Michigan State football: String of losses will test Spartans' character
Some people say the only place to go is up when one hits rock bottom. What happens when a program hits the level above rock bottom titled “stone middle-tier.”
No, Michigan State has not hit its floor just yet. Mel Tucker’s former school in Colorado crossed that mark on Sunday when it elected to fire Karl Dorrell after an 0-5 start. The Spartans at least have 2 wins. But they also have 3 consecutive ugly losses, the worst coming against Minnesota in Week 4.
And with Ohio State coming to visit on Saturday, the losing run is probably not done. Given how things are going, the Spartans likely will take the field as underdogs at least 4 more times this season.
MSU was expected to take a step back following its 11-2 season capped off with a Peach Bowl victory over ACC champion Pitt. But not like this.
Gone were All-America running back Kenneth Walker III and several of the other high-profile transfers who boosted the team to prominence. But Tucker seemed to have reinforcements in place.
But a spate of injuries and some players who haven’t panned out so far have changed the arithmetic.
So, where does Tucker go from here? More importantly, where can MSU go from here?
“I don’t sense any negativity, but obviously when you lose three games in a row, it tests your character. And our guys have tremendous character,” Tucker said following Saturday’s 27-13 loss to Maryland. “That’s what they’ve displayed so far. I don’t expect it to be any different.”
It’s the little things for the Spartans. They’re dead last in the B1G in time of possession and 11th in turnover margin (-1). They’re better than only Nebraska in the league at stopping opponents from converting third downs.
In reality, the offense has shown its hand this season. Peyton Thorne can deliver a big throw from time to time, but most of his passes are going to be short and safe — or high and intercepted. The rushing combination of Jarek Broussard and Jalen Berger will push forward from time to time to move the sticks. More often, they’ll be held back for minimal gains.
It’s the same on defense. A clean 2nd half is often forgotten when it bears no impact on the outcome. Take for instance last week at College Park against the Terps. Taulia Tagovailoa went 11-of-12 for 121 yards and led a pair of scoring drives to make it 14-7 after the first quarter. In the second half, the Terps went 4-of-10 on third-down conversions and scored only 6 points off 2 field goals.
Sure, that was a step in the right direction, but is there any hope it can be sustained? Or did the Terps just protect their lead under adverse weather conditions?
Fans in East Lansing are about to find out. Next up for the Spartans is No. 3 Ohio State and its high-tempo offense led by potential Heisman QB CJ Stroud. Not only that, the Buckeyes have turned the corner on defense under new coordinator Jim Knowles.
Last season, Ohio State allowed opponents to average 22.7 points per game. Five games into the “Knowles Knowledge Clinic,” the Buckeyes have allowed just 74 points for an average of 14.8 per game.
And, oh yeah, last season Ohio State mauled the Spartans 56-7.
It doesn’t stop there. A week later, the Spartans will take on Wisconsin to battle for “biggest underachiever of 2022 in the B1G” status. Following its bye week, MSU faces No. 4 Michigan for the Paul Bunyan Trophy.
This time last season, the Spartans still held their destiny in their hands for making it to the College Football Playoff. This time around, MSU controls its destiny for making a bowl game and finishing above .500. And maybe that’s how Tucker and the staff will have to look at it the remainder of the regular season.
When hitting “stone middle-tier,” you still can go either up or down. A way to go up? Get an upset win in front of a packed Spartans Stadium. How? That’s the question Tucker and his squad are facing, and it’s a tough one.