That one was...rough. Michigan State and Ohio State faced off on Saturday, and the Spartans were flat out embarrassed by the Buckeyes. Justin Fields and company walloped the Spartans with a final score of 52-12, but it wasn’t even that close.
Head Coach Mel Tucker said postgame that this is not the result he wants, and he’s “going to be sick” looking back on the film from Saturday’s game. It was a complete dismantling of the Spartans, and their worst loss against the Buckeyes since 2017, where they lost 48-3.
But, with a day to, as linebacker Antjuan Simmons put it, let the loss “marinate,” what can we take away from the performance against the no. 4 ranked team in the country?
Spartans need to find their quarterback
Through six games, the Spartans have had plenty of struggles at the quarterback position. Quarterback Rocky Lombardi has his glimpses of being a promising option at the position, but has just as many low points. His inconsistency and struggles need to be a sign to the coaching staff that maybe he’s not the guy.
After Lombardi went down with an injury late in the second quarter on Saturday, quarterback Payton Thorne stepped in and immediately made an impact. Thorne started the game 11/11 with nearly 100 yards passing, before he sailed the ball over a slant route and was picked off by the Buckeyes. Outside of his interception and a fumble on a fourth down run, Thorne looked like the spark the offense needed. He can extend plays on the ground, with multiple really good escapes from pressure on Saturday, and can also sling it when he needs to. Thorne found a wide open Jayden Reed along the sideline on Saturday, and placed the ball just right so Reed could catch it in stride. It set up the 20-yard touchdown run by Thorne on the next play.
So, while Lombardi has his moments, there’s some real evaluating that this coaching staff needs to do before next Saturday. We’ll see who they roll out at quarterback against the Nittany Lions. Of course, Lombardi may not even be available for the game depending on the severity of his injury.
Defense can be elite when they get a chance to catch their breath
One of the few bright spots this season for the Spartans has been their defense. I’ve said this nearly every week, but when given the chance to actually catch their breath on the sideline, the Spartans have a near-elite defense.
On Saturday, they didn’t get very many opportunities to do so. But, on the few that they did, the defense played very well. The defense got some big stops, and if the offense had any semblance of life early, this game could’ve potentially been closer.
There are things to improve with the defense, but in order for them to succeed and gave a chance, the offense can’t go three-and-out or turn the ball over in their own territory every possession.
The future is bright for the program
You’re probably looking at the score and reading that heading and laughing at me, but hear me out for a minute. There are a few things you have to consider here.
Michigan State didn’t have a full offseason like a lot of these other coaches, and even new coaches, have. Mel Tucker took over in late February, which already put him a month behind. They didn’t have a full spring, which is so important for a new coach to have so they can get ahead in installing schemes to their teams. The Spartans also didn’t have the luxury of a non-conference schedule, which can sometimes be treated almost like a preseason so coaches can evaluate their players and game plans now that they’re actually facing another team.
Mel Tucker has been behind from the beginning, and managed to get his players to buy into the process, and beat two top-15 AP ranked teams in Northwestern and Michigan. With a full year to really help his players grow, and to figure out some of the wrinkles that they couldn’t fix this season, the Spartans could be on the rise very quickly within the Big Ten. It may be a few years before they compete for a title, but growth is the most important thing right now for the Spartans.
While that was a really bad loss to watch, the Spartans aren’t done yet. There are still two more games left this season, with Penn State and the Championship Week game still left on the schedule. It will be interesting to see how they play out, and what kind of momentum the Spartans can take into the offseason. There’s a very real possibility that Michigan State finishes with a .500 record this season, but the Spartans need to fix some real issues first. It will be interesting to see how it plays out this week against Penn State.