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MSU mailbag: Will the Spartans win another game in 2020? Well ...

Matt Charboneau
The Detroit News

The mood has changed around Michigan State this week.

After the upset over Michigan, Spartan fans were riding high. Of course, that shifted quickly after the disappointing loss at Iowa.

The frustration is back as we talk in this week’s mailbag about the defensive alignment, getting a backup quarterback in and whether Michigan State will win another game.

Michigan State running back Elijah Collins (24) runs from Iowa defensive back Kaevon Merriweather during last week's game.

And with basketball season closing in, we hit the point guard spot and who might lead the Spartans this season in scoring.

Question: Can we assume (Theo) Day and (Payton) Thorne aren't practicing well and that's why neither saw significant time against Iowa, when the second half demanded that someone replace (Rocky) Lombardi? — @daveholz

Answer: That’s probably a fair assumption. Or, at least, we can assume neither is playing as well as Lombardi. Let’s be honest, though, through two games Lombardi was pretty darned good, so it’s not like there was much reason to make a change. But you’re right, by early second half at Iowa it was clear there wouldn’t be a comeback and it was prime time to get Thorne some snaps — by the way, judging by body language, it seems Thorne is the clear No. 2 and Day isn’t too excited about being No. 3. Mel Tucker said they didn’t talk about making a change earlier than they did, which happened midway through the fourth quarter. It’s curious why they didn’t. I don’t think it would have indicated a lack of confidence in Lombardi, rather simply a chance for the backup to get real snaps.

More: After almost two years, Joshua Langford will be back in Michigan State's starting lineup

Q. Was the defense planning all along to run 4-2-5 against Iowa’s running game? Coach Tucker frequently described the goal of our defense to be “multiple.” I’m assuming there is more to come, so what sort of timeline does he expect or triggers to see some added diversification? — @racinero

A. There was talk before the season about multiple defensive fronts and we’ve seen very little so far. There have a been a handful of snaps with three linebackers, but you might not need more than one hand to count. What has to happen to see some of that change? Good question. We haven’t had a chance to talk to an assistant outside of defensive line coach Ron Burton since the season began, so we’re guessing, to an extent. My hunch is right now the Spartans feel they’re better equipped in terms of personnel by using a fifth defensive back than they are with a third linebacker. What does that say about guys like Jeslord Boateng or even Chase Kline, who stepped in for an injured Antjuan Simmons last week? Not very much, apparently. If we see more teams run the ball with ease like the Hawkeyes did, perhaps that forces a change in scheme.

Q. I heard a juicy rumor that MSU is pursuing a transfer QB who likely will be an instant starter in ’21. No names need to be mentioned but does this rumor have legs? — @pfnnewmedia

A. Well, go take a peak at some of the quarterbacks already in the portal and start making some guesses. If we’re talking about someone already on a roster, that’s even tougher. It can be fun to try and figure out who, but as of now, it’s not a rumor I’ve heard. But who knows, maybe this staff doesn’t feel like their quarterback of the future is on the roster.

Q. I've noticed the lack of substitutions on the offensive line specifically. Is that planned or again due to lack of depth and or injury? — @Chocolatebabyd1

A. I can’t remember the last time Michigan State used the same five offensive linemen in a game like it did last week at Iowa. You might have to go back to the playoff season in 2015, and even then, injury forced some shuffling. My guess is that’s part of the issue now. Matt Allen was out for the second straight game and Blake Bueter was banged up the week before at Michigan. And with the assumption right now that Luke Campbell is out because of injury, it seems the biggest reason for a lack of rotation is that. I wouldn’t mind seeing redshirt freshman Spencer Brown get a series or two at tackle. He’s been dressed but hasn’t played. And until Devontae Dobbs starts getting it done in practice, I’m not sure when he might get another crack.

More: 'Talented and tough': Michigan State knows Michael Penix Jr.-led No. 10 Indiana is no fluke

Q. Should we be concerned for our team after the COVID news out of Iowa? — @nybergjo

A. It’s hard to say since we don’t know how many of the 30 cases announced last week were with the football team. The bigger concern, it seems, is for next week’s trip to Maryland. The Terrapins have paused activities and will not play against Ohio State on Saturday. If their outbreak is anything like the one at Wisconsin, that could mean two weeks without a game and wiping out the Spartans’ trip to College Park.

Q. Feels like 4-2-5 was exposed against a power running team. Is it a scheme failure or will players as they understand the system better and possibly recruit a little stronger eliminate that issue, or does MSU need a different base (if that is even possible) against those types? — @matthewdyer97

A. I don’t think it’s about the scheme. The 4-2-5 has proven that it can be effective stopping the run. What is critical with this defense — and really, any defense — is not only getting the players to understand it but to have the players capable of executing. Having high-level talent at both safety and linebacker is critical, and right now, the Spartans are probably lacking a bit in that area. That’s not to say there aren’t good players, but are there enough? I suspect as time goes you’ll see fewer breakdowns and the defense will become more consistent. To truly become elite, the recruiting will have to pick up, as well.

Q. Will state win another game? — @TDiamondStylus1

A. At first I was like, "Come on. Of course they will.” But the more I thought about it, I’m not so sure it’s a guarantee. I think Michigan State will win another game or two, but let’s be honest, will the Spartans be favored again? Maybe not. If the Maryland game happens, the Terps are a team that looks tougher than they did last year, and Northwestern is unbeaten. Penn State? I still think the Nittany Lions are better than their 0-3 record indicates. The Spartans will have a hard time beating Indiana and they won’t beat Ohio State. So I guess my answer is, maybe.

Michigan State coach Tom Izzo, left, and Rocket Watts

Q. Do you think Rocket (Watts) or (Foster) Loyer gets the start at PG? — @dsmith1022

A. I’m leaning toward Watts at this point, but I’m starting to think there’s a larger role for Loyer than I thought at the end of last season. That’s not to say he starts and plays 25 minutes a game, but I think now the expectation is Loyer’s minutes can bring value as opposed to just trying to steal minutes to give someone else a break. The two could play together some, too, though with freshman A.J. Hoggard hobbled by a knee injury, that might not happen much, at least early on.

Q. The offense needs to replace scoring, obviously. Who do you think, at year end, will lead the team in scoring? And what is their ppg? — @jaker4061

A. I’m going to go with Aaron Henry, though I think Watts and Joey Hauser won’t be far behind. Henry averaged 10 points a game as a sophomore and you have to figure that’s going to jump a few points. I’ll say Henry scores 13.5 points a game. That’s a significant increase, and if the Spartans get what they expect out of Watts and Hauser with continued improvement from Gabe Brown and Malik Hall, it could give them another shot at competing for the Big Ten title.

More: Tom Izzo: Newly signed recruiting class fits Michigan State mold

Q. When are we going to get a full basketball schedule? — @nybergjo

A. Tom Izzo is hoping for this week. In fact, it could be coming out by the time this story hits the paper or is posted online. It’s not like the Spartans don’t have a good idea of when things will be wrapped up. Associate athletic director Kevin Pauga is in charge of the Spartans’ scheduling and is one of the point men at the Big Ten when it comes to the scheduling. Izzo says they know 90% of the schedule, which tells me it’s done, they’re just making it all official.

Twitter: @mattcharboneau