By TOM SHANAHAN
My MSUings on the Michigan State (1-2) falling flat from last week’s stunning upset of Michigan. The Spartans were physical a week ago, passive in a 49-7 loss Saturday to Iowa (1-2) at Kinnick Stadium in Iowa City.
DON’T TRY TO EXPLAIN IT
This is only the third game of the Big Ten season, but if you look around at the other conferences that began playing September, this was a typical weekend of college football.
The only common denominator has been the COVID-19 pandemic. Some schools have been impacted more heavily than others by missing spring football and off-season workouts. Maturity, not necessarily experience, is at a premium.
COVID-19 protocols disrupted a pattern to a season. When there have been infections, contact tracing impacts who is able to play. Games are canceled and postponed every week, including 10 this week.
Wild fluctuations in scores are posted each week. Before Saturday even kicked off, on Friday night No. 21-ranked Boise State lost 51-17 to No. 9 BYU. A week earlier Boise State beat Air Force 49-39.
The only schools immune to such schizophrenia have been those deep with talent thanks to annual 5-star recruiting hauls, Alabama and Clemson. It’s too early to say if Ohio State’s talent can overcome disruptions.
HAVING SAID THAT …
Michigan State’s performance was awful, but it’s season will be judged by how it finishes, not how it looks in single games.
The Spartans may have another Michigan-like surprise in them awaiting the remaining dates starting with Indiana on Saturday at Spartan Stadium and followed by at Maryland, Northwestern, Ohio State and at Penn State.
It’s more likely to expect Indiana to roll up a one-sided victory on Michigan State and for there to be repeats of the Rutgers and Iowa losses. The Spartans may only have one victory left on its schedule.
“We have a tremendous amount of work to do,” Michigan State coach Mel Tucker said. “We have to get tougher, we have to play physical and we have to play smarter. As I continue to say this is the beginning for us. We trust the process that we have. We have to go back to East Lansing, we have to watch the film, let them make the corrections and put in the work so we can be tougher, so we can be more physical so we can play harder and so we can be smarter next week. That’s what has to be done.”
It’s tough to expect this team to come together as a cohesive unit considering how far behind the Spartans began preparations for 2020.
Michigan State wasn’t the only school with a new coach or lacking spring football due to the pandemic shutdown, but Tucker’s efforts were handicapped further by a late hire in February. New coaches typically come aboard in December and have the winter weeks leading up to spring football to get to know their players. Tucker had acquaint himself with his new team over virtual phone calls. He wasn’t able to shape his program for his players to comprehend over the summer months.
PROBLEMS REMAIN THE SAME
Tucker’s challenge, in addition to establishing his personality over the team, is to improve the offensive line and quarterback play through recruiting. They Spartans are weak up front and have been the last couple of years. If a team can’t control the ball, it can’t stay on the field with drives. That means its defense is on the field for too many snaps and eventually breaks.
Redshirt junior quarterback Rocky Lombardi was a gamer against Michigan, but he’s not an elite talent that can hide blemishes on the offense. He needs a running game and pass protection to utilize his wrestling inspired competitive spirit.
Against Michigan, Lombardi connected on big passes with the help of his receivers making catches in traffic.
But against Iowa, the Spartans averaged only 1.8 yards per carry (39-52). Lombardi was 17-of-37 for 227 yards with no touchdowns and three interceptions.
The remainder of the season is about finding a couple of wins and identifying younger talent for 2021.
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