Iowa Football

Iowa football: 5 things to know about Michigan State

New coach Mel Tucker and Iowa native QB Rocky Lombardi come to Kinnick this week

Michigan State Coach Mel Tucker, pumping his fist after Saturday's win over Michigan in Ann Arbor, Mich., has coached wi
Michigan State Coach Mel Tucker, pumping his fist after Saturday’s win over Michigan in Ann Arbor, Mich., has coached with some of the best in the game. (Associated Press)
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Michigan State comes to Iowa City on Saturday to take on an Iowa team still trying to figure out what it’s going to be.

So far, so bad — for the Hawkeyes.

Things didn’t get off to a great start for the Spartans, either. They lost to Rutgers, 38-27, in their opener, but came back strong last week with a 27-24 win over archrival Michigan. Impressive ... maybe. Like the Hawkeyes, the verdict still is out on the Wolverines heading into Week 3 of Big Ten football.

Here are 5 Things about the Spartans:

1. Meet new coach Mel Tucker

Mel Tucker is in his first season at Michigan State, only his second season as a head coach.

But to say he’s a “rookie” would be a mistake.

Tucker, who was among Barry Alvarez’s first recruits at Wisconsin, has coached at LSU, Ohio State, Alabama and Georgia — among others — and also spent 10 years in the NFL. He has coached in three national championship games, winning titles with Ohio State (2002) and Alabama (2015).

He has coached with Nick Saban — who gave him his first job as a graduate assistant at Michigan State in 1997 and has hired him three times — Mark Dantonio, Kirby Smart and Jim Tressel.

In his only season as a head coach, Colorado went just 5-7 in 2019 but his team had wins over Stanford, Washington, Arizona State and Nebraska.

Saban, who has won five national titles at Alabama, called Tucker “one of the best and brightest coaches in our profession.”

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“Mel is charismatic, brings good energy and is a very forward thinker,” Mark Dantonio said about his successor. “He’s also an outstanding recruiter who connects with his players, but also holds them accountable.

“He’s from the Midwest and has a Spartan background with knowledge of the Big Ten.”

2. Michigan State’s 2020 season

To say the Spartans have been up and down would be an understatement.

But it’s easy to see how Michigan State lost, at home, to Rutgers in Week 1. Not many teams can overcome seven turnovers and win — and the Spartans didn’t.

MSU had 369 yards of offense, but gave up 21 points off those turnovers.

“I know that our fans expect more from this football team, more than we showed today, and we expect more from ourselves,” Tucker said after that loss.

Last Saturday, the Spartans had more.

MSU totaled 449 yards of offense, including 323 passing from quarterback Rocky Lombardi. who passed for three touchdowns and had no interceptions after tossing three the week before,

“We’re just proud to bring that Paul Bunyan Trophy back to East Lansing where it belongs,” Tucker said. “State fans, this one’s for you.”

3. Rocky Lombardi returns to Iowa

If that Lombardi name rings a bell, it’s not a surprise.

Rocky’s father, Tony, coached at Cedar Rapids Washington for eight seasons and Rocky, after moving to West Des Moines, quarterbacked Valley for three seasons, passing for 5,818 yards and compiling a 30-6 record as a starter.

In his first season as Michigan State’s starter, he has completed 48 of 75 passes for 642 and six TDs.

4. Ricky White earns Big Ten honors

For the second week in a row, the Hawkeyes will be hosting a team with a player coming off a big performance.

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Michigan State freshman Ricky White earned Big Ten co-freshman of the week honors on Monday after catching eight passes for 196 yards and a TD in the win over Michigan.

In two games, he has nine receptions for team-high 201 yards.

Jayden Reed actually is Lombardi’s favorite target so far with 12 receptions for 146 yards and two TDs.

The Spartans love the pass. Jordon Simmons is the top rusher, averaging just 49 yards a game.

5. Michigan State history lesson

The Spartans have a rich football history, but while Dantonio had lots of success, nothing compares to the teams of the 1950s and ’60s.

Clarence Munn directed Michigan State to a pair of unbeaten seasons (9-0) and national titles in 1951 and ’52. Duffy Daugherty, however, did even better, capturing four national titles.

Daugherty coached the Spartans to a 109-69-5 record in 19 seasons, winning national titles in 1955, ’57, ’65 and ’66.

Dantonio wasn’t shabby. He posted a 114-57 record in 13 seasons, winning three divisional titles and three Big Ten championships, including a 16-13 win over Iowa in 2015.

Comments: (319) 398-8416; jr.ogden@thegazette.com

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