Bach: Michigan State gets a huge reality check at Iowa


Antjuan Simmons celebrates after breaking up a pass in the end zone. Photo credit: MSU Athletic Communications.

Eric Bach, Columnist

IOWA CITY – Reality check time.

Michigan State was riding one of the highest highs this program can have–beating Michigan on the road as a huge underdog. While that win will still remain important and sweet for the Spartan program and fan base, Saturday’s events in Iowa City were an important reality check about where the Spartans really are right now.

The Hawkeyes learned from the Wolverines’ mistakes. They played a ton of deep zone coverage and sent extra guys after Rocky Lombardi. Lombardi, in his homecoming game, folded under pressure, and showed he is exactly the quarterback I thought he was coming into the season. Serviceable with a low ceiling. He has the ability to make big plays when opportunities present themselves, but he’s not nearly consistent enough to be the long-term option for Michigan State at quarterback. He also seemed to be playing partially hurt on Saturday. 

Consistency is such an important word when you’re setting off into what is likely a three-plus year rebuild for Mel Tucker. Three games in, the Spartans have been the opposite of consistent. Seven turnovers and a disastrous loss to Rutgers in game one. Zero turnovers and basically a perfect game against your arch-rival in game two. Three turnovers (one for a touchdown), allowing a special teams touchdown, and offensive and defensive lines that looked like they never got off the plane in game three. That is the opposite of consistent. Michigan State will not make the progress they need to make in this pandemic-shortened season if they cannot find at least some consistent parts of their team.  

After the game, Tucker called the performance “unacceptable,” and he’s right. No one expects Michigan State to contend for the Big Ten title this year or next year. However, the Spartans should be able to replicate parts of a basically perfect performance. No one expected them to play as well as they did in Ann Arbor, that was about as good as it’s going to get this year. 

But where was the offensive line push? Where was the stifling run defense? Where was the constant QB pressure with only four rushers? I don’t think anyone expected freshman Ricky White to replicate his performance from the Michigan game, but he was a non-factor Saturday. White is a young player that will be fine, but the week-to-week offensive and defensive line improvements are fundamental aspects of rebuilding a once proud football program that Michigan State needs to have week in and week out to continue the positive path the program is on. Tucker knows this. He’s said time and time again that every day they focus on having a consistent process. Three games in, that consistent process has yet to yield consistent results. 

There’s no need to panic. We are three games into Tucker’s tenure, and developing a consistent identity takes time, and it’s partially done through recruiting. The Spartans will get there. But this year’s group of players needs to understand that they have an important job to do in laying the foundation of this rebuild. They need to show that Tucker and the coaching staff have re-established the identity of tough, hard-nosed Spartan football, but that they also have evolved into the new era of offensive college football. That won’t be done without consistency week in and week out from this group. Success in recruiting partially depends on this group’s consistency moving forward. 

Don’t get me wrong, this season, consistency will not equal a lot of wins. But the expectation at this time is for Michigan State to beat the bottom feeder teams in the Big Ten, be competitive with the middle tier, and not be embarrassed by the top tier. It appears that their opponent this upcoming Saturday (Indiana) has ascended themselves into the top tier of the Big Ten. They have a dynamic quarterback, dangerous receivers, and an opportunistic defense that preys upon opponent’s mistakes. Doesn’t sound like a great matchup for the Spartans.

If this group stays to pattern, they’re due for a great performance on Saturday. But that’s the thing, three games into Tucker’s tenure, we have no idea which Michigan State team will show up.

Until the Spartans develop an identity and some consistency, they’ll be stuck in neutral. And that’s no way to start a rebuild.

Eric Bach is the Sports Broadcast Director and football columnist for WDBM. Follow him on Twitter, @ebach21.