Friday, September 30, 2022

Michigan State coaching staff, players stress accountability in wake of Washington loss

September 21, 2022
<p>The MSU football team walks to Spartan Stadium ahead of their home opener against Western Michigan on Sept. 2, 2022. </p>

The MSU football team walks to Spartan Stadium ahead of their home opener against Western Michigan on Sept. 2, 2022.

Photo by Chloe Trofatter | The State News

“I am a horseshit football coach right now,” Head Coach Mel Tucker said in his Monday afternoon press conference.

Those are strong words from a head coach that went 11-2 with a New Year’s Six Bowl win in just his second year with the program. 

However, past victories are not on the mind of Tucker and his program. Following a disastrous 39-28 loss to Washington in Seattle last Saturday, Michigan State’s staff is stressing accountability from its players and its coaches. 

“As a team, we’re all to be held accountable -- win, lose or draw,” redshirt junior quarterback Payton Thorne said. “We’re all to be held accountable for what happened.”

Failing in “all three phases”, there were plenty of personnel to hold accountable following the devastating loss. 

Giving up 397 passing yards and 106 rushing yards, MSU’s defense shouldered a majority of the blame for the abysmal performance. The secondary looked especially out of sorts, dominated consistently by the Huskies' solid receiving core. Corners struggled in man and zone defenses, while safeties struggled to put a lid on Washington's explosive plays.

When asked if he takes the struggles of the defensive backs personally, Tucker did not mince words. 

“Hell yeah I take it personally,” Tucker said. “I take it all personal.”

While fans have been quick to place the blame on defensive coordinator Scottie Hazelton, Tucker stressed that communication and technique were to blame for the bevy of errors -- two things that can, on paper, be improved by coaching. While Tucker mentioned vaguely that "personnel changes" would come "soon," the messaging was mostly the same from MSU's coaching staff: Keep emotions level, take things one day at a time and hold each other accountable.

“We all are trying to hold each other accountable,” offensive coordinator Jay Johnson said. “That’s the type of program we want to be.”

Next man up

With a few key players out, Tucker and his staff had an easy out for excusing such a terrible defensive showing. The Spartans were missing a handful of starters Saturday night, including junior linebacker Darius Snow, fifth-year senior safety Xavier Henderson, redshirt senior defensive tackle Jacob Slade.

However, Tucker chose not to shift blame, brushing aside questions about missing personnel.

“Depth-wise, it’s been a next man up mentality for us,” Tucker said. “Injuries are a part of the game.”

On the other side of the ball, the absence of redshirt senior wide receiver Jayden Reed seemed to cause issues early on. However, that “next man up” mentality proved true for the Spartan's offense. 

Down 22-0 with under two minutes left in the first half, Michigan State found itself in a must-score situation. It was fourth-and-third in the red zone, less than ten yards from the goal line. Thorne took the snap under center, faked a couple of hand-offs and looked to pass. With pressure coming from the left end, he rolled out of the pocket to his left, scanning the endzone and keeping the play alive. Thorne finally pulled the trigger with two Washington defenders closing in, lobbing a pass for sophomore wide receiver Keon Coleman. Falling to the ground, Coleman somehow corralled the pass for MSU's first touchdown of the night. On the very next play, Thorne and Coleman connected again to complete the two-point conversion attempt and make it 22-8.

Coleman stepped up in Reed’s absence, collecting 116 yards and a pair of touchdowns. Despite missing his No. 1 target and starting off a bit shaky, Thorne just kept making plays to keep the game within reach. 

In Saturday night's loss, the duo exemplified what Tucker and the coaching staff want out of their players -- no excuses, "next man up" mentality and strength in the face of adversity.

“I’m looking to go out there and execute -- it doesn’t really matter who’s out there,” Thorne said. “Not having him [Reed] out there sucks, but it’s my job to play with the guys we have.” 

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