Michigan State football

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Stock Watch: Michigan State football coaches edition

It’s end-of-season stock watch time. Which Michigan State football coaches should you buy stock in and which should you avoid?

In year three of a rebuild under a new coaching staff, it is not uncommon to see regression. At that point, the recruits from the previous regime will be upperclassmen. And you likely won’t see the fruits of the new staff’s efforts on the field yet. That can be said about the current Michigan State football staff.

Mel Tucker attempted to combat this by raiding the transfer portal, to a mixed bag of success and failure. Kenneth Walker III single handedly willed last year’s team to a New Year’s Six bowl. This gave the impression that the Michigan State football rebuild was well ahead of schedule. However, a tough slate of games as well as some glaring coaching and talent issues have indicated otherwise.

Here we will dive into each of the members of the MSU coaching staff and take stock on their performance to date.

Mel Tucker (Head Coach)

Stock Down. Tucker, who took home Big Ten Coach of the Year last season, has some fans murmuring about their confidence in him being “the guy” long-term. During his postgame pressers, Mel consistently pointed to “failures in execution” as the reason for a plethora of slip-ups in a 5-7 season. While some of those moments can certainly be put on the players, the coach still has to take responsibility for all the decisions that are made underneath him. Some of the end-of-game situations were puzzling to say the least, and all of that points back to the top.

Additionally, Mel indicated that he would personally oversee the coaching of the defensive backs. That is an admirable thing to hear from the head honcho when an obvious issue is present. However, when you look at how the defensive backs performed this year, that is a direct reflection of Mel’s ability to coach.

I still believe Tucker can right the ship, with his strong recruiting and willingness to adapt to the modern era. But his seat is definitely starting to feel warmer, especially if no other coaching changes are made this offseason.

Chris Kapilovic (Assistant Coach, OL coach, run game)

Stock Level. MSU’s offensive line, by most regards, performed similarly or improved from last season. Pass protection has been slightly better year over year (2.3 sacks per game allowed in 2020, 1.6 in 2021, 1.5 in 2022).

You can also see some flashes of improvement in the run blocking, leading to some decent performances from Jalen Berger, Jarek Broussard, and Elijah Collins in the second half of the season. However, MSU’s run game was still the second worst since 2007, averaging just 113 yards per game.

The offensive line was undoubtedly one of the biggest projects at the start of the Mel Tucker era, so Coach Kap has some amount of leeway to get them up to the level of what we saw in 2013-15. Looking at the recruits waiting in the wings, we can be hopeful this position will continue to improve going forward.

Jay Johnson (Offensive Coordinator, Quarterbacks)

Stock Down. Was there a bigger plummet in stock from last year to this year? Jay Johnson, who showed some spectacular creativity at moments in the 11-2 Peach Bowl season, has put up a dud of a year.

The offense averaged 31.8 PPG and 429.4 YPG in 2021 and have regressed to 24.4 PPG and 359.7 YPG in 2022. While a large portion of that can be attributed to the contributions from Kenneth Walker, that level of regression with the weapons at MSU’s disposal is unacceptable.

The play-calling, particularly on fourth and short situations, has left MSU fans pulling out their hair. Additionally, Johnson received criticism for his lack of using tight ends to their full capability.

Jay is certainly near the top of the list of assistants that may be looking for new work when the calendar turns to 2023.

Scottie Hazelton (Defensive Coordinator, Linebackers)

Stock Down. For Hazelton, 2021 was a “bend don’t break” year. MSU fielded a porous pass defense, but when the opposing offense made it to the red zone, we saw the defense stiffen and make key plays when needed.

Tucker and Hazelton mentioned in their pressers this year that MSU’s defensive breakdowns have been a “death by inches.” But when you look at the total yardage allowed, you have to feel it’s more like “death by miles.”

We should note that the past two seasons have been roughly the same statistically (25.3 PPG and 441.6 YPG in 2021, 27.4 PPG and 416.8 YPG in 2022).  And even though this year got off to a horrendous start defensively, Hazelton showed some bright moments, particularly in the Wisconsin and Illinois games.

Also keep in mind that Hazelton operated the majority of the year without key defenders at every position. Darius Snow missed the whole season due to injury. Xavier Henderson missed five games. Jacob Slade missed four games. Jacoby Windmon missed the last four games with an indefinite suspension. You certainly need to take those players’ vacancies into account when you look at the product on the field.

But with all that said, allowing 400-plus yards in eight out of twelve games, and 500-plus yards three times this season is still atrocious. In the 13 years under Mark Dantonio at MSU, not once did they allow more than 400 yards per game defensively over a season. That occurred in each of Hazelton’s three seasons under Mel Tucker.

While he has been up and down this season, most MSU fans would still agree that he’s on a short leash.

Harlon Barnett (Secondary)

Stock Down. Barnett produced a string of very successful of secondaries under Dantonio. Under his and Pat Narduzzi’s tutelage, the “No Fly Zone” was alive and well at MSU in the 2010s.

Since his stint at Florida State in 2018-19, Barnett has been a shell of himself, with the defensive backs showing little to no sign of improvement over the last three seasons.

You can point to the defense needing to learn a new scheme as part of the issue, but you should still see some sign of improvement at this point. The talent, the development, the coaching, and the execution have not been there for MSU’s secondary.

MSU has certainly shown some nice moments from the younger talent in Mangham and Tatum. And the safeties have some studs with Henderson and Brooks. But overall, the pass defense has suffered since Barnett and Hazelton have been on campus.

The secondary needs an overhaul, and in a major way.

Marco Coleman (Defensive Line, Run Game)

Stock Level. MSU’s run defense was the worst it has been since 2002, allowing 178.9 yards per game. While that is certainly troubling, there are still signs of life on the young and talented defensive line.

Jacob Slade was the centerpiece of the line, and he was out for a third of the season. Simeon Barrow, Derrick Harmon, Maverick Hansen, Avery Dunn have all shown some really nice flashes throughout the year in his place.

Coleman should get the benefit of the doubt with some of the inexperience he battled, but we still need to see improvement from the run defense next year.

Ross Els (Special Teams)

Stock Down. From the moment he was hired, many questioned the choice of Els as linebackers coach. And when he moved to solely focus on special teams, fans also scratched their heads.

To say that special teams for MSU have been a disaster is an understatement of massive proportions.

The place kicking for Michigan State football this season might be the worst we have seen in quite some time. Additionally, the kickoff coverage has singlehandedly lost MSU a game this season against Indiana. Several long snaps were mishandled or too high, albeit at the result of an injured Hank Pepper.

The lone bright spot for Els certainly is Bryce Baringer, who will likely win the Ray Guy Award. But that is more a testament to Bryce’s talent rather than Els’s coaching ability.

If MSU does not replace Els this season, the comments from the fan base could become ugly, very quickly.

Ted Gilmore (Tight Ends)

Stock Level. MSU fielded more talent at tight end than we have seen in several years. Tyler Hunt operated well in pass-blocking situations. Maliq Carr showed flashes of greatness with his freakish athleticism. And Barker stood out as an NFL-caliber player on more than one occasion, with a one-handed grab and several clutch seam routes.

The lone critique on the tight ends is how under-utilized they were. While that is more a reflection on Johnson than Gilmore, part of the reason their use was limited was due to their skill sets.

Carr and Barker did not show as much of an ability to pass-block. That meant when they were on the field, defenses more easily picked up that they would be receivers. Similarly, Hunt does not possess nearly the upside of the other two when it came to making key catches.

MSU saw a combined 546 yards and four touchdowns from their tight ends this year, which is not too shabby considering the overall performance of the offense. But there was much more potential in the tank for this group.

Courtney Hawkins (Wide Receivers)

Stock Up. Two words: Keon Coleman. People buzzed about Coleman as a breakout star the entire offseason, and for good reason. Nobody presented more confidence or more of a matchup problem than the 6-foot-4 star. He exploded for 58 catches, 798 yards, and seven touchdowns this year, up from 7/50/1 in 2021. And the best part is he is still only a sophomore. The sky is the limit for Coleman, who will likely head to the NFL after one or two more seasons in the green and white.

Next to Coleman was the ever-reliable Jayden Reed, who posted a respectable 636 yards and five touchdowns his senior year. Considering he battled injuries throughout the first few games of the year, he played as solidly as you can ask for. He certainly had the capability to go for back-to-back 1,000-yard seasons. But even still, he played effectively alongside his former high-school teammate, Payton Thorne.

Beyond those two, Tre Mosley proved to be a decent WR3, posting 359 yards and four touchdowns. Many expected bigger things from Mosley this year, but part of his lower numbers was due to Coleman’s meteoric rise.

Overall, Hawkins has done an excellent job developing the MSU wideouts. He also has some promising young talent ready to step into bigger roles with Germie Bernard, Antonio Gates Jr., and more.

Effrem Reed (Running Backs)

Stock Level. If you compared every running back to Kenneth Walker, you would undoubtedly be met with disappointment. Michigan State football fans had tampered expectations for their running backs going into this year. There was a good chance the combined effort of their running backs would still be less than what Walker was able to provide in his lone magical season.

However, the backs this season have been adequate given the situation around them. Berger posted 683 yards and six touchdowns as the lead back. Collins (318 yards, six touchdowns) and Broussard (298 yards, six touchdowns) provided some nice support and change of pace behind him.

A point of concern is MSU’s inability to obtain yardage in many short third and fourth down situations. The offensive line is still a work in progress, and the play calls from Johnson certainly didn’t help.

But overall, you have to feel good about the future of the running game at MSU with the talent in that room.

Brandon Jordan (Pass Rush Specialist)

Stock Level. Jordan was a hot name on social media if you talked to MSU fans this summer. He is known for his knack of developing NFL talent into fearsome pass rushers. This hire was certainly an unconventional one, but shows promise long-term.

Jordan has been killing it on the recruiting trail. He helped nab commitments from four stars Andrew Depaepe, Bai Jobe, Jalen Thompson, and Jordan Hall.

On the field, MSU’s defense generated 29 sacks on the year, a respectable number. Before his suspension, Jacoby Windmon terrorized on defense with 5.5 sacks and six forced fumbles over eight games.

The jury’s still out on if BT will pan out as a coach, but his impact is being felt with how the pass rush is developing.

Final thoughts on Michigan State football coaches

Michigan State football has some work to do this offseason. Overall, the program can still right the ship under Tucker and Co. But serious adjustments need to be made in order to accomplish their goal of becoming Big Ten champions and returning to the College Football Playoff.

Michigan State football

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Michigan State football must make one obvious change this offseason

One change could fix Michigan State football quicker than you might think. What change must Mel Tucker make?

Michigan State’s 39-31 loss to Indiana in overtime this past Saturday was the worst of Mel Tucker’s tenure so far for obvious reasons. Indiana came into that game having lost seven in a row and nothing was going their way. On top of that, it was a home game for Michigan State football and the win would’ve locked it into a bowl game.

Instead, the Spartans blew a 17-point halftime lead. And with a top 10 Penn State team looming, it’s looking like we won’t be going bowling. You just can’t blow a 17-point lead to a team like Indiana at home.

But now that the dust has settled and emotions are no longer running high, we need to look at the reality for this MSU football team.

Obviously, changes must be made. Too much went wrong this season to just run it back with the same staff intact next season. But I also think it’s important not to overreact and just blow the whole staff up. We need to remember this is really only year two for Tucker and Co. because of COVID-19 ruining the 2020 season.

So what changes need to be made?

Believe it or not, I think Hazelton’s job is the safest of the main coordinators. Last Saturday was far from the best defensive performance for MSU, seeing as Indiana ran for 257 yards. However, half of those yards came from the first drive of the game and one 80-yard run combined.

The defense only allowed 31 passing yards. Yes, Indiana’s pass game is terrible, but during Hazelton’s time here, plenty of terrible passing teams have thrown all over MSU. So the 31 yards they allowed Saturday is encouraging.

Last week, I wrote about why Hazelton deserves to stay. And while I did research, I noticed something a bit concerning after Saturday’s game. While the defense has drastically improved over the last few weeks, especially the pass defense, the run defense has not been great.

In Hazelton’s one year at Kansas State, his team allowed 166 rushing yards a game, the second worst in the Big 12. Michigan State currently has its worst rush defense since 2004, allowing 180 yards a game.

I think the concern with Hazelton is no longer the pass defense he puts on the field. But with a history of poor run defenses, he needs to prove himself there. I still believe he deserves another year as MSU has recently been plagued with injuries and suspensions. But it’s something to watch closely next season.

Jay Johnson became a popular name among fans pretty quickly after his hire. During the end of the Dantonio era, we saw some of the worst offenses in Michigan State football history. Johnson brought new life to the offense, and we saw drastic changes fast.

Now, it’s important to note we had Kenneth Walker III last season. A player who will go down as one of the greatest to ever play at MSU. So, naturally, he made the offense look better than it probably actually was.

Outside of Walker, the offense remained pretty much intact, and we have seen a drop in production this season. Last year, MSU averaged nearly 32 points per game, while this season it has dipped to just over 25. A whole touchdown difference is never good unless it’s an improvement. But I don’t think Johnson is all to blame.

While it has been frustrating to watch this MSU offense at times this year, I think Johnson’s job is safe and I think it should be. Remember the staff is still trying to get their guys in there to make this team succeed. A quarterback battle next spring could help bring more life back to this offense.

Changes must be made, however, and the guy who absolutely needs to go is Ross Els, the special teams coordinator. Of the three main coordinators, he has been the only one whose group has steadily gotten worse with time. And this past Saturday was the tipping point.

Against Indiana, the offense and defense both played well enough to win the game. However, the special teams allowed Indiana to start the game at the 50-yard line, which led to a touchdown. They allowed a kickoff return for a touchdown. And missed two field goals, both of which would have won the game for MSU even after all the other mishaps.

Kicking has been an issue for MSU all year, and I think has been the biggest contributor to the Spartans’ points per game total falling off seven points from last season. The inability to make even chip shot field goals I believe cost Michigan State more than three points per game, on average.

Now not having a good kicker certainly hurts. But it’s Els’ job to find a good kicker and to also develop the kickers we have. Els is more to blame than anyone else when it comes to that. And on top of the poor kicking, MSU’s punt and kick return coverage has not been good in years. And that all falls on Els.

I think special teams is a unit that often gets overlooked in the grand scheme of things because everyone just thinks offense and defense. But I believe if Tucker fires Els and brings in a good special teams coordinator, we’ll see a much better team on the field next season.

So while some of you may want to see a bunch of changes during this offseason, I don’t think they’re coming. But as long as Tucker brings in a new special teams coordinator, I think we’ll be just fine. Just hang in there, Spartan fans, MSU will return to glory sooner than you may think.