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Mel Tucker Postgame Notes & Quotes: “You actually coach off of these wins, and what happens is players want more.”

NCAA Football: Northwestern at Michigan State Tim Fuller-USA TODAY Sports

The Michigan State Spartans came into today’s game as a two-touchdown home underdog, and walked out of Spartan Stadium with a 29-20 upset win over the No. 8 Northwestern Wildcats at home.

Mel Tucker, of course, spoke to the media following the game. After telling everybody on the Zoom call he hoped they had a great Thanksgiving, and praising the medical staff, he made it known how proud of his team he was after the big win.

“Today was a great win for our guys — very proud of them,” Tucker said. “Great win for our coaches, our staff, our support staff, and also great win for our State fans — all of the Spartan Dawgs out there. Like I said earlier this week, culture doesn’t change over night — it just doesn’t. But wins like today show what type of football that we’re capable of playing when we’re focused, when we’re process-driven, when we play complementary football and when we take care of the football — offense, defense and special teams working together.

“It was an awesome team effort,” Tucker added. “We still have a lot of work ahead of us, it’s a 24-hour rule with us here. We need to keep this momentum going, this upward trajectory of our football team, our program, we need to continue to work forward, continue to work to get better.”

There is still a ways to go, obviously, as Michigan State has very much been an inconsistent team through five games, but Tucker feels the Spartans are “getting closer to the brand of football we want to play here.”

Michigan State has really struggled to run the football this season. Coming into today’s game, the Spartans averaged under 74 rushing yards per game, but today against Northwestern, MSU ran for 195 yards — easily a season-high for the offense.

While the success in the running game — especially against Northwestern’s stout running defense — may have come as a surprise to Spartans fans — it did not come as a surprise to Tucker.

“In some of our previous games, we felt like we were very close in the run game — from an offensive line standpoint, tight ends blocking and runners hitting the hole, and just understanding where the power of the play is, and where the runs need to hit,” Tucker said. “We had some plays that we were able to show our guys that ‘hey, when we do it right, we’re efficient in the run game.’ We were able to build on those.”

After the Indiana game, the coaching staff pointed out plays that worked in the running game. The players were excited to compete against Maryland last week, knowing they were making improvements, and when that game was canceled, the players and coaches immediately went back to work on the practice field and focused on physicality, pad level and ball security in the running game.

“Our practices and our team run periods, when we had the pads on, the practices started to sound how they’re supposed to sound — in terms of the pads, the physicality,” Tucker added. “You could close your eyes and actually hear a physical football team on both sides of the ball. When you start to get that feel and that physicality, it’s something that the players are looking forward to it, and taking pride in our team run periods. That’s when you start to see improvement. We know that if we would execute — play with good technique and fundamentals, play with mental and physical toughness — we knew that we would be able to control the line of scrimmage and make yards on the ground.”

Coach Tucker gave a ton of credit to offensive line coach/run game coordinator Chris Kapilovic for the performance on the ground today. Tucker saw a surge from the offensive line at the line of scrimmage, something that had been missing for the Spartans in the previous four contests.

“Coach Kap (Chris Kapilovic) our offensive line coach and run game coordinator, I’m just telling you, he’s one of the best in the business,” Tucker said. “He’s relentless, and he believes in his players. He’s gonna get out of those guys what they have. We’re gonna continue to work to get better.”

With that said, Tucker knows that the running game is an “all hands on deck” effort. It takes good vision and burst from the running backs, and good in-line blocking by the tight ends and outside blocking by the wide receivers, in addition to the offensive line. Tucker credited all of his offensive assistants for the improvement in the run game — running backs coach William Peagler, tight ends coach Ted Gilmore and wide receivers coach Courtney Hawkins.

While this win over a top-10 team is huge for the program that Tucker is building, and this feels good Michigan State, there is still a lot to be done. There are lessons to be learned after an emotional win — perhaps even more so than from games that are lost.

“We’re not coaching in spurts,” Tucker said. “It’s not a flash in the pan in terms of our process and our culture and what we talk about every day. When players can see it, they can take it from practice and they can take it to the game and they can see the success, you can actually coach off of that. You coach off of losses, too, but you actually coach off of these wins, and what happens is players want more. They want more of that feeling — that feeling in that locker room after (winning) the game. Or the feeling when a team comes roaring back and they take the lead, but you don’t flinch — you stay the course, you stick with the process, you execute and you’re able to answer — they want more of that. This is a time where we need to continue to tighten the screws.”

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