Michigan State’s risky Mel Tucker hire

Photo via Al Goldis

The 2015 Michigan State Spartans were marching proudly, as they collected a College Football Playoff Cotton Bowl bid due in large part to a Big Ten Conference title and a 12-2 record.

The Spartan glamour would quickly falter to gloom, however, as their reliable defensive phalanx would implode against the Alabama Crimson Tide, 38-0.  

Michigan State head coach Mark Dantonio was unable to rebound the Spartans’ from the loss, as in the following three seasons, the team combined to go 27-24 with two small-tier bowl victories. While the stretch was a retooling and rebuilding period, this could not be a full-blown excuse. As a Power Five program in a competitive conference with a head coaching legend, they were expected to compete for titles year in and year out regardless of an NFL Draft exodus. The period eventually caught up for Dantonio, as the 12-year Spartans’ head coach retired in February after the conclusion of the college football season. 

The retirement gave the program an opportunity to bring in a younger, more invigorated mind. Perhaps someone that would be able to bring in a high-octane offense that was lacking when compared to other mainstays and up-and-coming teams in the Big Ten, including that of Ohio State, Wisconsin and Minnesota, among others. 

The solution to the coaching void came in the form of 48-year-old Mel Tucker. Tucker, a coach with NFL and blue-chip college coordinator experience (including time with defensive-minded teams in Ohio State, Georgia and Alabama) who just recently hailed from the University of Colorado Boulder, where he went 5-7 in his only year there. The hire, as it would seem on the surface, would be a youthful injection that would seemingly put Michigan State at an elite level once more. 

The upside of the hire looks enticing, but it is not a revolutionary one. Not one that jumps off the page with a new offensive concept that can put the program a leg up and back in the discussion for Big Ten Conference titles. After all, offense is the name of the game, and Michigan State, to put it lightly, has not been known as an offensive juggernaut (their 29.8 points per game during their 2015 Cotton Bowl season ranked 60th) recently. 

Instead, the hire looks too much like a lateral move best-case scenario and a complete bust worst-case. 

When looking at Tucker’s 2019 coaching season with Colorado when compared to Dantonio’s with Michigan State, similarities become readily apparent. On offense, Tucker’s Buffaloes averaged 388.5 yards per game (83rd in the FBS) and 23.5 points per game (100th), whereas Dantonio’s Spartans averaged 371.9 yards (95th) and 22.4 points per game (105th). When breaking down the offense into rushing and passing, the similarities continue. In the passing category, the Buffaloes averaged 238.2 yards per game (61st) while the Spartans averaged 244.8 (55th). When looking at the rushing side of the ball, the biggest difference can be noticed, as the Buffaloes averaged 150.3 yards per game (t-79th), while Michigan State averaged 127.2 (113th). 

With Tucker and Dantonio both coming from a defensive-oriented background, it is no wonder that defense would be what they would primarily attempt to build their team around. When looking at the defensive comparisons, Tucker’s Buffaloes’ struggled, as they allowed 441.9 yards per game (104th). Dantonio’s squad, meanwhile, allowed 321.6 yards per game, which ranked 18th in the FBS and was ahead of other notable teams including Alabama (20th with 324.5), Oregon (22nd with 329.1) and the 2019-20 National Champions in LSU (31st with 343.5). The disparity lengthens when looking at passing and rushing yards allowed, as Michigan State’s 207.8 passing yards allowed and 113.8 rushing yards allowed both ranked inside the top 40 (37th and 16th, respectively). Colorado’s 288.3 passing yards allowed and 153.1 rushing yards allowed ranked 123rd and 61st, respectively. 

In Tucker’s defense (no pun intended), he was in his first-ever year as head coach and was instantly thrown into the fire of a Power Five Conference in the Pac-12. 

While Tucker is getting a hefty pay jump (five years and $14.8 million to six years and upwards of $30 million), he is heading into a more scorching fire pit that is the Big Ten. 

Let’s look at the statistics once more. While the Pac-12 offensively possessed the same number of teams in the top 50 in points per game as the Big Ten (six each), the Big Ten absolutely trounced the Pac-12 when looking defensively at total yards allowed. When looking at the top 50 teams in total yards allowed, the Big Ten had eight teams (Ohio State, Wisconsin, Minnesota, Michigan, Iowa, Northwestern, Penn State and Indiana) excluding Michigan State, while the Pac-12 only had three (Utah, Oregon and Washington). 

While Tucker comes from a defensive background, he is not only raw as a head coach, but unknown as an offensive-minded play designer. In his only season as Colorado’s head coach, his collective offense was weak. He now must take over a program that is part of a conference that puts more emphasis on defenses clinching deadly chokeholds on opposing offenses. While Tucker’s defensive prowess could eventually shine, the offense is too much of an unknown and could be feasted on by stingy front-sevens and lockdown defensive backs. 

While it is true it takes several years to build up a roster with recruiting unique to what the head coach envisions, will several years at the minimum be able to put Michigan State back into the Playoff hunt? Are Spartan fans willing to wait several years to maybe see a one-year head coach’s plans possibly pan out? 

The variables are too much of a mystery. While Tucker could definitely make a Spartan defensive formation reminiscent to Dantonio’s Spartan teams, the offensive outlook is that much cloudier and bleaker.

Tucker has a new contract, and the Spartans are willing to give him time to implement what is needed. Even still, when wrapping the entire package together, Tucker does not seem to be the answer to bring the Playoff luster back to the Spartan faithful. 

‘Strange Adventures #3’ review

Strange Adventures continues to be my favorite book from DC Comics. The story Tom King, Mitch Gerads and Doc Shaner are crafting within each page of this book is enthralling. Additionally, if you are a Justice League fan, you will not want to miss this issue.

The third issue picks up shortly after the end of the last one. Mister Terrific has finished his interview with Adam Strange and his wife Allana, and from their reactions, it did not go well. The split story between the Justice League’s investigation into Adam Strange on Earth and Strange’s past intergalactic escapades help endear us to him. Seeing everything he has fought for to achieve his notoriety across the galaxy paints the image of a hero who will do anything to help those he loves. However, this same reasoning is why the Justice League is so skeptical of him. How far would Strange go to protect his wife’s people?

Superman and Adam Strange heading towards an alien ship in Metropolis from Strange Adventures #3

Seeing Strange’s various interactions with the Justice League, particularly his conversation with Superman, paints a good picture of how the other heroes of the world view Strange. Superman is the gleaming beacon of hope in the DC universe, so if he says you are a good man, you probably are. However, with everything Strange has gone through after returning to Earth, I imagine he is not inclined to agree with the Big Blue Boy Scout.

The artwork from both Gerads and Shaner is fantastic. Gerads artwork of the morally ambiguous present paints a mysterious and uncomfortable picture of the stress Strange and Allana are enduring. Between protecting Earth from an oncoming alien attack and being scrutinized by the League and the ambiguous Mister Terrific, Strange has his hands full. The distraction by the press is only making things more uncomfortable for the space adventurer.

Adam Strange facing a Hellotaat warrior in Strange Adventures #3

To contrast, Shaner’s artwork presents a classic space adventure, full of strange worlds and the creatures that inhabit them. To help protect Rann from war, Strange and Allana seek the aid of the Hellotaat Tribe. To prove they are worthy of the Hellotaats, Strange must battle their strongest warrior in single combat. The fight is brutal and Shaner does not shy away from it. The morality of the fight is clear as day, and the art shows this with clear color contrast, as opposed to the more moody colors in Gerads’s panels. King’s writing is intriguing, but it is the art that truly sells this story.

Strange Adventures contains everything I want in a comic book story. Dramatic tension, intriguing character interactions and entertaining space escapades. King’s writing balances the two stories well, and the stark contrast in Gerads and Shaner’s art styles illustrate this perfectly. I am excited to see what they have in store for the next issue.

Rating: 9.5/10

Buy the comic here: https://www.comixology.com/Strange-Adventures-2020-3/digital-comic/875255?ref=c2VhcmNoL2luZGV4L2Rlc2t0b3Avc2xpZGVyTGlzdC90b3BSZXN1bHRzU2xpZGVy

‘Stars Wars Jedi: Fallen Order’ video game review

The Star Wars universe had a huge 2019 with The Rise of Skywalker, The Mandalorian TV show and the video game, Respawn Entertainment’s Star Wars Jedi: Fallen Order. Fallen Order was released on November 15, 2019. It is an action-adventure game with an emphasis on story where the main character is a Jedi. I enjoyed playing it this past winter break, and with my thoughts souring on The Rise of Skywalker, I can look back at December of 2019 and call it a great month for Star Wars.

STAR WARS JEDI: FALLEN ORDER Bracca Shipbreaking Yard 22.11.19 ...
Screen cap of Cal Kestis climbing a shipyard on Bracca.

Fallen Order takes place five years after the events of Revenge of the Sith and the execution of Order 66, an executive order from Darth Sidious that forces the Clone Troopers to kill any Jedi on sight. Former Jedi Padawan Cal Kestis is one of its few survivors. Hiding out on Bracca, he works as a scavenger, salvaging fallen ships from the Clone Wars as he hides his force abilities. After he is forced to use those abilities to save his friend Prauf, two Inquisitors, the Second and Ninth sister, investigate and confront Cal.

Story Part 1 - Cal Kestis Meets The Second Sister: STAR WARS Jedi ...
Screen cap of the Second Sister confronting Cal on Bracca.

Cal engages in a duel but is then rescued by former Jedi Cere Junda and pilot Greez Dritus on the “Stinger Mantis.” They take him to Bogano, a place with a vault containing a Jedi Holocron that contains a list of force-sensitive children in the galaxy. To open the vault and obtain the Holocron, Cal, with droid companion BD-1, must follow the path of the Jedi who placed it there, Eno Cordova. Along the way, Cal travels to different places across the galaxy while growing stronger in the force. He must continue to hold off the Galactic Empire and the Inquisitors constantly pursuing him.

Chapter 5: Dathomir - Star Wars: Jedi Fallen Order Wiki Guide - IGN
Screen cap of Cal talking with a wanderer on Dathomir.

The additions to Star Wars lore, the boss battles and the world designs are what make this game fantastic. All my life, I have been a huge Star Wars fan as I have seen all 11 live-action movies and watched the three main TV shows, The Mandalorian, Star Wars: The Clone Wars and Star Wars Rebels (I played this game before I watched Clone Wars and Rebels). Because of this, I was looking forward to seeing what this game added to the Star Wars universe and it did not disappoint. The Clone Wars introduced the planets Illum and Dathomir, which have strong force influences. This game built on those foundations, showing what the planets were like after the events of the show. They looked amazing due to the modern graphics. The events in this game made the events in The Clone Wars more impactful.

Also, the expansion of the force lore was tremendous. We were introduced to brand new force users, gaining new perspectives on Order 66. We saw more of the Empire’s hunt for surviving Jedi, making the events in Revenge of the Sith more brutal. Seeing more Inquisitors and force temples were fantastic additions as well.

Star Wars Jedi: Fallen Order Ninth Sister fight – tips on how to ...
Screen cap of Cal facing off with the Ninth Sister.

One of my favorite aspects of Star Wars are the intense lightsaber battles and Fallen Order allows you to fight them yourself. The fights against other force users are amazing and the skills Cal acquires throughout the game make them more fun. The fights are epic and action-packed, increasing the affect of the events that surround. The music and characters complement them well.

My favorite aspect of the game is the world design. The game looks beautiful, bringing the worlds of the game to life. As previously mentioned, one place this game focuses on is Dathomir, a planet with a red sky. The planet appears desolate with an eerie atmosphere. You must constantly battle its native and zombie-like creatures, making the world even more dangerous. The levels and the boss battles make it my favorite section in the game.

Kashyyyk chests and secrets map locations – Star Wars Jedi: Fallen ...
Screen cap of the “Mantis” landing on Kashyyyk.

We also get to see new planets such as Bogano and Zeffo. These unqiue planets add to the huge mythos of the force. Lastly, there are sections taking place on Kashyyyk, the Woookie home world. The Empire took it over during Order 66 and players get a first-hand look at the Empire’s industrialization of its controlled systems. On top of that, Cal explores the spiritual locations of the planet, adding to the lore of the world seen in previous Star Wars media.

My one problem with the game is the progression system. While Cal grows stronger and gains new abilities throughout the game, the gameplay often downplays this. No matter how strong you get, the weakest single enemy can wreck you easily. While it makes for challenging gameplay, it limits the satisfaction to grow stronger and makes some sections more annoying then they should be.

Overall, Fallen Order is a terrific addition to the Star Wars universe. The new lore along with the world design and boss battles make for a satisfying game to play overall. Even if you are not a fan of Star Wars, I highly recommend playing this game as it is a fun experience. Trust in the force!

Rating: 9/10