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Mel Tucker vows Michigan State won't finish "dead ass last" in pass defense again this season

Despite winning 11 games in 2021, Michigan State surrendered more passing yards than any FBS team since 2016.

The 2021 campaign was an outstanding one for the Michigan State football program, everywhere except the secondary. 

Coming off a 2-5 COVID-interrupted debut season, Mel Tucker's squad was unranked through Sept. 18 and by Halloween was the No. 3 team in the country. The Spartans began the year 8-0, including a thrilling home win over Michigan, and finished the year 11-2 and ranked No. 9 with a Peach Bowl victory over ACC champion Pittsburgh. 

And Michigan State did all that winning despite fielding the leakiest pass defense in college football.

Opponents hoisted 579 passes (the most in FBS), completing 380 (also the most) for 4,222 yards with 27 touchdowns against 10 interceptions. It's the most passing yards any FBS team has yielded since Arizona State and Pittsburgh both 'surpassed' that number in 2016. 

To add some context to that number, good teams tend to field more pass attempts than bad ones; other successful teams like Michigan, Oklahoma State, Ohio State, Alabama, Oregon, Pittsburgh, Western Kentucky, San Diego State and national champ Georgia also finished among the top 15 in passes defended in 2021. The Spartans also finished 15th in rush defense, surrendering 116.2 yards per game on 3.39 a carry. So, an opposing play-caller, likely facing a deficit on the scoreboard, was of course going to call more passes than runs. In terms of efficiency, Michigan State was only 86th in the nation.

But, I mean, c'mon. Georgia was fourth in passes defended, but second in pass defense efficiency. 

WKU's Bailey Zappe went 46-of-64 for 488 yards with three touchdowns and no interceptions. Purdue's Aidan O'Connell hit 40-of-54 for 536 yards with three scores and no picks. Ohio State's CJ Stroud was 32-of-35 for 432 yards and six touchdowns and no interceptions. And the Spartans didn't even have to face Heisman finalist/first-round pick Kenny Pickett, who skipped the Peach Bowl. 

Those were three of the best passers in the country, and they had some of their best games of the season against Michigan State. 

Looking at the bright side, if Michigan State's pass defense can improve from '21 to '22 like the rest of the team did from '20 to '21, there's no telling what the Spartans can accomplish.

"We are extremely hungry, and we do have a chip on our shoulder. We've got a lot to prove," Tucker said. "We have a very high standard of performance, and we have decided as a program to attack that standard every single day."