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With three losses in a row and a fourth seemingly steam-rolling toward East Lansing this weekend against Ohio State, Michigan State fans are feeling beaten down. Now, there doesn’t seem to be much of anything positive that can be counted on, at least in the immediate future.
Heading into the start of the season, all of the biggest issues were obvious. Michigan State’s best player (Kenneth Walker III) was now in the NFL, there were question marks about the offensive line and last year’s dead-last ranked passing defense didn’t do much in the secondary to change at all. The biggest defense to both of those concerns seemed to be a faith in third-year head coach Mel Tucker. Tucker, of course, led the Spartans to a surprising 11-2 season in 2021. However, according to our latest SB Nation Reacts survey, that confidence is a bit shakier than most could have imagined two months ago.
Fewer than half of fans said they were confident in Tucker right now. Most surprising, possibly, is that more fans said they are ready to start looking for a new coach than those who voted “very confident.”
While the largest cohort of fans (32 percent) are still “confident” in Tucker, only nine percent of voters are “very confident” in Tucker’s ability to turn things around. Meanwhile, 29 percent are “unsure,” 19 percent are “somewhat unconfident” and 11 percent — a much higher percentage than I was anticipating — are already “ready to move” on from the head coach.
Come on now. I know things are bleak for 2022, but in my opinion, this is an overreaction and fans should be trusting the process more than they are right now. MSU’s high school recruiting has been good, the staff’s transfer portal prowess remains strong and Tucker has already shown what he can do with an at least somewhat talented roster. The future is still bright under Tucker’s direction.
Tucker appears to be the victim of his own success. When he was hired in early 2020 he was taking over a program in a rough spot. Due to COVID-19, the Spartans missed out on nearly all of the in-person contact for Tucker’s first recruiting class, as well as precious on-field development time for the players already on the roster. Then, MSU had to play a truncated 2020 season, ending in a 2-5 record. At the time, it was widely considered at most to be a Year Zero situation for Tucker, as most fans wanted to give him all the time necessary to get the program in order.
Then everything changed with the transfer of Walker and others in 2021. Yes, plenty of players on that roster had strong seasons, but without Walker in the backfield, it’s hard to see last year looking anywhere near the way it turned out. The 11-win season apparently put the plan into overdrive and expectations went right along with it. The rebuild felt expedited, but perhaps that wasn’t actually the reality. The rebuild is still going.
There are, to be fair, plenty of reasons to criticize Tucker. His coordinators aren’t exactly involved in the next wave of head coach searches and there hasn’t been much development of the previous regime’s guys (with that said, the previous couple recruiting classes before Tucker arrived left a lot to be desired). There are plenty of other issues Tucker is responsible for fixing, too.
But in only his second full season, Tucker’s recruits are barely on the team, much less on the field, and it will take time for them to make an impact. Give his vision a chance.
Tucker isn’t the only figure in the locker room that suddenly feels significantly more uneasy than it did at the start of the year. Quarterback Payton Thorne had many fans excited coming off of his first year as a starter, one in which he set MSU’s single-season record for touchdown passes. Now, with the offense fully under his control, it’s fair to have hoped Thorne’s play would have matched those expectations. To put it simply, it has not.
Thorne has shown improvement in small sample-sizes at Washington and in the first half at Maryland. But without much of a running game to speak of, Thorne hasn’t been able to take the big strides that seemed available. His footwork and mechanics have looked off, leading to shaky accuracy and many overthrows.
With two young and intriguing backups on the roster, Noah Kim and Katin Houser, fans’ interest has started to turn. Only the slimmest of majorities believes Thorne will remain the starter at the end of this season. Personally, I believe Thorne will hold onto the job as well.
Thorne was far from the only issue for Michigan State against Maryland. Not only did the defensive backs continue to struggle, but the kicking game was as bad as it could possibly have been. Add in ugly linebacker play, bad offensive line play and dropped passes from wide receivers, and there is more than enough blame to go around.
However, it’s clear that the biggest two problems remain in place for fans. The pass defense remains the largest culprit for the struggles (45 percent), while 20 percent blamed Thorne’s play at the quarterback position.
Fortunately, to some extent, for Michigan State fans and the program itself, there are plenty of teams this year that are face-planting compared to expectations.
According to a national audience of fans, only 15 percent of fans believe Michigan State is the biggest disappointment on the year. Well behind the mess that is Texas A&M, which took home a quarter of all votes.