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Interviews with Frenemies: Michigan State

Things haven’t gone as planned this year for the Spartans...

NCAA Football: Indiana at Michigan State Dale Young-USA TODAY Sports

Coming off an impressive 11-2 year with a New Year’s Six Bowl win, things haven’t been the same this year in East Lansing. Michigan State suffered early blowout losses to Washington, Minnesota and Ohio State. Since that stretch, the Spartans have rebounded to get to a 5-6 mark - though the second half of the season has been marred by an ugly incident in a loss at Michigan and a wild double overtime loss to Indiana last week.

So what’s up with Sparty this week? We went our sister site, The Only Colors, and writer Chase Glasser gave us some answers to our questions.

For many, James Franklin and Mel Tucker will be linked by the huge contracts they signed relatively close to one another. We get asked all the time by opponents, so we are passing it on to you: how are Michigan State fans feeling about the program moving forward under Tucker’s direction?

I think that while there are the beginnings of a schism in the fanbase regarding the direction of the program, most fans are of the mindset that Tucker should get a couple more years to try to up the talent level within the program and try to fill some of the holes left by Mark Dantonio’s lack of recruiting in the latter part of his tenure, and his untimely departure from MSU shortly before 2020 signing day. However, there is growing unease regarding both coordinators, and questions regarding Tucker’s ability as a gameday coach. Next year will likely look a lot like this year as a lot of youth will be on the field, and the expectation would be to compete in 2024.

Looking at it statistically, Michigan State’s offense has struggled (85th in points per game and 105th in rushing offense). Aside from the loss of Kennth Walker Jr., what have been the issues that have kept the Spartans from being successful this year?

Well, the loss of Kenneth Walker was massive. Not only did he force other teams to commit players to the box instead of pass defense, he also covered up for middling quarterback play and a suspect offensive line. His loss was accentuated as MSU had substantial offensive line attrition, lost wide receiver Jalen Nailor to the 2022 NFL draft, and injuries in the front seven. Quarterback Payton Thorne has struggled with mechanics, and has been consistently put at a schematic disadvantage. Defensively, MSU has been ravaged by injuries and suspensions, and has also had a questionable schematic philosophy. Additionally, the two transfer running backs of Jalen Berger and Jarek Broussard haven’t come close to replicating Kenneth Walker’s success last year in aggregate.

Last week, Indiana completed just two passes, one in regulation, in rallying for a win in Spartan Stadium. What’s going on with the defense and where might Penn State find success on Saturday?

For most of the year, Michigan State has had an adequate, if not downright good rush defense paired with a truly abysmal pass defense. On Saturday, Michigan State wasn’t tested through the air, but was chewed up on the ground. In my scheme column, I felt that MSU had a somewhat nonsensical defensive approach, often keeping multiple safeties back against a team with no intention of passing the ball. Michigan State’s linebackers have thoroughly regressed, and did not defend mesh point reads well at all. As it pertains to PSU, Parker Washington and Brenton Strange should be able to make a lot of hay in the passing game, as I would expect an overcorrection by MSU’s staff to try to resolve their issues in rush defense. That said, I love Nick Singleton’s game and think the PSU backs should be able to move the chains.

Michigan State is a win away from bowl eligibility - will that truly be a motivating factor heading into Saturday’s game in Happy Valley? Speaking of, any thoughts, keys, or predictions about this matchup in general?

I think the team is fairly locked in. Bowl eligibility has been a benchmark of program success harkening back to the Dantonio era, and I would imagine that has continued. As for the game on Saturday, I think Manny Diaz’s defense’s aggression and blitzes should find fertile ground against MSU’s pass pro. The question will be if MSU is able to use PSU’s aggression against them with designed cutbacks and a quarterback run threat the way Michigan did. Michigan State had a great game from running back Elijah Collins last game, and will likely lean on him again. Michigan State will also try to use big-bodied wide receiver Keon Coleman as a passing threat and jump ball maven. How PSU will deploy their excellent secondary against Coleman and speedster Jayden Reed is a matchup to watch. I see PSU winning 27-13.

A bonus basketball question - typical grueling November schedule for the Spartans. But, there have been gritty wins against Kentucky and Villanova, along with a close loss to Gonzaga. How do you think Michigan State will perform in Big Ten play and in the month of Izzo?

Things are certainly looking up for MSU basketball. I think it will likely come down to MSU, Illinois, and Indiana for the conference title, and that hopefully presages a deep run in March.

We thank Chase for his time and again direct you to The Only Colors for all of your Michigan State coverage.