For a second, Michigan State had hope.

During the 1st quarter of Saturday’s matchup at Spartans Stadium, Charles Brantley had CJ Stroud right where he wanted him. Baiting Stroud to throw his way, Brantley picked off a pass from the future 1st-round draft pick and returned it 32 yards for a touchdown.

For a moment, Spartans fans saw a shimmer of light. A chance. Maybe an upset against the B1G’s finest was plausible?

Then came the 2nd quarter, and the Spartans fell apart. Again.

What was thought to be the unraveling of Stroud merely ended up being the lone blunder on the Buckeyes’ stat line en route to a 49-20 victory in East Lansing. Stroud threw for 361 yards and 6 touchdowns. Marvin Harrison Jr. proved he was the son of a Hall of Fame receiver, but looked more like Randy Moss than the spawn of Peyton Manning’s favorite target of the early 2000s.

Saturday became a wake-up call for Spartan Nation as MSU (2-4, 0-3) continued its losing ways. The Spartans aren’t the Buckeyes. They’re not even in-state rival Michigan in terms of production. At this point, one could argue that outside of Iowa’s offense, Michigan State is the biggest disappointment in the conference, and Mel Tucker is the next conman swindling boosters out of their hard-earned money.

Tucker doesn’t have the answers. No one does. And that was evident as play after play unfolded and MSU couldn’t stop the horror on either side of the ball.

The Spartans totaled 202 yards of offense and ran 48 plays. The Buckeyes ran 74 plays and totaled over 600 yards. MSU had 6 drives that ended in 3-and-out punts. Ohio State punted 3 times all game, the first coming past the midway point of the 3rd quarter.

This was a Buckeyes roster that didn’t have its full arsenal, either. Star receiver Jaxon Smith-Njigba and running back Miyan Williams were inactive with lingering injuries. Imagine if Stroud had his No. 1 receiver and his backfield star in the making. What’s the score then?

The Buckeyes by 40? Maybe 50? Good golly, would 60 be a possibility?

Ohio State sells itself. It’s the pinnacle of the B1G, punching out NFL talent left and right. Jim Tressel, Urban Meyer, Ryan Day? Players aren’t sold on the program based on the coach, but rather the emblem stitched in the center of their jerseys.

The same can’t be said for MSU. Convincing players to snub programs like Ohio State and Michigan comes with a challenge. It needs the right coach at the forefront.

The verdict is still out on if Tucker can steer the ship out of rocky waters. He’ll have plenty of time to try to get it right. A $95 million extension signed last November all but guarantees that Tucker will be back in 2023.

Unless the Spartans finish below .500 that season, Tucker probably is back in 2024.

Can Tucker fix the Spartans’ sinking ship?

Any bit of progress would help Tucker’s case. None occurred Saturday. Instead, the Buckeyes bucked and broke the Spartans’ offensive line, leaving quarterback Payton Thorne to flee for his life on the regular. Sometimes, he was able to evade the pressure. Other times, the pressure got the best of him.

Defensively, nothing went right. Literally, nothing. TreVeyon Henderson averaged 6.2 yards per carry. Dallan Hayden averaged 5 yard. Stroud, who soon will be lighting up the scoreboard on Sundays, averaged 13.9 yards per throw.

If Harrison was covered, Stroud targeted Julian Fleming. Say Fleming was double-teamed? No problem, the Buckeyes have yet another playmaker in Emeka Egbuka, who likely would be nearing 1,000 yards already if he wasn’t splitting reps with 3 potential 1st-round talents.

That’s what Ohio State has at its disposal. As for Michigan State, if Jayden Reed isn’t open, Thorne can target Keon Coleman. If Coleman is covered, pray for a miracle or a busted coverage.

By the start of the 4th quarter, the β€œDeep End,” a stadium section filled with eccentric die-hards, had emptied. The fans had seen enough.

That’s the reality for a program like Michigan State. Maybe it’ll get better with another offseason in which Tucker again takes control of the transfer portal. Or perhaps 11-2 with a Peach Bowl victory was truly a 1-year-wonder for MSU with Tucker at the helm.

He’s 3 seasons in, so it’s too soon to say he’s in over his head.Β  At least on paper it is.

Sometimes things must get worse before they can get better. For Michigan State, it’s as close to rock bottom as the Spartans would like to go. Outside of the 6 seconds it took for Brantley to take one to the house, it was a 1-sided matchup, just like last year’s 56-7 humiliation.

Fans should’ve realized the game was over on the opening play of the 2nd quarter when the Buckeyes elected to go for it on 4th-and-1 at their own 42. At that point, Ohio State knew it could do anything against this defense.

Including embarrassing them in front of a packed house at home.