1. MSU's problems are even worse than we thought
EAST LANSING – This is just who Michigan State’s football team is this year, it appears. You might want to look away. Perhaps start studying up on Big Ten basketball rosters. Check back on signing day.
Every problem that showed up last week at Washington was confirmed this Saturday against Minnesota. Another good opponent with a seasoned quarterback, sure. But another opponent that completely outclassed the Spartans, too.
This 34-7 loss had some dismal vibes for MSU. It reminded me, in part, of both the 2016 and 2019 losses to Wisconsin. The first of those (30-6 at home) a telling defeat that made it clear the Spartans were in a whole heap of trouble and weren’t going to measure up against the teeth of their Big Ten schedule. The second game (38-0 on the road): the worst response to a deflating loss I’ve seen at MSU.
The 2022 Spartans managed to blend elements of those two infamous nightmares into one Saturday of football.
For the second straight week, MSU was beaten by a team that seemed to have a better plan and better talent. And no answer at all.
A Minnesota team that had run over its first three opponents, but hadn’t really played anyone yet (and I'm not sure has yet now), carved up the Spartans’ pass defense with quick throws and longer-developing ones, too. The Gophers knew MSU couldn’t cover them. I don’t know who the Spartans can cover right now. Akron’s backup quarterback isn’t on the schedule again.
Minnesota ended the first quarter with 169 yards, 14 points and the ball. At that point, MSU had one yard on six plays and two punts. Other than three Payton Thorne turnovers that came later, that first quarter just about summed up the game.
Forget complementary football, MSU would settle for doing something, anything well right now.
I don’t know what the answer could be. This looks like a talent issue at key spots — up front offensively (MSU rushed for 33 yards) and throughout a defense that can’t get a pass rush or match up in the secondary, whether it’s playing man coverage or zone. It tried both. It did not try the blitz-11-and-pray option. That might be next.
Defensive coordinator Scottie Hazelton is going to have to try something else. Because this approach the Spartans are putting on film is getting picked apart by his counterpart and their quarterbacks — Michael Penix last week; Tanner Morgan this week. Maryland’s Taulia Tagovailoa (if he’s healthy) and Ohio State’s CJ Straud are next on the docket. Good grief.
This MSU football season is too young to give up on entirely. Certainly the team can’t; fans should do what’s necessary for their mental health. But, man, I don’t see a reasonable chance at victory until November.
2. The differences are also in the offensive playmakers
This isn’t just MSU’s defense or its inability to win up front offensively. When Minnesota running back Mohamed Ibrahim runs through a tackle, you feel it throughout the stadium. He’s a pro. He’s a problem for defenses. MSU doesn’t have anyone on offense right now who’s a problem. Perhaps a fully healthy Jayden Reed would be. Maybe a more seasoned Keon Coleman. Right now, nobody.
Quarterback Payton Thorne had a tough day, too, with two picks that were off-target throws and a fumble on first-and-goal. It’s tough to judge a QB who doesn’t have a running game. But Thorne was outplayed by his counterpart, Morgan. At minimum, he’s got to protect the football.
MSU offensive coordinator Jay Johnson was also out-dueled by his counterpart. Again, it’s not easy to call plays when your offensive line can’t push a shopping cart. But quick outs on third-and-10 and running into a wall on third-and-4 aren’t going to get it done.
The Spartans do have some offensive talent. They’ve got to figure out how to get something out of it.
3. This is the first real test of the Mel Tucker era
Because this is the low point of the Tucker era. Worse than anything in 2020. The Spartans were just throttled at home, 34-7. And they’ve got eight games left.
It’s a test of character for the Spartans, a test of acumen for the coaches. They’ve got to “keep choppin,’ ” as they say, but do it differently.
How do you get something out of this season? How do you keep confidence? How do you survive a trip to Maryland — let alone games Ohio State, Wisconsin and Michigan — without severe disappointment becoming an all-out disaster?
I don’t know. But I’m not getting paid $95 million to figure it out.
Contact Graham Couch at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @Graham_Couch.
This article originally appeared on Lansing State Journal: Michigan State football falls hard, 34-7, to Minnesota: 3 quick takes