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Antjuan Simmons Michigan State



BOSS

Mel Tucker, no stranger to the Big Ten, takes over a Michigan State program that had been one of the most stable in the conference. Tucker played defensive back at UW, was a graduate assistant with the Spartans and also was on Ohio State’s staff for four seasons. Tucker went 5-7 in his only season at Colorado before Michigan State came calling and offered him a 6-year deal worth $5.5 million annually. Tucker replaces Mark Dantonio, whose retirement in early February was a shocker. Dantonio went 114-57 in 13 seasons at Michigan State. The highlight of that tenure was a three-year run in which the Spartans went 36-5 and advanced to the College Football Playoff in 2015. More recently, Michigan State had been mediocre and went 7-6 in each of Dantonio’s final two seasons.

BIG MAN ON CAMPUS

Senior outside linebacker Antjuan Simmons (above) had a breakout season in 2019, leading the Spartans with 90 tackles and 15 tackles for loss last season. Simmons had a combined 65 tackles and 2 TFLs in his first two seasons.

BITS AND PIECES

Tucker’s staff includes former Badgers wide receivers coach Ted Gilmore, who left UW to oversee the tight ends at Michigan State. … Tucker retained longtime Dantonio assistant Mike Tressel, albeit with a demotion. Tressel, who was in charge of the defense the past two seasons, will coach safeties. Tucker hired Scottie Hazelton, formerly of Kansas State, to be the defensive coordinator. … Defensive end Jacub Panasiuk, who had 8½ tackles for loss and 3½ sacks, changed his mind after originally opting out of the 2020 season. Losing Panasiuk would have been a big loss considering Michigan State already was left with the task of replacing its other starter at defensive end, Kenny Willekes, the program’s all-time leader in tackles for loss. … Jordan Reid, a returning starter at right tackle, opted out of the season.

BURNING QUESTION

What will the offense look like?

The COVID-19 pandemic disrupted offseasons all around college football, but imagine being a staff trying to implement a new system. That’s the challenge for Tucker and his offensive coordinator Jay Johnson, who has Big Ten experience at Minnesota. Finding a quarterback has to be priority No. 1 for the Spartans. Brian Lewerke had an uneven career at Michigan State, but he did throw for over 3,000 yards as a senior. Junior Rocky Lombardi has the most experience among the players trying to replace Lewerke, but sophomore Theo Day and redshirt freshman Payton Thorne could push for the starting role.

THE NUMBER

181-61 | Margin by which Michigan State was outscored during a five-game losing streak that included all of October and went into November. The only close game during that stretch was a 37-34 home defeat against Illinois in which the Spartans blew a 21-point lead in the fourth quarter.

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