The Michigan State Spartans dropped a third-straight game on the rapidly aging 2022 season, moving to 2-3 overall following a 27-13 defeat in College Park at the hands of the Maryland Terrapins. That also moves the Spartans to 0-2 in Big Ten Conference play this season, and just 2-2 in Big Ten matchups played at Maryland’s newly named SECU Stadium.
Given the number of recent losses, all by double-digits, the mood was understandably morose in the postgame press conference from Michigan State head coach Mel Tucker and the players who had a moment to spare for the gathered media. The only thing more sad than the mood were the random leather sectional sofas stuffed into the back portion of the makeshift media room given to the visiting team.
“We have to play competency football . . . Talk about that like it’s cliche, but that’s how you win football games.” pic.twitter.com/ACRXOjRZ6H— Kevin Knight (@SpartyOnHuskers) October 1, 2022
“Obviously, we’re very disappointed,” Tucker said in his opening statement. “That’s a very disappointed locker room. I told the team ‘Look, there’s not a whole lot to say right now,’ in terms of, I can’t make them feel any better. When we turn on the film, it’s going to be a lack of execution — offense, defense and special teams.
“We didn’t score enough points on offense. We didn’t do really anything in the second half to sustain drives. We didn’t score, we didn’t have any explosive gains. Defensively we didn’t get off the field early enough on third down. We gave up too many big plays early and we didn’t force any takeaways. Special teams, it was a lack of execution. It was just a poor showing that way. We’re going to go back and watch the film and put together a plan so we can play better football.”
Asked if he was worried about the players on the team keeping their heads and spirits up, Coach Tucker promptly insisted “I don’t worry about that with these guys.” He went on to add that “We have enough character in the locker room and guys understand it is what it is. We’re going to have to look at the film and see what happened.”
Tucker was also asked if he was noticing a trend in going back to watch the video after the games with this team, if he was starting to see the same thing in games, and whether he’s figuring out what the buttons to push are to turn things around and snap the losing streak.
“That’s what we’re going to have to figure out,” Tucker started. He quickly fell back on the coach-speak terms and his theme of the night by then pivoting to add “It’s going to be a lack of execution. The opponent has a vote as well and they made plays, they did some good things. But we’re going to see a lack of execution (on the film) and then we’ll have to figure out how to fix it.”
Tucker insisted that the team is not far away, though. “We knew coming out of the last game that we weren’t far away on some things,” he said. “We have to play competently in football. We talk about that all the time, and it seems like it’s cliché, but that’s how you win football games. You get a stop on defense, get the ball back on offense, the offense goes down and scores. Offense goes out and score, we get out there on defense, get a stop, get the ball back. We didn’t do that. When they’re stopping them, we’re not moving the ball.”
That brought up the question regarding the four-to-seven points that Michigan State’s special teams left on the field as well, and whether it affects the offense. A 33-yard field goal attempt early in the second quarter by Ben Patton went wide right, and a 45-yard attempt to close out the first half by Jack Stone was blocked. In between those two field goal attempts, an extra point attempt was thwarted by a bad snap well over the placeholder’s head that resulted in Stone getting tackled instead of being able to get the kick off.
“Every scoring opportunity we have, we need to capitalize on it” Tucker insisted. “It affects our whole team. We haven’t had those type of issues.”
Tucker also was asked about the botched snap on that point-after-touchdown attempt. “What I was told was that one of our lineman took a step when he snapped the ball and the ball hit his leg. I’ll have to see it.”
Tucker was also asked about running back Elijah Collins finally getting substantial playing time (long overdue in this writer’s opinion) and Jayden Reed’s health and execution. Tucker praised Collins’ work ethic in practice and said he’d earned more time from hard work in practice and having productive time on offense in prior games. As for Reed, “He was out there,” Tucker said. “If he’s out there, we expect him to be ready to go.”
The penalties were also an issue for Michigan State’s offense. There were multiple that killed key drives for the Spartans. Naturally, that also came up.
“Penalties are drive killers” Tucker started. “So obviously, that hurt us. But you got to just play the next play.”
Quarterback Payton Thorne was asked early about whether the losses are starting to weigh on him and the team.
“We talk about being neutral all the time, so that’s really where I feel like I’m at right now,” Thorne said. “Obviously, I’m frustrated and disappointed. But we just got to move forward. I know tonight we just got done playing a game like 30 minutes ago, but all we can control is what’s in front of us. So that’s kind of where my mindset’s at and (I’ll) do whatever I can to be myself.”
Thorne was later asked if it is tougher to deal with a loss like the one at Maryland where the offense’s numbers seem to suggest things were going right versus last week against Minnesota when the offense was played so poorly.
“In both those examples we lost the game so they both sting and it’s not a good feeling,” Thorne responded. “We come to win. That’s why you play the game. You don’t play just to compete, you play to win. We didn’t do that tonight. Offensively, we we didn’t score obviously as much as we would like to on any day. So I wouldn’t say there’s a difference.”
That answer immediately drew a question regarding whether Thorne expects to do anything special in order to get ready for Ohio State next week.
“No, I don’t think there’s anything that we’re just going to pull out of our, you know, out of where ever and just all of a sudden just make everything new,” he said. “We’re going to trust that process and we’re going to work our butts off and make sure we’re there doing all required work and try to put ourselves in the best position to be successful.”
After Thorne, wide receiver Tre Mosley was next up for the media room. He was asked about the offense struggling in the second half to start.
“Just lack of execution,” Mosley replied. “There were players out there that could have been made, but we just didn’t get the job done.”
A common theme by the media was also asking everyone about Collins finally getting more time on the field. Just like Thorne before him, Mosley lavished praise on the redshirt senior running back.
“Elijah’s one of the most hardworking players on the team,” Mosley said. “He shows it day in and day out on offense and special teams. So I’m glad to see him finally getting another opportunity.”
The other common theme among media questions was of course how the team is faring through the losing streak and the fan anger over it.
“If you play sports long enough, there’s going to be times like this” Mosely said. “If you play collegiate athletics you learn to block it out because there’s going to be hard times like this but then it gets better...There’s some disappointment throughout the team because we know we’re a better team than this. But I have seen that guys are still sticking together and there isn’t any finger pointing or anything. Everyone is just ready to get back to work.”
Defensive end/liebacker Jacoby Windmon also spoke to the media after Michigan State’s loss to Maryland.
“Just execution for the most part, and, you know, getting off the field on third down,” Windmon said about the loss. “I think we did a better job of getting off the field, but it’s more plays to be made. We left some plays out there. We got to get takeaways.”
The next question for Windmon gave far too much credit to Minnesota quarterback Tanner Morgan in praising the past “few quarterbacks in a row” the Michigan State defense has faced, but asked what the challenges were were in facing a quarterback like Maryland’s Taulia Tagovailoa.
“He’s a great player,” Windmon said about Tagovailoa. “That’s a great team on that side of the ball. They did a good job of executing, but for the most part he’s a mobile quarterback. We knew that coming in so the plan was to collapse the pocket. So we just got to stay executing and stick to the plan.”
Windmon was also asked about the ability of the defensive line with its smaller rotation as a and if that resulted in getting tired when trying to stop the run and trying to get an effective pass rush. MSU was down several defensive linemen, including Jacob Slade, Khris Bogle and Jeff Pietrowski.
“They played good ball,” Windmon said of Maryland. “But I think we did a good job of stopping the run besides the one explosive run that they had. We just got to continue execute stopping the run and then we got to execute even more with stopping the pass...From my point of view, it wasn’t good enough because we’ve got to get more pressure on the quarterback, get more sacks, get more ways of affecting the quarterback. I think that’s something we didn’t do enough tonight.”
The defense will certainly get a chance to do just that next week. Michigan State returns to action Saturday at Spartan Stadium against the Ohio State Buckeyes. Kickoff is set for 4 p.m. Eastern tTme with the game being broadcast on ABC.