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Notes & Quotes: Michigan State has come a long way this season, but Saturday showed how far the Spartans still have to go

“It’s easy when things are going right,” Mel Tucker said. “But when it gets tough, when you get blown out on the road and all the opinions take flight, what are you going to do now?”

Michigan State v Ohio State Photo by Gregory Shamus/Getty Images

It’s unfair to think Michigan State wasn’t ready to play on Saturday — the Spartans really never had a chance, regardless of preparation. MSU caught Ohio State at a time when the Buckeyes are starting to play their best football of the year and the talent gap turned out to be, well, large, in a 49-point blowout victory for OSU.

“It’s easy when things are going right,” Michigan State head football coach Mel Tucker said when asked about what he told his players following the loss. “But when it gets tough, when you get blown out on the road and all the opinions take flight, what are you going to do now? That’s really the true test of your character. We’re not in the finger-pointing business, we’re not in the excuse business.”

The Buckeyes scored touchdowns on their first seven drives of the game en route to a 56-7 victory, placing themselves firmly in the driver’s seat to yet another Big Ten title. It’s hard to nitpick specifics for the loss, as Michigan State was shut down in every way from start to finish.

“They outplayed us in all three phases,” Tucker said. “They were the much better team, today — that was obvious. From a coaching standpoint, there were no surprises out there. It was just a matter of them out-executing us and they won some one-one-ones.”

Ohio State quarterback C.J. Stroud lit up the Michigan State defense backs with relative ease and has now planted his stake in the Heisman race. He finished 32-for-35 for 432 yards and six touchdowns, almost all of which came just in the first half. The matchup nightmare between OSU’s receivers and the MSU’s cornerbacks was evident, as three Buckeye wideouts would finish with 100-plus yards and at least one touchdown.

“I’ve played against those dudes, so I know how fast they are, but for some of the guys who haven’t played against them, sometimes it’s hard to really tell how fast (they) are until you get out there,” safety Xavier Henderson said when asked about the preparation for the matchup.

Offensively, MSU was able to move the ball for a few possessions in the first quarter before eventually collapsing. Payton Thorne finished 14-for-36 for 158 yards and a touchdown late in the game when the outcome was already decided. Heisman hopeful Kenneth Walker III finished with just 25 yards on six carries and missed the entire second half due to a mild injury.

“It’s not necessarily wipe it clean and forget about it,” Thorne said after the loss. “You’ve got to watch the film and learn from it, then move forward. You always can remember days like this. I’ll remember this day for a long time.”

Unfortunately for Thorne and the Spartans, they were still missing some key players on offense due to injury and lost some more throughout the day. Possibly the lone bright spot from the game was the production from highly-touted freshman wide receiver Keon Coleman, who finished with three catches and the lone touchdown for MSU. Assuming Jayden Reed, Jalen Nailor and Tre Mosley are all back next season, adding Coleman to the already impressive group could spell serious problems for opposing defenses in the future.

Moving forward, the Spartans still have a rivalry game against Penn State next week for a chance at double-digit wins and a New Year’s Six bowl. While a loss like this is certainly demoralizing to any program, Tucker believes that Michigan State is not too far from taking the next step.

“Recruiting is where we’re going to close the gap,” Tucker said when asked about how to compete with a program like Ohio State. “We need more depth and we need more guys that can win one-on-one. I don't think that’s news. We’re built to recruit at a high level and we’ll continue to work to improve our team.”

Coach Tucker’s Full Remarks

Payton Thorne’s Full Remarks