch did during his legendary quake, the beginning (and end) of this play has several similarities.
It’s not only that Walker fought the wall (and the wall lost), but he fools and goofs up Hutchinson with his first step after breaking out of the pile. Hutchinson was arguably the best run-defending edge in the entire nation. Not this day.
Don’t go chasing Walkerfalls
This is another type of Walker play familiar to Seasiders: He cuts to the outside and makes two defenders miss immediately, then pulls put even wider left and makes ANOTHER TWO defenders miss.
What does that make?
Michigan State’s “Stop-Spart” weapon
You think you’ve got Walker and then suddenly you’re standing there holding complete and utter air. Nothing but air. And #12 Josh Ross was Michigan’s leading tackler (106) in 2021. Here he was the losing tackler.
Coach: “He’s a very good receiver out of the backfield”
Though Walker only caught 13 passes on the season, the Fox broadcast mentions a Michigan State coach who wanted to make it clear that he is actually a very good receiver. It’s just not a part of the Spartans’ gameplan. In this contest, he caught three passes and though they did not go very far usually (except the first down above), the skills are clearly there.
I expect Seattle to use Walker as a receiver more often than Wake or MSU ever did.
Not pictured: Walker’s tough fought 1-yard TD run to cut Michigan’s lead in half. Pictured:
He’s fast. He’s got a 4.38. No traits are missing.
Though Michigan State and Wake Forest run vastly different offenses, both empowered Walker to take direct snaps and he often excelled in this position. The Seahawks have Geno Smith and Drew Lock, so I do expect Shane Waldron to give Walker wildcat opportunities in 2022. This key first down sets up Walker for his game-winning run.
“They’ve gotta get it to Kenneth Walker…”
I recommend listening to the broadcast call on this one.
Tackle for a lo— a lo— a lol
Freshman linebacker Junior Colson spills his lunch in front of the entire cafeteria on this play. One of the most impressive two-yard runs I’ve ever seen.
Kenneth Walker III starts his first NFL training camp on Tuesday.
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