BSD: “It was just announced this week that Mel Tucker signed a 10-year, $95 million extension to stay with Michigan State. I imagine that most in East Lansing are pretty pumped about the news. What are the expectations for Tucker’s next five years at Michigan State?”
Ryan: “Yes, the majority of the fan base fully seems to be behind Mel Tucker and what he is building. Nobody expected this team to be 9-2 at this point, and in the preseason, a lot of the pundits questioned if Michigan State would even make a bowl game. With that said, the “rebuild” seems to be ahead of schedule, but the Spartans still have a long way to go, as evidenced last week in Columbus when Ohio State absolutely destroyed Michigan State.
As far as expectations, Tucker’s new 10-year, $95 million deal certainly accelerates the timeline of what is expected from him and his program, but most fans understand that it is still a process, and it might be another couple of years before Michigan State is truly challenging Ohio State for Big Ten East titles, Big Ten Conference titles, and College Football Playoff appearances. When Tucker inherited this roster in February 2020, the team had some decent players, but lacked top-tier talent and depth. Tucker and his staff used the transfer portal to their advantage this past offseason, and bolstered some of the starting positions and added some major role players, but the team still lacks depth overall — which is coming into play the past couple of weeks due to all of the injuries. But make no mistake about it, if MSU does not eventually get to the level of challenging for championships, then something went seriously wrong here. Tucker is an excellent recruiter and plans to use his recruiting prowess and relationship-building skills to close the gap between MSU and the other Big Ten powers. Tucker is a program-builder and has quickly turned around the culture at Michigan State. What’s important right now is progress every day.
It is a massive commitment, and a massive amount of money — although it is privately-funded — but Tucker appears to be the right man for the job, and the Michigan State brass and big donors recognized that.”
BSD: “Michigan State heavily used the transfer portal this past offseason. Do you expect the Spartans to continue to really lean on the portal, or was that only a necessary thing because of the roster turnover during Tucker’s first year?”
Ryan: “Tucker has said that he wants to primarily build the team through high school recruiting, however, the staff will always do what it needs to do to improve the roster, and there will likely be some areas on the roster that need an upgrade at the end of the season — either for depth or potential starters — and that the staff will identify those areas, I don’t think you’ll see quite the frenzy that happened this past offseason, with over 20 players transferring to Michigan State, and the majority of them being scholarship players. But there will likely be a couple of additions as current players graduate, pursue the NFL or transfer out of the program. The staff did a great job of not only identifying talent in the portal last offseason, but recruiting true difference-makers like Kenneth Walker III to actually make the move to East Lansing, I think that kind of success will be easy to sell to future portal recruits next offseason and beyond, too. So expect Michigan State to still be active in the portal, just not as active as it was heading into the 2021 season.”
BSD: “As for the game this Saturday, could we get an injury update on the number of players who are battling injuries? How likely is it that we see players like Kenneth Walker, Jayden Reed, and Jalen Nailor?”
Ryan: “Where to start? There are so many injuries right now, and depth has been an issue. Tucker doesn’t like to provide updates on players’ statuses, as he doesn’t like to give the opposing team any intel, so we’ll see who is actually available on Saturday. With that said, I would expect to see Kenneth Walker III play, but he is not at 100 percent and seems to be dealing with some sort of ankle ailment. As you mentioned, the top-two wide receivers, Jalen Nailor and Jayden Reed, are both questionable. Reed finished last week’s game against Ohio State in a walking boot, and wasn’t made available for media sessions this week, while fellow wide receiver Tre Mosley was, so I would be surprised to see Reed active. Nailor has been dealing with a hand injury, and was spotted in uniform at practice this week, but I am unsure how much time he got in. Left tackle Jarrett Horst still seems to be away from the team, but Tucker says it is for ”medical reasons” and it is unclear what his status is.
On defense, cornerback Charles Brantley will likely still be out again with a shoulder injury, while several others in the secondary are playing banged up, including safety Xavier Henderson who seemed to suffer a shoulder injury last week. The linebacker duo of Cal Haladay and Quavaris Crouch have also been dealing with injuries, and Crouch has missed some time, while Haldady has played with a club on his hand. Fellow linebacker Noah Harvey also got shaken up last week. Defensive tackle Simeon Barrow has missed some time as well, and kicker Matt Coghlin has also been in and out of the lineup, which has affected MSU’s kicking game. There are more injuries, too.
Oh and Michigan State may now be dealing with the same flu bug that Penn State has, so even more players could be out.”
Michigan State has been hit by flu bug & rash of injuries & may be w/out up to 20 players, including possibly 6-8 starters against Penn State Saturday, sources told @ActionNetworkHQ— Brett McMurphy (@Brett_McMurphy) November 26, 2021
BSD: “If Michigan State wins on Saturday, how does it happen? If Michigan State loses, why does it happen?”
Ryan: “If Michigan State wins, Kenneth Walker III likely has a strong game on the ground, which opens up the passing game, particularly in play-action, for Payton Thorne and his ragtag group of wide receivers this week. The defense doesn’t give up roughly 1,000 passing yards like it has done too many times this season, and Sean Clifford probably has some miscues in the passing game The defense gets a couple of sacks and forces a turnover or two as well. It also means a lot of depth players stepped up and played well given all of the injuries. My prediction in our staff picks article was Michigan State 27, Penn State 23, but that was before the flu bug news, so I am no longer that confident.
If Michigan State loses, it’s because the Spartans can’t move the ball on Penn State’s elite passing defense. The Spartans can’t get Walker going, either, with no threat of a passing game. Michigan State probably gives the ball away a couple times and the defense continues to get torched through the air, while bringing little to no pressure and giving Clifford all day to throw. The injuries/illness take a toll, and MSU simply doesn’t have enough talent in the depth to match PSU.”