Michigan State mailbag: Tuck comin', but is he going? Is No Fly Zone a no go?

Matt Charboneau
The Detroit News

The quick start for Michigan State has the college football world taking notice, and it has the fanbase fired up.

That can be great, especially with a big prime-time game coming up 7 p.m. Saturday against Nebraska at Spartan Stadium. However, it can also make some fans start to get nervous.

Michigan State head coach Mel Tucker has the Spartans off to a 3-0 start and ranked No. 20 in this week's Associated Press Top 25 poll.

That’s clear in this week’s mailbag.

From Mel Tucker potentially becoming such a hot commodity that he bails on Michigan State to wondering whether the defensive backfield is any good, we do our best to tackle this week’s pressing concerns.

Question. Should Michigan State be worried about other schools sniffing around Mel Tucker? The pace of his rebuild has been phenomenal and it looks like the sky's the limit for this program as long as he's in charge. — @pfnnewmedia

Answer. I guess that’s always a concern, no matter where you’re coaching. Even if you’ve won national championships at a high-level program, there’s always the NFL or another program willing to pay way above market price. As for Tucker, I don’t think I’d get too worried about it, at least not yet. Let’s see how the rest of this season plays out. I’m certain his value is high right now, and it might not change much based on the rest of the season, but until the Spartans are competing for Big Ten championships on a regular basis, I think things are on solid ground with Tucker.

And don’t discount the fact this place means something to Tucker. It’s where he started coaching and he seems to love it. That said, could he end up replacing Nick Saban someday at Alabama? How about a move to his alma mater, Wisconsin? And would he like another shot at the NFL? All legitimate questions, but ones that seem farther down the road.

Q. Do you see the defensive scheme last week as a one-time game plan or do u see the “bend don’t break defense” as the norm under (defensive coordinator Scottie) Hazelton? — @joner_ii

A. Was it really a bend-don’t-break approach? To an extent, sure. After getting beat deep a couple of times at Northwestern in the opener, not allowing big plays has been a focus. But the real approach for the Michigan State defense against Miami (Florida) and quarterback D’Eriq King was to force King to win as a pocket passer. The Spartans didn’t want to let him start scrambling and making things happen because they didn’t believe he could be effective, otherwise. He put up big numbers, to be sure, but he missed a handful of open receivers and turned the ball over four times, proving MSU’s approach was the right one. That might be the same approach this week against Nebraska’s Adrian Martinez, but it’s something they likely will adapt to based on what the Spartans are facing.

Q. What are your feelings on Ronald Williams? Great INT last game, but beyond that, he's looked lost and outmatched to me, especially in the NW game. Is he the future, or is he possibly moving down the depth chart? — @BillCaulfield

A. Considering he started at Miami over Kalon Gervin, I wouldn’t say he’s moving down the depth chart. Of course, freshman Charles Brantley was playing a ton in that game until he got ejected for targeting, so it’s fair to wonder whether Williams would have been in the game in the fourth quarter to grab that interception had Brantley not been booted. Still, I think it’s too early to start making declarations on a lot of guys, especially those like Williams that have been around only since the summer. There are going to be missed assignments and mix-ups. If those continue and he’s continually being beaten midway through the season, then maybe you pull him. For now, I’d cut him some slack and see where it goes.

Q. Will we ever see No Fly Zone again with such tacky (pass interference) calls now? —  @JohnEby_3

A. Sure, just have the defensive backs wave their arms even when they don’t break up a pass that goes incomplete. Wait? You’re saying they already do that? OK, scratch that. Kidding aside, I think the advantage has always gone to the offense. I said last week that Chester Kimbrough’s pass interference call was obvious, and was hammered on social media because the Miami receiver was grabbing Kimbrough. My point was that a corner who makes contact and doesn’t look back will get called every time, and that’s what happened. In that sense, maybe it will be tough for a secondary to truly dominate.

Q. CB play and scheme vs Miami… if that continues against other teams, can Spartans continue to be competitive? — @dawntreadercapt

A. See above. Yes, especially when you’re facing a quarterback that you’re trying to contain in the pocket. And when you’re making a team one-dimensional — Miami ran for 52 yards — they’re going to make some plays, in this case, it was the passing game. If the same thing happens and a team runs the ball effectively, now there are some concerns.

Q. Do you think players that enter the transfer portal will look at the success MSU has had integrating other transfers and be more likely to select MSU in the future? Or was it a one-time raid by Tucker & Co. and the impact from transfers won't be as great in the future? — @CoachKaatz

A. I think it would certainly factor into a transfer’s decision, though it might be more about what the roster looks like at that particular time, what Michigan State’s needs might be and whether it’s a good fit for both the player and the program. And as good as the story has been for guys like Kenneth Walker III, Jarrett Horst, Quavaris Crouch or Ronald Williams, there are other guys still struggling to find a role. I wonder if Anthony Russo loves the decision at this point. I’m not suggesting he’s upset, but he sure could be bummed he’s not playing. As for the future, Tucker has made it clear he prefers building through recruiting and supplementing with the portal. So, maybe don’t count on 20 guys transferring in again, but the Spartans will continue to search the portal for help.


Twitter: @mattcharboneau