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MSU Spartans finish football season with 5-7 record, look to regroup for next year

Spartan Stadium filled with people during a game at golden hour. The photo is taken from an upper level tier of the stadium looking down at the field.
Al Martin
/
WKAR-MSU

The Michigan State University Spartans ended their 2022 football season with a loss against Penn State.

The team isn’t bowl eligible with an overall 5-7 record this year.

All Things Considered host Sophia Saliby spoke with WKAR’s Current Sports Host Al Martin to break down this disappointing season for Spartan fans.

Interview Highlights

On what was different this season after the Spartans were nearly undefeated in 2021

The biggest change was the fact that Heisman Trophy candidate, the best running back in all of the nation last year, Kenneth Walker III went to the pros. He went to the National Football League. Kenneth Walker III was such a big hallmark of this team, Sophia, that he covered up what was the worst passing defense in all of the nation statistically last season. When you lose a guy like him, all of the deficiencies that existed last season, they begin to pop up.

On the impact of the fight MSU players got into with University of Michigan players that led to suspensions and fines

To have this happen in the midst of a bad season in the win and loss column, it was just not needed for Michigan State. Now what was surprising for me, though, Sophia, was, you know, when you look at that incident in late October, Michigan State went on to win back-to-back games. They got on a bit of a win streak. So, I think there's something to be said about how this team did respond after that incident.

On the slim chance MSU could still play a bowl game this season

I will say this, they do have an outside chance of making a bowl game here. You're talking about 41 total bowl games, that means 82 slots to fill. There aren't 82 teams in the country right now with at least six wins or better. So, then it goes to what they call the "Academic Progress Rate" or APR to determine which five-win teams will be invited to a bowl game. And Sophia, if Michigan State does get an invite, they won't be going far. They'll be going down the road to the Quick Lane Bowl in Detroit.

Interview Transcript

Sophia Saliby: The Michigan State University Spartans ended their 2022 football season with a loss last weekend against Penn State.

The team isn’t bowl eligible with an overall 5-7 record this year.

WKAR’s Current Sports Host Al Martin joins us to break down this disappointing season for Spartan fans. Thank you for being here.

Al Martin: Anytime, Sophia.

Saliby: Last year, new coach Mel Tucker led the team to a nearly undefeated season. The Spartans couldn't capture that same success this year. What changed?

Martin: Well, you know, I think, Sophia, the biggest change was the fact that Heisman Trophy candidate, the best running back in all of the nation last year, Kenneth Walker III went to the pros. He went to the National Football League.

Kenneth Walker III was such a big hallmark of this team, Sophia, that he covered up what was the worst passing defense in all of the nation statistically last season. When you lose a guy like him, all of the deficiencies that existed last season, they begin to pop up.

Payton Thorne who has had an up and down season, his inaccuracies as starting quarterback, defense. They did get better this season, but the defense for Michigan State still had a lot of holes and gave up a lot of big plays downfield and also injuries crept up as the season went along.

Saliby: What has Tucker said about the season and what might have gone wrong?

Martin: Coach Mel Tucker talks a lot about complimentary football, right? The offense, defense and the special teams, all coming together, all three phases, all leading to competitive football and hopefully wins. But especially, special teams just really hurt Michigan State in games where, you know, a field goal may have won it.

Bryce Baringer, who was named Big 10 Punter of the Year, he was fantastic this year. But you know, you look at the field goal kickers for Michigan State, you know Jack Stone just transferred. Ben Patton, inconsistent. Steven Rusnack, inconsistent.

There were some play-calling, questionable aspects for this team, and that falls on the assistant coaches, right? You know, Mel Tucker talked about because of what they lost last season, and again, a lot of that having to do with Kenneth Walker III leaving to go to the pros, Michigan State's margin for error, very slim.

Here he is talking about how they need to be "perfect" in order to be competitive in games:

Mel Tucker: It's not a matter of lack of effort or guys not, you know, in general not knowing what to do. I mean, that's where we are ... We have to be like perfect, most of the time to be able to execute, you know, in, you know, in this conference, and when we're not, we don't look very good.

Saliby: We found out this week, a number of players had been reinstated to the team following the fight with a few University of Michigan players after the rivalry game in late October.

One Spartan, Khary Crump, will be suspended for eight games next season. How has this incident impacted the team beyond that?

Martin: It was a distraction at the wrong time. You know, look, fights happen in rivalry games in football. And look, I don't want to sit here and debate, you know, the tunnel fight right now. But you know, it's the nature of football. It happens. It's the nature of sports, really.

But you know, to have this happen in the midst of a bad season in the win and loss column, it was just not needed for Michigan State. Now what was surprising for me though, Sophia, was, you know, when you look at that incident in late October, Michigan State went on to win back-to-back games. They got on a bit of a win streak. So, I think there's something to be said about how this team did respond after that incident.

But you know, the loss to Indiana was just so glaring, and that was Michigan State's best shot of, as you mentioned earlier, getting win number six and becoming bowl eligible. They had a double digit lead in that game, looked like they're going to win and then they lose in the double overtime. So, that momentum that you had was immediately crushed.

So, when it comes to the fight impact, it's hard to judge that because they did go on to win two straight. But still, you don't want to have that kind of situation happening in the midst of an already horrid season, win and loss-wise.

Saliby: In this, you know, minute we have left here, what can the Spartans do to get back on track next year?

Martin: Yeah, you know, Sophia, they have to reevaluate everything. From your assistant coaching, to your players. And Mel has to look at himself in the mirror as well and see what he needs to change as a head coach.

I will say this, they do have an outside chance of making a bowl game here. You're talking about 41 total bowl games, that means 82 slots to fill. There aren't 82 teams in the country right now with at least six wins or better.

So, then it goes to what they call the "Academic Progress Rate" or APR to determine which five-win teams will be invited to a bowl game. And Sophia, if Michigan State does get an invite, they won't be going far. They'll be going down the road to the Quick Lane Bowl in Detroit.

A bowl is a bowl though. It's a nice way to end the season, but we'll see if Michigan State even accepts that invite if they do get it. But, I think right now, it's like I said, it's reevaluation time and Mel Tucker has to really look at what changes need to be had in the offseason in order to have success next year.

Saliby: Al Martin is WKAR's Current Sports host. Thank you for joining me.

Martin: Oh, it's always great to be with you, Sophia. Thank you.

This conversation has been edited for clarity and conciseness.

Sophia Saliby is the local producer and host of All Things Considered, airing 4pm-7pm weekdays on 90.5 FM WKAR.
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