Thursday, February 9, 2023

'The world’s not stopping for us': the show must go on for MSU following Saturday night’s fiasco

November 2, 2022
<p>Michigan quarterback J.J. McCarthy (9) evades the Spartan defense during the Spartans&#x27; loss on Oct. 29, 2022.</p>

Michigan quarterback J.J. McCarthy (9) evades the Spartan defense during the Spartans' loss on Oct. 29, 2022.

Photo by Rahmya Trewern | The State News

It’s been a brutal season for Michigan State. Limping to a meager 3-4 record heading into rivalry weekend, the noise outside the program was getting loud. Really loud. 

Saturday night, that noise became deafening. 

Shortly after Michigan secured a dominant 29-7 victory over the Spartans, videos of a fight in the player’s tunnel began circulating on social media. The video depicted multiple MSU players assaulting one Michigan player near the locker room in the tunnel. Subsequent footage would also reveal a separate incident that involved a Spartan using his helmet to assault a lone Michigan player. 

Head Coach Mel Tucker addressed the situation in his Monday press conference

“We are deeply sorry,” Tucker said. “We are deeply sorry to both universities, the conference, our fans, alumni, supporters, and of course, all of our student-athletes, past and present.”

Eight total MSU players have been suspended following the incident. Michigan Head Coach Jim Harbaugh says he expects “criminal charges” for players involved. To say the last few days have been turbulent for Michigan State would be an understatement.

Social media has blazed for days following the tunnel incident, as everyone from sports journalists to burner accounts have offered an opinion on the matter. With ongoing investigations still trying to straighten out the facts, those embers aren’t likely to cool off anytime soon. 

However, the season isn’t just going to stop in its tracks for Michigan State. This weekend, the Spartans are heading right back to the road, facing off against No. 14 Illinois. 

“We’re playing a good opponent,” redshirt junior quarterback Payton Thorne said Tuesday. “The world’s not stopping for us or for anybody. We’ve got the same amount of days to get ready for this game that we do all the other ones.”

While Michigan State has perhaps its two best opponents in the rearview mirror (Ohio State and Michigan), there are still some strong teams left on the schedule. That starts this weekend in Champaign. 

Perpetually near the bottom of the Big Ten standings, the Fighting Illini are surging under second-year Head Coach Bret Bielema. Thanks to a surprisingly strong defense and a classic run-first offense, Illinois finds itself atop the Big Ten West with just one loss on the season. 

With so many distractions off the field, Illinois won’t just be a tough physical test for Michigan State; it’ll also be a test of the team’s mental fortitude. 

“We’re all we’ve got in the room,” Thorne said. “No one’s coming in to help us, no one’s coming in to save us. It’s all of us moving forward together, and if we decide to start separating it’ll all unravel.”

The schedule eases up just a bit after the road trip to Champaign, as home games against Rutgers and Indiana are next on the docket. Those two teams are tied (with Michigan State) for the bottom of the Big Ten East. 

However, MSU is not in a position where it can overlook such opponents. That’s especially true, considering the events that unfolded Saturday night. The only response to a disappointing season and the recent off-field issues seems to be coming together for the final stretch. 

“In order for anything good to happen moving forward, we gotta stay together,” Thorne said. Nothing good is going to come from guys coming doing their own thing.”

With eight players off the roster for now, that team cohesion will be tested mightily in the coming weeks. Senior linebacker/defensive end Jacoby Windmon will be perhaps the most glaring absence. Named a team captain multiple times this season, Windmon has been one of the most consistent contributors on the team. Tucker has touted the program's "next man up" mentality — that's sure to be put to the test in the final stretch of the season.

Sitting at 3-5 with four games left in the season, Michigan State is playing for pride and a bowl game. With all that has transpired this year, keeping the train on the tracks won’t be an easy task. And it will be mostly up to the players to keep everything together.

“I know X (Xavier Henderson) isn’t going to quit, I’m not going to quit,” Thorne said. “Our team is not a team of quitters.”

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