As is always the case on Tuesdays during the 2020 football season, Michigan State Spartans head football coach Mel Tucker took some time to meet with the media and discuss the upcoming matchup against the Indiana Hoosiers on Saturday.
Tucker started out by acknowledging Veterans Day on Wednesday, saying he is “incredibly thankful for those who serve our country, to their families and for those who have made the ultimate sacrifice for our freedom.”
Following that, Tucker reiterated that last week’s performance against Iowa was not up to the program’s standards and expectations.
“Last week’s game was unacceptable,” Tucker said. “I hold, and will continue to hold this team to a higher standard of performance. We’ve looked at the tape and made the corrections that we’ve needed to make relative to that game. We’re moving forward with our game plan with Indiana.”
Indiana comes to East Lansing on a hot-streak. The Hoosiers have won all three of their games thus far this season, with wins over Penn State, Rutgers and Michigan. Tucker is impressed with what he sees from Indiana, and continuously talked up the Hoosiers.
“Indiana’s a good football team,” Tucker said. “I like the way this team is built. They play complementary football — offense, defense and special teams. They’re a physical football team. They got a difference-maker at quarterback. Their receivers are very good. They have a big offensive line. They got a big running back. They rotate 17 guys in their front seven, and their secondary, they have really good range and they run and they hit. Special teams, they play hard and they’ve got good specialists. It’s a well-rounded football team and I can see why they’re 3-0 and why they’re ranked in the top-10. Certainly, I have a lot of respect for the way they’re coached and the way they’ve built that program over the past three or four years or so.”
“They’re playing fast right now,” Tucker later added. “Teams that are confident play fast, and they play physical. Players play fast when they know what they’re doing and they trust that the person next to them knows what they’re doing, so they can just focus on doing their job to the best of their ability — and they’re doing that in all three phases. They’ve done some really good things and are playing well, and finding ways to win games.
The Hoosiers also have a really good quarterback in Michael Penix Jr., who Tucker had high praise for. Penix has completed about 59 percent of his throws for 750 yards, seven touchdowns and just one interception this season. He has a quarterback rating of 134, and has also added two rushing touchdowns.
Tucker says Indiana quarterback Michael Penix Jr. has arm talent, accuracy and poise in the pocket, and can hit throws outside the numbers. Also calls him “tough.”— The Only Colors (@TheOnlyColors) November 10, 2020
“He can make all the throws.”
“He can win outside the numbers on his throws to the field — most guys can’t do that on a consistent basis,” Tucker said. “He has a strong arm, which means he can make all the throws, and he’s accurate with the ball. That’s a challenge — accuracy, arm talent (and) arm strength are things that put pressure on the defense. The other thing about him is that he does have poise in the pocket, and he does not get gun shy, and he will take a hit. He will take multiple hits and it doesn’t affect the way he plays and his decision making...he’s talented and he’s tough.”
Still, Tucker and his team won’t back down. In fact, the head coach not only welcomes the challenge, he looks forward to it. He wants his team to get better, and be prepared to play anybody, anywhere.
Tucker says Indiana is playing “fast” and “confident” right now.— The Only Colors (@TheOnlyColors) November 10, 2020
“They play hard and they continue to come at you. That’s the challenge...if you’re a competitor, you want to play good teams...if you don’t want to play against good teams, there’s something wrong with you.”
“They play hard and they continue to come at you, so that’s the challenge, but you wanna play good teams,” Tucker said. “We’re on national TV, we’re at home, this a top-10 team opponent — that’s what you want. If you’re a competitor, you want to play a good team. I want to get our guys prepared the best that we can this week, and I want to get them out there against those guys, and I want to go play. I wanna go compete against a good team, that’s the best part about it. If you don’t wanna play against good teams, there’s something wrong with you, I think.”
One thing that Michigan State has not done a great job of so far this season is creating turnovers. The defense was able to take the ball away three times in the opening game against Rutgers, but has not generated a takeaway in either of the past two games. This is an area Tucker wants to see improvement in.
“To generate takeaways is huge,” Tucker said. “We talk about turnover margin ad nauseam. They do come in bunches. We have been close — tips and overthrows, we gotta get those on defense. The ball came out, we didn’t get it. We have drill work, we change the stimulus on the drills that we do, and we really need to work to get the ball out. To get the ball out, you have to be in position to be able to make the play. You have to get more guys to the point of attack. The faster you can get there with more velocity, more power, more violence, and population is how you get takeaways. And we have to have our rush and our coverage working together — last week we didn’t have that.”
Michigan State has been an inconsistent team through three games this season. The team imploded on itself with seven giveaways in the first game against Rutgers, before stunning the Michigan Wolverines and earning a victory in Ann Arbor as a huge underdog, and then getting crushed by Iowa this past Saturday.
Another thing that Tucker still is preaching to his team is that the Spartans need to be a more fundamentally sound football team and get back to the basics with good technique. That is how he plans to correct these inconsistent performances.
Tucker notes scheme is important, but says “You cannot scheme your way out of a game if you don’t play with technique, fundamentals and discipline.”— The Only Colors (@TheOnlyColors) November 10, 2020
“We need to get to where we’re fundamentally sound at every position on every play — offense, defense and special teams — on a consistent basis and then you play better football,” Tucker said. “You have less mistakes. You give up less plays, you make more plays. That’s what it comes to. Scheme is a part of it — design of plays — but you cannot scheme your way out of a game if you don’t play with technique, fundamentals and discipline, and mental and physical toughness.”
Tucker also added that Tuesdays and Wednesdays are padded practices and the most “intense” and “relentless” part of the week. That’s when the staff finds out who wants to get better and who can get better.
“I expect to see a better football team out there this Saturday than what I saw out there in Iowa,” Tucker noted.
Tucker also said he really didn’t know Indiana head coach Tom Allen too well before he took the job as Michigan State’s coach, but has since gotten to know him through Big Ten coaches meetings (on Zoom calls) to talk about COVID protocols and other things.
“I have a lot of respect for how he goes about his business,” Tucker said of Allen. “Obviously, he’s an outstanding football coach. “He’s really smart, and he’s attention to the detail. They’ve recruited well — they have good facilities. If you look at the players that they have on their roster, you look and see where they come from, they know what works for them. They have areas in the country where they know they can get players that fit what they wanna do. Then they play to the the strengths of the guys that they have. And then they have a quarterback, which is what you to have in order to have a chance. So, (Allen’s) built it in a way that it’s a very solid team in all phases...that’s why he has the type of team that he has now...I have a lot of respect for how he’s built that team.”
Tucker was also asked about Tom Izzo, who recently tested positive for COVID-19. Yesterday, Izzo noted that Tucker actually gave him tips on how to coach his team virtually through Zoom calls. Tucker says he has a great rapport and relationship with Izzo, and that the two are in constant communication and share ideas and philosophies.
Tucker says he texted Tom Izzo yesterday and will call him today after practice to see how he’s doing. Izzo mentioned yesterday that Tucker gave him some pointers on how to coach over Zoom.— The Only Colors (@TheOnlyColors) November 10, 2020
The two have a great rapport and relationship.
“I love Coach Izzo. He’s a great man.”
“I love Coach Izzo,” Tucker said. “He’s a great one, and we’re lucky to have him here.”