Michigan State Goals for Yr 2 Progress Below Tucker | Sports activities

BLOOMINGTON – Michigan endured some growing pains in Mel Tucker’s first season as head coach.

Offensive sales put the defense at risk as the Spartans stumbled to a 2-5 record during the 2020 season shortened by the pandemic. Michigan lost to Rutgers at home to open the season and suffered one-sided losses in Iowa (49-7) and at home to Ohio State (52-12).

With Tucker not hiring until February 2020, Michigan State was paralyzed more than any other conference from the pandemic. There wasn’t much time to learn new offensive and defensive systems, and the results showed on the field.

Still, there were some bright spots in Tucker’s first year, including a 27-24 win over rival Michigan and a 29-20 win over West Division champion Northwestern.

There is hope that an offense that returns seven starters and a defense that returns seven starters can progress under Tucker in 2021. There is still talent on either side of the ball, led by receiver Jalen Nailor (26 catches, 515 yards, four TDs). Jayden Reed (33 catches, 407 yards, three TDs) and defensive end Jacub Panasiuk (nine career sacks, four forced career fumbles).

Here’s an early look into Michigan State’s 2021 season:


Cornerback Shakur Brown, who recorded seven career interceptions, declared himself early on for the NFL draft and signed as an undrafted free agent with the Pittsburgh Steelers. captain Antjuan Simmons (231 career tackles, 26 tackles for loss, 4.5 sacks) graduated and left a gap with outside linebackers and with leadership. Quarterback Rocky Lombardi, who last season had eight TDs and nine interceptions for 1,090 yards, moved to Northern Illinois.


Temple Graduate Transfer Anthony Russo (6,292 career passing yards, 44 career TD passes, 32 career interceptions) will compete with Payton Thorne for the starting quarterback job. Wake Forrest Transfer Kenneth Walker and Auburn Transfer Harold Joiner III are two running backs who can solidify the running game. The real newbie Ma’a Gaoteote, a four-star linebacker for Bishop Gorman in Las Vegas, could step in and add to the defense right away.


Michigan State is going to need a more consistent quarterback game – from either Russo or Thorne – to turn its fortunes in the Big Ten game. The reduction in sales (a league high of 20 in 2020) is a must and more playmakers will need to show up on defense for Tucker’s system to work. Getting to the top in the harsh Big Ten East will be tough but possible if the Spartans can develop more discipline and productivity on both sides of the ball.

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