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.
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.
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.