Michigan State mailbag: Tackling Mel Tucker-LSU talk, looking ahead at rest of schedule

Matt Charboneau
The Detroit News

Michigan State has the week off, but that hardly means the attention has waned.

In fact, with Mel Tucker’s name coming up in the chatter about who might be the next coach at LSU, it has Spartans fans wondering what’s going on.

We do our best to tackle that in this week’s mailbag while also looking ahead to the final five games of the season and even mixing in a basketball question — the season starts next week with an exhibition game, folks.

Question. Tuck comin or Tuck leaving? — @patondan

Answer. Well, that sums it up quite simply, doesn’t it, Dan. Not surprisingly, there were plenty of questions this week that all surrounded the idea that LSU is reportedly high on the Michigan State coach as a replacement for Ed Orgeron, who is out at the end of the season. As of right now, I’d say no one has a real good idea of where Tucker stands. With the Spartans off this week, the team has opted to have no media availability, so it’s been impossible to directly ask Tucker and we’re left to speculate to an extent.

I’ll say this, when a high-end SEC job comes open and the school wants to talk, you probably listen. That doesn’t mean Tucker is taking it, but he’d be nuts not to at least take the call. That said, you have to wonder if what is offered at LSU right now is actually a better fit. Tucker has everything he wants right now — momentum in recruiting, a commitment to improve facilities, an athletic director he likes and a program with the resources to compete. Now, would that change if LSU — or any other school, for that matter — offered a massive pay increase, say to $9 or $10 million? Maybe. We’ll have to see. But even if this passes and Tucker stays, don’t count on this being the last time we’re talking about this.

Michigan State head coach Mel Tucker and his team take the field for the start of the game against Western Kentucky in East Lansing on Oct. 2, 2021.

Q. Pick three current MSU football players who are a lock to be picked in the NFL draft? — @pfnnewmedia

A. Right now I’d have to say Kenneth Walker III, Jayden Reed and Xavier Henderson. I think those are the safest bets, and quite likely, it will be next spring that it happens. Where they’ll be picked? Well, that’s anyone’s guess, but I’d be shocked if all three aren’t high on the draft boards of most NFL teams.

Who else might we see this year, or at least soon? I’d expect Jalen Nailor to get a shot in the NFL as well as some of the offensive linemen like Jarrett Horst and J.D. Duplain. Defensively, Jacub Panasiuk does nothing but produce while linebacker Quavaris Crouch has all the physical tools. Also, keep an eye on safety Angelo Grose down the road. There are plenty more that could get to that point, but those are names that jump out right now.

Q. Your prediction of six wins is officially wrong. So what's your bye week adjusted view? Even going 2-3 gets them to a NY6, right? — @pfnnewmedia

A. I know, I know. I’m wrong. Me and a bunch of other people. I guess my adjusted prediction would be 10-2, maybe 9-3 to be on the safe side, but I really think 10-2 is realistic. Do that and a New Year’s Six game is possible, but hardly certain. I’d say this, they would do no worse than one of the New Year’s Day Florida bowls — Citrus or Outback. Any of those would be a pretty good year, all things considered.

Q. Is the defense actually good, or have we played weak offenses? A bit of both? How do they stack up against UM/OSU? — @swiftlydwnfield

A. Well, I think it would be a bit unfair to say they’ve only played against weak offenses. Sure, they haven’t played Ohio State yet, but few offenses are as potent as the Buckeyes. I’m going to say they’re good, not great. But they’re definitely good when you see how they’re getting after the quarterback, creating turnovers and keeping teams out of the end zone.

Yes, the passing yards can get frustrating, but the Spartans rank in the top 25 in the nation in a number of different categories, including fourth in sacks per game (3.71), 16th in scoring defense (18.7), 20th in turnovers forced (12) and 22nd in red zone touchdown percentage (46.15). All of that adds up to a pretty solid unit.

Q. Is the offensive line capable of handling the remaining defenses on the schedule? — @bhiggins42

A. They’re capable of holding their own, to be sure. Now, will they dominate the line of scrimmage? That seems like a bit more of a stretch. Nebraska and Indiana were both physical up front, and in each game the rushing yardage was much tougher to come by. Expect more of the same over the final five weeks, but I also don’t expect the Spartans’ offensive line to be overwhelmed.

Q. Any idea if some of the long injured players might be ready for Michigan? Maybe held out through the bye week to heal up? — @Aurelius291

A. Good question, and I wish I had better answers, but unfortunately Michigan State keeps things pretty close to the vest with injuries. There was some chatter that defensive end Drew Beesley could be available for that game and running back Elijah Collins could also be a possibility, but until I see those guys on the field and ready to go, it’s hard to speculate.

A couple others to keep an eye on include defensive tackle Jalen Hunt, who did not play at Indiana, and defensive end Itayvion Brown, who has been out since playing in the season opener.

Q. Is there a replacement for coach Izzo in the wings? I don’t want him going anywhere, but I also don’t want a severe drop off when he leaves. — @wadster13

A. This is a question that comes up fairly often and the short answer is, no, there is not a replacement waiting in the wings. There are plenty of folks who think going with associate head coach Dwayne Stephens would be a solid move, me included. He’s a smart basketball guy and is a top-level recruiter who surprisingly hasn’t drawn a lot of interest beyond some mid-majors over the years. He might not be the flashy name some will hope for, but remember, neither was Izzo.

That said, it’s a little early to get a gauge on how athletic director Alan Haller feels about it, and, of course, you’d have to expect Izzo to have a significant say in the matter.


Twitter: @mattcharboneau