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2020 Postmortem: Michigan State Spartans

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That...sure happened

Michigan State v Penn State
We’ll always have the Ricky White Game, Rock.
Photo by Scott Taetsch/Getty Images

Expectations were low.

At least for me, and how could they not be? Breaking in 8 new defensive starters, a new QB, new receiver group, and a new coach after the late and abrupt retirement of Mark Dantonio, it would have taken thick, deeply green-shaded glasses to expect much in the win-loss column.

And uhhhhh boy did that play out for the most part, with a couple of hilarious exceptions - MSU’s two wins came over Michigan (ranked 15 at the time) and Northwestern (ranked 8 at the time).

On Offense:

Under new offensive coordinator Jay Johnson, MSU certainly made more of a point of attacking vertically. That strategy allowed them to scratch out the two wins they did, and stay competitive in a couple other games.

For the most part, though, this offense was difficult to watch. Despite beating Michigan, Rocky Lombardi threw a raft of interceptions, was twice benched, and ultimately replaced by redshirt freshman Peyton Thorne. Thorne doesn’t throw the same deep ball Lombardi did (Lombardi transferred to Northern Illinois), but his short and intermediate accuracy is better, and he adds more of a running dimension as well. With Jalen Nailor, Jayden Reed, and Ricky White all eligible to return, there could be some real pop in the passing game moving forward.

The run game was miserable behind an offensive line that, in yet another season, just could not move anyone on the ground. MSU rotated its backs pretty heavily, but even on a short schedule, having your leading rusher go for 219 yards on the season was just not good enough. That impotence on the ground led to an inefficient attack overall, and MSU never broke 30 points in a game.

On Defense:

With a couple exceptions, the transition to Scottie Hazelton’s 4-2-5 was a pretty rough one. LB Antjuan Simmons had the stellar senior year expected of him, and CB Shakur Brown had something of a breakout season, enough so that his draft declaration is a pretty reasonable move.

Beyond that...eesh. The pass rush managed 12 sacks in the 7 games MSU played, though they may return all of that production as DEs Jacub Panasiuk and Drew Beesley both indicated they intend to utilize the extra year of eligibility and return next year. Amazingly, Shakur Brown had all of the defense’s interceptions (5).

There was also an exodus of transfers from the back seven after the season ended, as a lot of players who did not find their way onto the field much opted for other opportunities. With Brown, Simmons, and DT Naquan Jones all gone, this defense is going to be in sore need of new playmakers next season.

Overall:

Again, not sure what anyone else expected. I was encourage by Mel Tucker’s staff putting together a couple of really solid game plans, and particularly their ability to identify opposing weaknesses. But against solid, well-coached teams like Indiana and Iowa, to say nothing of Ohio State, this team was outclassed. There’s a lot of work to do, but there were some positive takeaways here.