With Kenneth Walker Opting Out, Who is the Next Man Up?
When Kenneth Walker announced he was opting out of the Peach Bowl to prepare for the NFL draft, it didn't come as much of a surprise. Walker quite literally put the Spartans on his back this season and is a big reason why they are playing in this game.
Walker has nothing left to prove and will likely be the first running back off the board in the 2022 draft. Regardless of his status, the Spartans still have a game to play on December 30th. The big question is, who is the next man up in Walker's absence?
The next running back up is sophomore Jordan Simmons. However, he only has 255 yards on the season. It may end up being a running back by committee, splitting time between Simmons and Elijah Collins. Both those running backs combine for 342 yards on the ground, and neither of them found the end zone. Those stats speak volumes about Walker's impact on this season.
Based on those numbers, a passing attack seems likely. Payton Thorne has shown flashes of great football this season, so leaving the game in his hands is the right call. Even in a run-heavy offense, Thorne managed to toss 24 touchdowns. That may not seem like a ton compared to others, but given Walker's numbers, it's impressive.
Thorne's two biggest targets were Jayden Reed and Jalen Nailor. Both had great seasons and will be relied on heavily against Pitt. In addition to closing out the season on a great note, it will put a lot of eyes on Payton Thorne. The Peach Bowl gives him the chance to show that he can be that guy who will lead his team to victory. It serves as an opportunity to solidify his starting role and, hopefully, the path to becoming an elite college quarterback.