It’s Tuesday, which means Michigan State Spartans head football coach Mel Tucker took some time to speak with the media today. He discussed the upcoming game against the Maryland Terrapins, and also seemed to send several messages to his team.
Of course, the biggest question regarding Michigan State’s game this weekend at Maryland is if it will even happen at all — Maryland had to cancel its game against Ohio State last weekend due to an “elevated number of COVID-19 cases” within the program.
As of press time, and while things can certainly change between now and then, Tucker says all indications are that the game is on and he believes it will be played as scheduled. With that in mind, he is preparing his team as if the game will take place on Saturday.
All indications are that the game against Maryland is still on as of now — Maryland wants to play and MSU is preparing to play, per Tucker.— The Only Colors (@TheOnlyColors) November 17, 2020
“All indications, everything I’ve been told, they're trying to play and so we’re preparing to play,” Tucker said. “I talked to (Maryland head coach Mike Locksley) this morning for a long time, we had a good talk. I know they wanna play, so we’re preparing to play.”
Reflecting on the past few weeks, Tucker continues to hammer home the importance of ball security, field position and eliminating mental mistakes, such as foolish penalties. All of those things have played big factors in all three of MSU’s losses thus far this season.
Mel Tucker meeting with media:— The Only Colors (@TheOnlyColors) November 17, 2020
“We have to give ourselves a better chance to win — turnovers, penalties and field position. Those things are very, very obvious.”
“We have to give ourselves a better chance to win,” Tucker said. “Turnovers, penalties and field position — those things just are very, very obvious. If you take care of the ball, you’re penalty free and you win the field position battle, you give yourself a much better chance to win. The games that we’ve lost, we haven’t done that.”
Looking for a new advantage, Tucker said the team did something a little bit different with their film study following the Indiana game. While generally the offensive, defensive and special teams players would just focus on their specific unit and solely watch those facets of the game separately, the traveling team watched the “continuous copy” of the Indiana tape this week — something that Tucker believes will give each player a “better perspective” and ultimately help the team “play complementary football.”
While Tucker says the attitude of the team is still great, he makes no excuses for the Spartans’ previous performances on the field. He knows this team has not often played up to its potential.
“We certainly understand there’s a standard of performance that we have not lived up to on a consistent basis, and we’re working hard to get to that,” Tucker said. “Our fans deserve that and we owe it to ourselves to give ourselves the best chance as well.”
Outside of whether or not this weekend’s game will be played in College Park, one of the other burning questions is if the game is played, who will start at quarterback for the Spartans? Redshirt junior Rocky Lombardi was benched in the second quarter of last week’s game against Indiana, which allowed an opportunity for redshirt freshman Payton Thorne to step in. Tucker said after the game that the offense was “inconsistent” with both quarterbacks in.
Asked about who might be the starting signal-caller this week, Tucker was unsurprisingly tight-lipped about the situation and said it was too early in the week to decide that. Tuesday is the first padded practice of the week and the coaching staff will evaluate throughout the week. Don’t be surprised if a starter isn’t named until right before kickoff on Saturday.
Tucker says it was a “mixed bag” with both Rocky Lombardi and Payton Thorne at quarterback against Indiana.— The Only Colors (@TheOnlyColors) November 17, 2020
He adds it’s too early in the week to name a starter. Pads come on today, and the staff will evaluate throughout the week of practice.
“It was it a mixed bag with both quarterbacks,” Tucker said. “We’re gonna go through the week — it’s really early in the week, we haven’t even put the pads on yet, we’ll do that later on today — and we’ll see how it goes. There’s nothing set in stone on this team. Every position is an evaluation every day.”
Tucker also didn’t rule out other options at quarterback, such as redshirt sophomore Theo Day or true freshman Noah Kim getting playing time, or even drawing the start on Saturday.
Tucker does not rule out guys like Theo Day and Noah Kim potentially getting playing time on Saturday, either.— The Only Colors (@TheOnlyColors) November 17, 2020
“Nothing set in stone. It’s complete and show us what you can do. Earn your spot.” https://t.co/fdN3RtlpLi
Tucker also seemed to send out a message of sorts. While he knows transfers, opts-out, injuries, etc. are all a part of college football in 2020, there are certain kinds of players he wants in this program, and if you don’t buy in, you could lose your spot.
“There’s a certain type of culture and a certain type of player that we need to have here and that’s really non-negotiable,” Tucker said sternly. “Everything’s an evaluation, and halfway through the season, at this point, we have a pretty good idea of who can do what. You can anticipate seeing some movement on our roster, whether it’s portal related or otherwise.”
“Nothing is set in stone. I mean, it’s compete and show us what you can do and earn your spot, earn your playing time, earn your right to be able to even stay on the team. Because this is not a recreational-type of situation. This is compete to play, compete to stay,” Tucker later added.
Tucker also mentioned today that three more players have opted out of the season due to COIVD-19 concerns — Redshirt junior offensive tackle Mustafa Khaleefah, true freshman defensive tackle Simeon Barrow, and true freshman defensive end Jasiyah Robinson. This brings Michigan State’s total to five opt-outs now, and Tucker and the staff fully support those decisions.