The Columbus Dispatch
Michigan State, Pittsburgh take different approaches
In Mel Tucker's first news conference from Atlanta to preview Michigan State's Peach Bowl matchup with Pittsburgh, the coach updated a few of the personnel questions his 10th-ranked Spartans are dealing with in preparing to face the No. 12 Panthers Thursday.
MSU (10-2) will be without star running back Kenneth Walker III, who decided to opt out and prepare for the NFL draft.
“It's hard to replace the guy like Ken. I mean, you really can't do that,” Tucker said.
According to Tucker, left tackle Jarrett Horst is questionable, and safety Michael Dowell will sit out the game as he is in the transfer portal.
Horst started MSU'S first eight games but has not been in uniform since the 37-33 win over Michigan on Oct. 30. His blocking provided Walker an anchor on the left side of the line and helped keep quarterback Payton Thorne upright before Horst missed the final four games in which the Spartans went 2-2.
The Spartans had seven players enter the NCAA transfer portal after their regular-season finale against Penn State, and Dowell is the only one not in Atlanta, an MSU spokesman said. The others are expected to be available for MSU. That group includes defensive backs C.J. Hayes and Emmanuel Flowers; defensive linemen Jack Camper and Tyson Watson; linebacker Cole Demarzo; offensive lineman James Ohonba; wide receiver Ian Stewart; tight ends Trenton Gillison and Kameron Allen; and kicker Evan Johnson.
“Those are individual decisions that players are making, and I'm supporting them on the decisions that they do make,” Tucker said. “And so I just told the guys at the very beginning, at the onset, ‘If you're in, you're in 100%. And if you're not in, let's communicate that. And then we'll support you.”
Panthers coach Pat Narduzzi, meanwhile, has three players so far who opted out of the game to prepare for the NFL draft, including Heisman Trophy finalist and Johnny Unitas Golden Arm Award-winning quarterback Kenny
Pickett. And Pitt (11-2) had two players go into the portal since the end of the regular season.
They are no longer with the team. “I think the portal is bad enough as it
is," Narduzzi said, "But I think it's a bad deal when you let guys go into portal still play for you. I just wonder what it's like in the locker room."