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Notes & Quotes: Mel Tucker knows “Iowa is a very tough place to play”

Tucker reflected on the Michigan win, looked forward to the Iowa game, and encouraged all to vote during his press conference today.

Rutgers v Michigan State Photo by Rey Del Rio/Getty Images

The Michigan State Spartans are of course coming off of a huge upset win over the rival Michigan Wolverines. While there is definitely some pride still flowing from the program after that win, and reflections from that contest are still being talked about, the Iowa Hawkeyes are on the clock, and MSU’s focus must turn to that opponent.

Michigan State head football coach Mel Tucker met with the media via Zoom today, which has become the new Tuesday routine. Tucker hit on a ton of topics, and we have your recap here.

Before getting into football talk, Tucker had an important message, given the election taking place today:

“Before I start on football, I’d like to say, obviously today is a special day in this country,” Tucker said. “No matter who you vote for, I would encourage you to vote if you haven’t already done so. And also pray that as Americans, post-election, we find a way to be less partisan and come together as a country and develop more humanity and stability for one another.”

The Spartans actually had an off-day from practice today, due to it being Election Day, and worked out on Sunday instead.

The Michigan State players also wanted to remind everybody to exercise their right to vote today:

As far as on the gridiron, Tucker spoke about both the win over the Wolverines, as well as the Spartans’ upcoming opponent in the Hawkeyes (Saturday at noon in Iowa City).

“I’m very proud of how our guys played on Saturday. It was a big win for us and for all of our Spartan fans. Thank you for the tremendous amount of support that you showed our team after we brought the Paul Bunyan Trophy back to East Lansing where it belongs. But as you know, this week — like every week — is about looking forward. We’re building on our process, our culture, and we must continue to play tough, hard-nosed football, play smart and be physical versus Iowa.

Tucker knows his team is in for another challenge this coming Saturday. It is the first time this season Michigan State has to travel outside of the state of Michigan and Kinnick Stadium is not an easy place to walk out of with a victory — even if no fans are in attendance.

“Obviously, Kirk Ferentz is the longest-tenured coach in the Big Ten,” Tucker said. “I’ve know Coach Ferentz for a very long time. I have a tremendous amount of respect for him — he is a great football coach. He has a great staff, and they always have very good continuity on their staff. Iowa is a very tough place to play. I don’t think we have any players on our roster that have played there. But I’ve been there, and we have several coaches on our staff that have been there as a player or a coach. We know it’s a tough place to play, whether they have fans or not.

“They’re a very strong, physically strong football team, Tucker added. “They have just a mentality of Iowa football. Which is, they’re gonna wanna try to win the line of scrimmage. They have very good skill players on both sides of the ball, and they play relentless on special teams. So, it is a tremendous challenge for us. This week, our preparation will have to be even a notch above what we did last week.”

More notes and quotes:

Tucker cover a wide variety of topics. Here are some of the more interesting quotes from Tucker from today’s call.

On culture and players buying into the process:

“Culture is huge, I believe,” Tucker said. “I really think that’s the foundation, that’s the key to any organization. When putting this staff together, first and foremost, I wanted to make sure that we had coaches of high-character, that we’re very team-oriented and unselfish, and that understood the importance of buying into something that’s bigger themselves. All of our coaches are like that. So, that really helps me, as the head coach, set the tone for the culture, and then (being able to) ask my staff to help convey that message to the players.

“We have spent a lot of time working to connect personally with our players, even throughout this COVID situation, and that goes a long way. Our language — words we use and things we say — are very consistent. There’s substance behind those words. Culture is not just slogans or signage on the walls. It’s how we live, and how we work, and how we treat each other day-in and day-out, and how we go about out business. From that standpoint, I believe our players — what they’ve seen from us as a coaching staff and what we’ve talked about — has really resonated with them, it makes sense to them...Players see the value in a consistent, process-driven organization with coaches and leaders that have done it before and have had success. So the buy-in has been there with our players.”

On the offensive line’s improvement:

“We expected improvement from Week One to Week Two,” Tucker said. “Coach Kap (offensive line coach Chris Kapilovic) does an outstanding job in terms of coaching. Coaching is teaching, and he is an excellent teacher. He hammers technique and fundamentals, along with playing with toughness and grit, and playing together and communicating, and always pushing guys to be better. Last week was a very physical week of practice. It was tough, it was taxing and guys had to strain each and every day in the drill work and in the group work and in the team work, and also were challenged in the classroom.

“They respond to Coach Kap and what he’s demanding that they do. It’s just a matter of taking it from the meeting room, to the practice field, and to the game. So, we were able to improve fundamentally — pad level, hand placement and being assignment sound. Also, just in coordination with our (running) backs and with out tight ends in terms of pass protection. The tight ends involved in our run blocking, and also with our backs in terms of how they hit the hole — the velocity in how they hit the hole and hit it up in there the way it needs to go. Those were all things that we worked on last week, and are continuing to work on this week.

On the importance of the Michigan win, and being able to move forward after the emotional victory:

“I’m keenly aware of (what the win over Michigan means),” Tucker said. “I’m proud that Spartan Nation is pleased and excited about our program and about our win against the school down the road. And bringing that Paul Bunyan Trophy back to East Lansing, that’s a source of pride for all of our fans and all of our supporters,” Tucker said. “I knew that going into the game, I’ve known that for a number of years. I’m from Ohio, I played in the Big Ten, I started my career here in 1997 and ‘98 here at Michigan State. So, I understand and embrace and respect the rivalry. There’s no doubt about it, and I made sure that our players knew how I felt about it, that when you play the school down the road, that is the game every year. Obviously, to win that game is huge for Spartan Nation.”

“The next game is the most important game, always,” Tucker said. “The history, the past is not necessarily predictive of the future unless you don’t change the behavior. And so our plan and our process is to work to get better each and every day, to fix the issues that we had in the game and then make those corrections — and we had quite a few — and then continue to build on the positives that we have as we continue to build our process and learn more about our players and put our guys in the best position in games, to make plays and put them in the best position to be successful. That’s where our focus is this week.”

On behavior modifications the team is adhering to during the pandemic, especially with breakouts for other teams around the conference:

“We remind our players constantly — whether visually with signage in the locker room or PowerPoints — we continue to point out issues that are happening around the country or in our state,” Tucker said. “We’re just very real with our guys and very upfront and truthful about the state of affairs. We encourage our guys to continue to adhere to the behavior modification that is needed for us to continue to be able to practice and play. We talk about it all the time. I actually heard guys on the bus on the way back (from Michigan) as we’re pulling back up to our facility, reminding each other to protect our bubble, be smart, stay with the protocols and protect our football team. That’s something that we talk about daily, because it’s real.”

On quarterback Rocky Lombardi’s homecoming to Iowa (native of Clive, Iowa)

“Obviously for Rocky, he’s excited,” Tucker said. “But you know, he’s up for meetings, he’s up for practices, he loves football. I have heard him express to our team that he knows that this game is going to be a physical game and we’ve got to get better this week in practice. He’s verbalized that to our football team, and that’s what leaders do.”

On running a disciplined program:

“Discipline is critical to having a functional and successful program that’s built to last,” Tucker said. “Discipline is doing what you’re supposed to do when you’re supposed to do it, the way you’re supposed to do it, and understand why it’s important to do it that way — that’s discipline. We show them concrete examples of having good discipline, and also we show them video of poor discipline. I believe that discipline is 85 percent anticipation. We try to anticipate, as coaches, situations that can come up during the game and try to proactively educate our players on those situations. When things to do come up in practice, we confront them right away and demand that they do it right.

“I’m not a believer in taunting. We tell our players, ‘Do not talk to the opponent — your actions speak so loudly that I can’t hear what you’re saying.’ There’s no need to talk to the opponent. There’s no need to taunt. That’s not part of how the game is meant to be played. That’s not the way we’re gonna play football.

“We want to show respect for our opponents and their coaching staffs. That’s what we talk about, that’s our standard and that’s not going to change. When things to do happen (like the Shak Brown taunting penalty against Michigan), if we do have an undisciplined type penalty, we’re gonna confront it, we’re gonna demand and we’re gonna address it. (The Brown penalty) has been addressed. Ultimately, that’s my responsibility to make sure those things don’t happen.”