Saying the Mel Tucker era in East Lansing has gotten off to a rocky start would be an understatement.
After all, the opponent was Rutgers, the Big Ten’s Stepchild. Mel Tucker was supposed to get his first win in this game.
Rutgers has not won more than four games in a season since 2014, their inaugural season in the Big Ten. This opponent was a gift from the heavens for Tucker. Even with the terrible shape that Mark Dantonio left the MSU football program in, no one thought they were a bad enough team to lose to Rutgers.
Then Saturday afternoon happened.
Rutgers upset Michigan State, 38-27, and they did it at Spartan Stadium. And the problem with this game wasn’t that Michigan State lost. The problem was how they lost. From the game’s opening drive, Mel Tucker and his team did not look prepared. Rutgers’ Isiah Pacheco had his way with the Spartans defense early on, scoring quickly. Not to forget, on that same drive, Rutgers’ Noah Vedral completed three third-down conversions. And each play exposed a weakness in MSU’s secondary. For a Spartan fan, it wasn’t a pretty thing to watch.
I mean, this is not how a Mel Tucker team should look.
So imagine the immediate grief Spartan Nation must have felt when MSU fumbled on the ensuing drive. It’s one thing for the defense to give up a quick score. That can happen, even if the opponent is Rutgers. However, Jayden Reed fumbling on the Spartan offense’s first play is a bad omen. And it continued throughout the first quarter as the Spartans finished it with four turnovers. It is also worth mentioning that the first quarter featured Tucker’s ridiculous decision to go for it on 4th and 3. The Rutgers defense snuffed out Elijah Collins quickly.
Through all of it, the Big Ten broadcast showed an oddly upbeat Tucker clapping his hands.
Mel Tucker has nothing to cheer about.
The score of the Michigan State-Rutgers game doesn’t tell the story. With blown assignments on offense and defense, they looked like a confused football team. This Saturday, they will travel to Ann Arbor to face in-state rival Michigan. And unfortunately for Spartan Nation, Michigan doesn’t appear to look confused at all. While the Wolverines have areas they need to address, quarterback Joe Milton had them clicking on all cylinders as they defeated Minnesota 49-24. Milton, who stands at 6’5 and 243 pounds, had a combined offense of 277 yards and two touchdowns. He showed poised, quickness, accuracy, and his raw athleticism.
That’s what the Spartan defense has to contain.
Knowing this, it makes the loss to Rutgers demoralizing. After being drilled by Michigan 44-10 last year, there wasn’t an expectation for them to win the rivalry game between the two teams this year. Especially with that fact Tucker in his first season with the Spartans. After that loss, a new and unexpected question has surfaced. That question is when Mel Tucker will capture his first win as Sparty’s coach.
And to be honest, it looks like it could be a long time, possibly not until next season. Iowa and Maryland, both of whom lost its’ opening games, could be potential wins. Then again, there is an argument that they are still better programs than Rutgers.
Tucker has less than a week to pull off what can be considered a herculean task. It’s to make his Spartans look like a team that has poise on both sides of the ball. Because if the team that had seven turnovers against Rutgers shows up this Saturday, Sparty Nation could turn on him quickly.