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Notes & Quotes: Michigan State head coach Mel Tucker is “super excited about this opportunity”

“I’m just really looking forward to representing this great university and Spartan Nation on Saturday,” Tucker said. “Our fans deserve to see a brand of football that they can believe in and they can be proud of. We’re certainly preparing for a matchup where we’ll get a chance to show what we’re all about.”

Colorado State v Colorado Photo by Dustin Bradford/Getty Images

Mel Tucker has had to wait to you an extended period of time to make his debut as head coach of the Michigan State Spartans. That opportunity is now just days away, as the Spartans battle the Rutgers Scarlet Knights on Saturday at noon (Big Ten Network).

Leading up to the game, Tucker met with media today via Zoom call to give us a glimpse into what this week will look like and some things he expects on Saturday.

“I’m just really super excited about this opportunity,” Tucker said. “Our team has worked really, really hard to prepare for this moment. We’re just excited to finally get a chance to play,” Tucker added, before going on to commend the medical and athletic training staffs for the job they’ve done preparing the players and keeping them safe throughout the pandemic.

“I’m just really looking forward to representing this great university and Spartan Nation on Saturday,” Tucker said. “Our fans deserve to see a brand of football that they can believe in and they can be proud of. We’re certainly preparing for a matchup where we’ll get a chance to show what we’re all about.”

Similar to Michigan State, Rutgers will also be beginning a new era with a new coaching staff. However, this will be head coach Greg Schiano’s second stint in Piscataway, New Jersey, so perhaps the learning curve isn’t quite as steep.

Tucker had nothing but praise for Coach Schiano, and says the two are close pals.

“Coach Schiano, he’s a good friend of mine,” Tucker said. “I have a lot of respect for him. He’s an outstanding football coach, a great man and a proven winner. I’m really happy to see him back in the Big Ten. Shout out to Greg — I know that he worked really hard in preparing his team. It’s going to be an exciting time on Saturday.”

Perhaps the biggest question mark, as it has been all offseason, is who starts at quarterback. Tucker and the Michigan State staff have been tight-lipped about the quarterback situation all along, and still have not announce anything publicly as of yet — which could have to do with wanting to keep it a secret from Rutgers.

Don’t expect that decision to come any time soon, as Tucker wants to see how the week of practice unfolds before naming one. Tucker also mentioned he does not anticipate releasing a depth chart early in the week. He still calls it a “rep chart” and wants every player on the roster prepared and developed if their name is called at some point in time.

Tucker was also asked if we could potentially see multiple quarterbacks in this week’s game, although he didn’t really provide a clear answer to that.

“We won’t be announcing a quarterback today,” Tucker said. “There’s been fierce competition at so many positions, including quarterback. As this week unfolds and the game plan is installed, we’ll make a decision and we’ll go play.

“We’re gonna play who gives us the best chance to win. The guys that we have are very capable, so we’re very fortunate to have multiple quarterbacks who we feel can get the job done.”

One of the other key things Tucker discussed was what the MSU football brand represents. As the Mark Dantonio era ends and the Mel Tucker regime begins, there will be some similarities and some differences.

“Brand of football is very important, and our fans, they expect a certain standard of play,” Tucker said. “That’s tough, physical, disciplined, sense of urgency, attention to detail, very unselfish guys that are playing for each other, relentless competitors and playing complementary football — offense, defense and special teams working together. We’ll all be pulling in the same direction, playing for this great university and for all of our fans. We’re just very excited for this opportunity.”

“We want to be able to run the ball on our terms, which means when we want to run it we can, and when we have to run it and everyone in the stadium and everyone on TV knows we need to run the ball, we can do that, too,” Tucker adds. “We want to be able to protect the quarterback — make sure he has a clean pocket and can deliver the ball efficiently and accurately. We want to be versed in all the special situations: red zone, short-yardage, goal line, two-minute before the half, two-minute before the game, third down, and be very efficient.

“We want to be explosive on offense in the run game and the pass game and be able to get chunks, and take care of the football. The biggest determining factor in winning and losing football games is the turnover margin. It’s all about the ball — the ball, the ball, the ball — take care of the football. And on defense, we’re gonna try to take it away.”

Other notes:

On if he expects any players to miss this week’s game due to COVID:

“We have released those results weekly for a number of months now,” Tucker said. “As of right now, we’re working with the guys that we have. And as the week unfolds, we’ll determine who will be the guys that are gonna dress and be available to us to play, but I feel good about the group of guys that we have.”

On expected “unscouted” looks from Rutgers:

“When you go into the first game of the season, you’re expecting some unscouted looks,” Tucker said. “You’re not quite sure exactly what you’re going to see. We told our players yesterday that this is gonna be a ‘rules game,’ where offense, defense and special teams, you’re gonna have to apply your ‘rule’ to what you see on the field. And then we’ll have to be able to adapt and adjust during the game — in between plays, in between series. But we’ve done scouting reports on not just the players, but also the coaching staff and the coordinators — we know where they have been and what they’ve done. So, we’ve studied film for those places. We’ll have to see on Saturday what they come out in and what they do. It’s gonna be important for us to play our brand of football.”

On what Tucker already knows about his team going into the season:

“I know that our guys love to play football,” Tucker said. “I can tell by the way they behave. And behavior has a lot to do with the results that you get. Our behavior on a day-to-day basis has been outstanding. The guys have bought into our shift in culture. We have been able to connect with our players, and they know that we’re process-driven, and they’ve bought into that process.

“I know they love the game, I know they’re going to play hard, I know what’s important to them, and I know they’re going to play together and they’re going to play for each other — and that’s what football’s all about. Football’s a great game, the ultimate team sport, and these guys love being around each other and love being around our coaches.”

On culture change:

“Culture is pretty much how you live day-to-day, the things that you do on a consistent basis,” Tucker said. “We have a new coaching staff and we have a different way of doing some things and that’s part of the culture. How do you live, how do you do what you do, why do you do it that way? And making sure that everyone understands that and understands why it’s important. And so our players have embraced that.

“Obviously, that’s always going to be a challenge. Change can be uncomfortable, but we told our players that they have to get comfortable being uncomfortable. And so we’ve done that and our players have embraced us, we’ve embraced them, we’ve connected with our players, we feel very good about our process. Our culture is developing, and I feel really good about the shift that we made in terms of our culture.”

On weekly captains:

“We’re going to have game captains,” Tucker said. “My coaching staff and myself will pick those captains weekly and then we’ll announce them to the team. And then at the end of the season, the players will vote on captains, and then those will be the permanent captains for this particular season. That’s how we’ll handle the captain situation.”

Tucker on his emotions heading into his first game as Michigan State head coach:

“I can’t help but to smile because this is a dream come true for me to be able to represent this great university and our Spartan Nation as head football coach,” Tucker said. “I’m really looking forward to it. My demeanor is very similar to what our players see every day from me. It’s important for me to be consistent. We work with a sense of urgency. We’re passionate about what we do, and we love the game. My demeanor will reflect that. Obviously, I believe in neutral-thinking — not to get too high and not to get too low. And just really take the game one play at a time, and take in the information as it comes, and that determines what we need to do next.

“Coaching in Spartan Stadium is special,” Tucker adds. “I do remember the feeling, as a graduate assistant, coaching in that stadium. It’s something that I always cherished, and I really can’t wait to get back out there.”

On jumping straight into Big Ten Conference play:

“It’s a great opportunity for us,” Tucker said. “I’ve never really gotten caught up too much into scheduling, who you play and when you play them. I was raised as a ‘football guy.’ I was always taught when they put the ball down and snap the ball, it’s time to play, regardless of when or where. We’re preparing our players that way. This situation this year has been a challenge, it’s been unusual, it’s been unprecedented, but at the end of the day, we’re gonna have our opportunity to go out there and play, and that’s what we all want to do.”

On the offensive line’s development:

“Coach (Chris) Kapilovic has done an outstanding job with our offensive line” Tucker said. “He’s one of the great coaching minds in this profession, one of the great offensive line coaches, and the best or one of the best offensive line coaches that I’ve ever been around. And he sees the game the way that I see the game — it’s about being physical, it’s about playing with great technique and fundamentals, having a mental disposition of moving people against their will and understanding that you have to win the line scrimmage.

“We’ve had competition at the tackle spot, we’ve had competition inside (at guard/center), and we’re developing depth because we’re going to need as many guys ready to play as possible. I feel really good about our preparation, I feel great about what Coach Kap has done with those guys, and I’ve see steady improvement from that unit. I’m just looking forward to a great week of practice and preparation from that group and the entire team. We have to get better each and every day.”

More on quarterbacks:

“For Rocky (Lombardi), Payton (Thorne), Theo (Day) and Noah (Kim), those guys, the most important thing was really to connect with (offensive coordinator) Jay (Johnson) and understand his process, understand how he sees that position being played and then learning the scheme,” Tucker said. “That’s where those guys have grown. They’ve connected with Jay, they have a lot of respect for Jay, Jay has a lot of respect for them, they work well as a unit, they help each other and I’ve seen a steady improvement from that group. And that’s what you want to see at that position, you want to see guys that are team guys, that have leadership ability, that are not afraid to take charge and I’ve seen that in all of those guys. And I believe that your quarterback has to be your No. 1 competitor on your team, college or pro.

“We have the competitive nature and the mental disposition in that room to be able to get the job done. I feel really good about what Jay’s done and what he’s going to continue to do and how those guys are going to continue to develop under him.”

Shout out to those who have mentored Mel Tucker along the way: