Michigan State football is in its most fragile state since 2019 after an embarrassing loss to Minnesota on Saturday.
Saturday’s Minnesota vs. Michigan State football game felt like a blast from the past in the worst way possible. If you felt the same amount of embarrassment and disappointment as that 2019 Illinois loss, you were not alone.
Spartan fans everywhere were embarrassed by what they saw from their team against unranked Minnesota.
Down 34-0 with just a few minutes remaining, Michigan State put Noah Kim in the game and he led the offense down the field for a pity touchdown to avoid a shutout. Although it was nice to avoid the dreaded shutout at home, it was far too embarrassing to celebrate. Kim’s touchdown pass to Germie Bernard was the best play of the game for the Spartans by a mile, and that’s a problem.
Sure, it was a great pass and Kim has shown some nice flashes this year, but Mel Tucker is standing behind Payton Thorne and, honestly, he’s far from the biggest issue.
Has Thorne been bad this year? Yes. Does he make way too many mental mistakes? Unfortunately. Does Michigan State beat Minnesota if Kim gets the start? No. Unless Kim is also an All-American defensive back, he had no shot of beating the Gophers on Saturday.
And that’s exactly the problem: defense.
No, Jay Johnson isn’t getting a pass here, but the defense has arguably been in its worst state since the John L. Smith era. Even in the forgettable 2018 and 2019 seasons under Mark Dantonio, the defense was elite. Scottie Hazelton has dropped the ball and Tucker continues to let it happen.
Overblown instant reactions during the game aside, I do not believe in firing coaches midway through the year, especially this early on. It just doesn’t make sense to leave the defensive side of the ball without a coordinator. Hazelton isn’t doing this defense any favors, but maybe Tucker should scale back how much say he has in the play-calling throughout the year before making a chance at the end of the season.
Hazelton isn’t alone in failing to do a bang-up job. Harlon Barnett has been bad for the past two years and while I think Chris Kapilovic will turn things around when he gets his guys, the offensive line has been awful.
The Michigan State football program is in a fragile spot much like it was after the 2019 Illinois loss.
How so? There’s added pressure on Tucker to make changes on the defensive side of the ball schematically and although he’s said he has faith in his current staff, he will be judged on his offseason moves — or lack thereof. Dantonio was in a similar position before the 2019 season and instead of letting guys go in business moves, he decided to shuffle the staff and reassign coaches. It turned out to be a disaster. Loyalty was his biggest downfall and it led to his sudden retirement.
Tucker can’t let that same mistake plague his coaching tenure. He can’t let loyalty to his original MSU coaching staff hold him back from growth.
Hazelton is not the answer on the defensive side of the ball, and I think that much has been fairly obvious. Barnett is probably not the answer as a defensive backs coach as that group has gotten worse from a year ago when they ranked dead-last in college football. Johnson has to prove himself because he hasn’t been calling plays to his offense’s strength this year.
And how the heck do our players tell the media after the game that they didn’t expect Tanner Morgan to throw a lot? Are the coaches that delusional that they believe teams aren’t going to target the Spartans’ biggest weakness? Unacceptable.
What we’ve seen from the coaching staff over the past two weeks has been a failure. It’s been unacceptable. It’s injected doubt back into the fanbase for the first time since 2019.
Michigan State is in a fragile state and Tucker must respond aggressively and prove that he’s not willing to let any aspect of his team remain mediocre.
Time to make some changes.