Self-inflicted wounds continue to plague Michigan State in first home shutout loss since 1985
Turnover(s). On the roster, among the coaching staff, at the quarterback position, through the air and on the ground, one word couldn’t better describe the state of Michigan State football.
“You turn the ball over and you have critical penalties against a good football team, you are going to get beat,” Mel Tucker said following the Spartans’ first home shutout loss since 1985. “That’s what happened. We need to figure out what we can do with the guys that we have.”
There’s a whole lot of figuring out to do, but nothing more was expected from a Spartans team that hired a new head coach as late as February and is in the midst of its first quarterback controversy since 2016.
Rocky Lombardi made the 7th start of his career on Saturday against Indiana, but for the second consecutive week looked nothing like the player who started the year by passing for 642 yards and throwing 6 touchdowns. Lombardi was pulled with 9:16 remaining in the second quarter after throwing his 2nd interception of the day and 5th of the last two weeks, less than 6 quarters removed from garnering national attention for a 3-touchdown performance at Michigan.
The 2 picks led directly to 10 Indiana points, and the rest was history as Michigan State was held to fewer than 200 yards of offense at home for just the second time since 2007. A Spartans team that ranked 121st of 123 teams in turnover margin entering the game turned the ball over 4 more times in Saturday’s 24-0 loss.
Payton Thorne spelled Lombardi, playing in a game for just the second time in his college career after throwing a single pass last week in a 49-7 loss to Iowa. Thorne finished 10-of-20 for 110 yards and an interception against the Hoosiers and had a 38-yard run on his first play of the game, but the offense never really clicked, bringing into question who will be the starting QB moving forward.
“We’ll look at the film and we’ll evaluate it more and then we’ll see what we need to do moving forward,” Tucker said. “But there’s no position set in stone on this team – quarterback position or any other.”
The running game remains enigmatic, as for the third time this year, Michigan State was held to fewer than 60 yards rushing. Jordon Simmons again led the team in carries, but with just 9. Five other players had at least 3.
Ricky White, who caught 8 passes for 196 yards against the Wolverines in Week 2, had just 1 catch for the third time this year. Like the entire team, whatever happened in Ann Arbor was a welcome fluke, but the all-to-real status of Michigan State is the resume it’s established in the other 3 games this fall.
The only bright spot for the Spartans was about the only thing that has remained the same from last year — the play of Antjuan Simmons. With a secondary down 3 starters against the Hoosiers, Simmons made several cracking tackles and played with spirit, but there’s just not enough talent on the roster to match the senior linebacker and override the countless self-inflicted wounds that Michigan State continues to make.
“You see it, it’s obvious — you turn the ball over and you have critical penalties against a good football team, you are going to get beat,” Tucker said. “That’s what happened.”
With Michigan State scheduled to travel to Maryland next week (although that game remains in flux given the Terrapins’ current COVID-19 status), the Spartans’ defense needs the offense to at the very least sustain some drives to keep the defense off the field as much as possible.
Considering Indiana scored 17 points off of Spartans’ turnovers, Saturday’s defensive effort wasn’t a complete disaster. But leaving the defense on the field for over 40 minutes is never a recipe for success.
Fixing that begins with holding on to the ball and not throwing the defense into sudden-change situations. Lombardi has demonstrated an inability to hold on to the ball, leaving the door open for what should be Thorne as the starter moving forward. If the Spartans can find any sort of pulse in their run game, there’s another win to be had somewhere in this season.
But until Michigan State finds some consistency from a quarterback and has more discipline, it’s going to continue to be a long season in Year 1 under Tucker. But worse comes to worse, there’s always that Paul Bunyan Trophy to wave around.