The Michigan State Spartans were more than a three-touchdown underdog against the Michigan Wolverines. That mattered not on this day. The Spartans shocked the Wolverines in Ann Arbor with a 27-24 win, and brought the Paul Bunyan Trophy back to East Lansing.
This marked head coach Mel Tucker’s first win at the helm for Michigan State, and he also joined his mentor, Nick Saban, in some pretty special history. Tucker was the first coach to win his debut game against Michigan since Saban did it 25 years ago.
Mel Tucker is the first Michigan State head coach to win his debut game against Michigan since Nick Saban in 1995.— The Only Colors (@TheOnlyColors) October 31, 2020
“We all understand this is a special game, dating back over 100 years,” Tucker said. “Our players were very, very focused this week in their preparation. I just thought they were ready to play a physical, 60-minute, four-quarter game. We did that and we’re just proud to bring that Paul Bunyan Trophy back to East Lansing where it belongs. State fans, this one’s for you!”
Today’s performance was a complete turnaround from what we saw from the Spartans in last week’s loss against the Rutgers Scarlet Knights. Last week, the team turned the ball over seven times — nine times if you count the two failed fourth down conversions — gave up three sacks and had too many penalties.
In this week’s game against the rival Michigan Wolverines, the Spartans had zero giveaways and didn’t allow a sack. MSU also had five less penalties (and 21 yards less on penalty calls).
Tucker praised the job his staff did today, saying that offensive coordinator Jay Johnson called a great game, before going on to praise his players.
“We have some guys that can makes plays — we saw that last week that we have guys that can make some plays — so we took advantage of that,” Tucker said. “Rocky (Lombardi) did a really nice job. (The) offensive line did a nice job, our (running) backs did a good job in pass pro(tection). We took care of the football today, and I don’t think we gave up a sack today. It was just a really good game plan and really good execution from our players — and they fought hard and they earned it today.”
“First and foremost, we talked about all week that we need to take care of the football — ball security,” Tucker adds. “That was huge. We worked really, really hard this week on that and we were confident going into the game that we would be able to do that. Everyone was confident in the game plan.”
The Spartans were able to expose the Wolverines’ secondary. Michigan State found a lot of success on deep balls, and forced the Michigan defensive backs to commit multiple penalties.
It was a name that probably many Spartans fans didn’t expect to completely dominate the Michigan secondary — true freshman wide receiver Ricky White. White had eight catches for 196 yards and a touchdown. His 196 receiving yards were the second-most ever in MSU program history against Michigan (Plaxico Burress’ 255 yards in 1999 are the most).
“We work on deep balls every week, every day,” Tucker said. “We were not surprised by what we saw out there. When you see a guy like Ricky White go out there and maybe set a freshman record, you know, he makes plays in practice. We just want to take it from practice to the game, and that’s the key.”
This was also a special game for senior linebacker Antjuan Simmons. Simmons, who hails from Ann Arbor, said earlier in the week he has some extra motivation for this game. Simmons had 11 total tackles today and two pass breakups. Tucker is very impressed with what he saw from his senior leader.
“Antjuan, he’s a leader,” Tucker said. “He’s got good mental and physical toughness and he does not flinch. “You know what you’re gonna get from him, you know day-in and day-out. He is a relentless competitor. He loves football, and he cares about his football team. It means something for him to be able to play with his teammates and for Michigan State. That’s a sense of pride for him and he brings that every single day — you saw that on the field. He’s just a relentless football player, and, I’ll tell you what, he’s an even better person. He’s just a great young man. I’m proud of him, and I know that is family is proud of him as well.”
Not many people predicted this result — Wolverines fans, Spartans fans and national analysts alike. However, Tucker and the team believed in themselves. The Michigan State players came out and wanted it more, and out-executed the Michigan players. Mel Tucker and his staff came out and out-coached Jim Harbaugh and the Michigan staff.
“We have a process,” Tucker said. “We’re building on our process. Our players believe in it. The preparation was very good. It was a tough week, it was a physical week — our guys did not flinch, they embraced it. We were preparing — our players were preparing all the way up until we got on the bus to come over to the stadium today. That’s what it’s all about. We were able to turn the page from last week and move forward, doing the things that we had to do to put ourselves in a position to be successful.”
LADIES AND GENTLEMEN... pic.twitter.com/2rVrkrjytD— Michigan State Football (@MSU_Football) October 31, 2020