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Postgame Notes & Quotes: Mel Tucker says Michigan State’s performance against Iowa was “totally unacceptable”

“We have a tremendous amount of work to do,” Tucker said, “We have to get tougher, we have to be more physical and we have to play smarter.”

NCAA Football: Michigan State at Iowa Jeffrey Becker-USA TODAY Sports

The Michigan State Spartans suffered an embarrassing loss to the Iowa Hawkeyes today, by a final score of 49-7. It was Michigan State’s first loss to Iowa since 2012, and ended the Spartans’ three-game winning streak over the Hawkeyes.

The underlying message from head coach Mel Tucker at his postgame press conference was that this team has a ton of work yet to do, and today’s performance was simply unacceptable.

“We have a tremendous amount of work to do,” Tucker said, with a hoarse-voice. “We have to get tougher, we have to be more physical and we have to play smarter. As I continue to say, this is the beginning for us. We trust the process that we have. We have to go back to East Lansing, we have to watch the film, we have make the corrections and do the work. And put in the work so we can be tougher, so we can be more physical, so we can play harder, so we can play smarter next week. That’s what has to be done.”

The Spartans were not able to get anything going today. The defense allowed Iowa to score on three of its first four possessions. The offense struggled to sustain drives, and turned the ball over three times. And the special teams play, especially on punts/punt coverage was atrocious.

Tucker did not feel like his team had an emotional hangover or “let down” after the big win against Michigan. Iowa was simply the better team, and out-executed Michigan State in every facet of the game.

“I believe (Iowa) came out and they set the tone at the line of scrimmage and ran the football,” Tucker said. “I didn’t see any indications from a ‘let down’ standpoint, you have to give (Iowa) credit. They came out and won the battle in the trenches. On defense, we need to be able to set the edge and build a wall. And stop the run and make them be one-dimensional, and force the quarterback to beat us on a consistent basis from the pocket, and that did not happen. It took us a couple of series before we were able to match the physicality and the tempo at the line of scrimmage, and then we were able to get stops. They started fast, and I give them credit for that.”

It was a rough day for starting quarterback Rocky Lombardi, who was making his return to his home state of Iowa. Lombardi completed just 17 passes on 37 attempts (just under 46 percent) for 227 yards, with zero touchdown passes and three interceptions.

Tucker said Lombardi was “consistent emotionally throughout the game.” Tucker also said that he talked with Lombardi about continuing to play the next play, moving on from the bad plays and continuing to lead his team. Despite Lombardi’s poor showing today, the coaching staff did not consider pulling him for Payton Thorne (who got reps late in the game) or Theo Day.

“No, we did not talk about taking (Lombardi) out,” Tucker said. “If he’s out there, he’s able to play — that’s with him and anyone else on the team.”

Lombardi also met with the media following the game. He was asked about his performance today, and this is what he had to say:

“It definitely was tough, this was not what I wanted to do coming home,” Lombardi said. “At the end of the day, we just gotta learn from it. I try to stay as level-headed as I can, and I think I got better throughout the game, but obviously turnovers, they kill games.

“I think I just tried to do a little too much,” Lombardi later added. “I saw we kind of needed to make some plays, and I probably overstepped my boundaries a little bit. It comes back to just processing the play, playing each play as individual, and that what’s we’re gonna do next week.”

At the end of the day, Tucker does not place the blame solely on Lombardi or any individual player. This was a complete team loss.

“This is the ultimate team sport,” Tucker said, “You never want to leave it up to one guy. Collectively, we have to play better. Totally unacceptable, in terms of the performance. Our standard is much higher than what we’ve shown. What we’re gonna do is go back and take a hard look at every single play, every single player. It’s gonna be an evaluation, then it’s gonna be corrections, and we’re gonna go back to work.”

“We’re going to have to build on this (loss),” Tucker said. “People respond to two things — pain and pressure. There’s a lot of pain right now in our locker room — our coaching locker room and our player locker room. We’re going to get better by applying pressure to ourselves, as coaches and players. And create an environment that will allow us to improve. Environment and expectations are the two biggest indicators that give you a chance to get better. I’m looking forward to getting back to East Lansing and getting back to work.”

One thing that was clear — Tucker was not happy with today’s performance and he is fired up and eager to get mistakes corrected as quickly as possible.

“I can’t wait to watch the tape,” Tucker said. “I’ll probably load my laptop up right now and we’ll watch it on the bus, watch it on the plane. The sooner we can watch the tape and the sooner we can find out what happened, the sooner we can get the corrections and the sooner we can move on to the next game.”

“Own it, what happened,” Tucker later added. “Trust the process. Do not lie to yourself. We got beat today — in all three phases. What’s next? Go about doing that. We got a lot of work to do. We need to build. We need to find what we can build on and start there.”

One player who was notably missing on certain snaps on defense was senior linebacker Antjuan Simmons. Simmons, the leader of the defense, was apparently playing banged up today.

Tucker alluded to Simmons dealing with some sort of ailment or minor injury, but did not specify. He said Simmons “gave us what he could give us,” and added that “when he was not out there, he was not able to go,” and that “he played hard.”

Simmons was also asked about why he missed time today, and played it coy.

“I just couldn’t go out there and be as productive as I have been in the past,” Simmons said. “But that’s no excuse. When I was out there, I played hard. When Chase (Kline) went out there, he played hard. Whoever was in there played hard.”

Simmons also gave credit to Iowa and said that the Hawkeyes were just able to execute their game play better than the Spartans.

“They were able to do the things they wanted on offense, on defense, special teams,” Simmons said. “They were really just executing their game plan in all facets of the game, and it was hard for us to stay in it, but we stayed in it. We came into halftime (down) 35 points and when we ended the game, they were only able to get two touchdowns in the second half. We definitely fought our back ends off in the second half, the team kept fighting and we responded.”

Coach Tucker

Rocky Lombardi

Antjuan Simmons