Mel Tucker's task is to get more discipline, fewer mistakes out of Spartans
It was clear on Saturday afternoon, as Ohio State was running up and down the field on Michigan State that there was a significant talent gap between the Buckeyes and Spartans.
But, like most of this season, Michigan State was hardly doing itself any favors.
From miscues on play calls to silly penalties and turnovers, the Spartans continued to shoot themselves in the foot against the Buckeyes, a trend that has been evident all season and one the Spartans desperately need to change heading into Saturday’s matchup with Penn State.
“The game got out of our hands and I felt like it was on us,” senior linebacker Antjuan Simmons said. “It wasn’t on the other teams doing anything spectacular. I just feel like we shot ourselves in the foot. We have penalties, unforced errors, we turn the ball over. We shot ourselves in the foot. For example, on the first drive we had them stopped three-and-out on the first drive, but we had a penalty, a 15-yard penalty.
“When teams give penalties, when teams get a 15-yard penalty, their likelihood of scoring up on that drive skyrockets. They went from like a 15 or 20%, if that, scoring chance, to like 40 or 50 (percent). I mean, that momentum swung. You can't you have that. You can't shoot yourself in the foot. When you get an opportunity to get off the field, you’ve got to get off the field.”
The play Simmons was referencing came on Ohio State’s fourth offensive play. After the Buckeyes completed a 16-yard pass on their first play, the Spartans had worked them into a third-and-7 from their 36-yard line. Quarterback Justin Fields’ third-down throw to Chris Olave was off the mark and it appeared Michigan State had gotten an early stop.
But freshman defensive end Michael Fletcher was hit with a 15-yard penalty for roughing the passer after he made contact with Fields’ head.
And that wasn’t the only penalty for the Spartans, who were flagged 10 times for 101 yards. There was a late hit by linebacker Chase Kline that had coach Mel Tucker fuming. He threw his headset, clearly angry with his player, and drew another 15 yards in penalties from the officials for the outburst.
“It's called discipline,” Tucker said after the game when asked how to curtail those problems. “You have to confront and demand that. If you don't have the discipline to do your job then eventually you are going to hurt the football team. It is not acceptable and it is either correctable or not. If it is not correctable then it means we need to make a change. We are going to find out if it is correctable or not.”
It's been a problem all season for Michigan State, which has been called for 41 penalties in six games for an average of 64 yards a game. That’s third-worst in the Big Ten.
But penalties haven’t been the only way the Spartans have been hurting themselves this year. The biggest issue might be the turnovers.
After four more giveaways in the loss to Ohio State, Michigan State has now lost 19 turnovers this season, the most in the conference, while only six teams in the entire country have given up the ball more often.
“Turnovers will kill you,” Tucker said.
It’s been a familiar refrain this season, and it’s one that needs to get figured out heading to Penn State, where the Nittany Lions have forced seven turnovers this season.
“I was very disappointed on how we played, and we need to do a better job with our guys to get more out of them,” Tucker said. “We need to figure out how to do that and we need to figure it out quickly.”