Michigan State Spartans head football coach Mel Tucker met with the media today for his weekly Zoom call.
While Tucker said multiple times throughout the call that every game is big — especially those against any Big Ten opponent — and the team is going to be “full tilt” no matter who it is playing, he knows the challenge against the Buckeyes is a tougher one than most, and the team needs to put an emphasis on that.
“I think at this point, everyone has Ohio State somewhat circled on their schedule because it’s considered maybe the best team in the country,” Tucker said. “When you come to the Big Ten, you come to Michigan State, you come here because of the caliber of ball that you’re gonna be able to play — the competition, the teams, the Ohio States of the world that you’re gonna be competing against.”
Tucker, who is an Ohio native and coached at Ohio State for several seasons, is plenty familiar with the OSU program. He also knows what kind of effort from his team it will take to defeat the Buckeyes.
Tucker — who is from Ohio and coached for four years at Ohio State — says he thinks just about every Big Ten team has Ohio State “somewhat circled” on the schedule because the Buckeyes are often the best team in the conference.— The Only Colors (@TheOnlyColors) December 1, 2020
“I’m from Ohio, and I coached (at Ohio State) for four years and won a national championship there with Jim Tressel,” Tucker said. “It was a great time, we won a lot of games, we had a really good run there. I learned a lot as a coach, and we recruited a lot of players, and sent a lot of players to the NFL while I was there. So I know about Ohio State, I know about the football there — I know how important it is. Also, I started my career at Michigan State, and I know about football here and the brand of football that we need to play and how important it is for us. There’s a lot of similarities in terms of the mentality, at this point — like right now — in terms of how we feel about the opportunity to play games, the opportunity to play a team like Ohio State. It’s important.”
Outside of Tucker’s connection to Ohio State, the main topic was of course whether or not this weekend’s upcoming game with Ohio State will be played — as brought up several times throughout the call — while the Buckeyes continue to deal with COVID issues within their program — including with head coach Ryan Day.
While the Spartans have been able to stay above the 7.5 percent population positivity rate threshold and not had to shut down during the season, this is not the first time Michigan State might be forced to miss a game because an opponent is forced to cancel. MSU’s game against Maryland on Nov. 21 was called off for the same problems in the Terrapins’ program.
If the Ohio State game is canceled, the silver lining is now that Michigan State has experience with that kind of sudden change situation. Regardless, Tucker, his staff, and his players are focused on preparing for the Buckeyes, and operating as if that game will be played.
“We learn from our experiences,” Tucker said. “We’ve kind of been down this road before, and you have to be able to adapt. We have to be able to stay focused, we have to block out the noise — the voices inside our building from our coaching staff and our support staff have to be stronger than any of the voices outside or any of the noise about any type of hypotheticals, or what ifs, or the uncertainty. That’s not where our focus is. Our focus is, we’re preparing to play Ohio State, and we have a process for doing that. We’re laser focused in that way, and we’re tightening the screws every way imaginable in every aspect of our program.”
One other interesting note from today’s conversation was a clearer picture of what exactly Tucker wants his team to be now, and what he is trying to build moving forward.
Tucker went into great detail about the team he wants to have, and the identity he wants the Michigan State program to represent.
Strong all the way around, physical, best-conditioned and a team that “wants to be relevant” — doesn’t flinch against any kind of competition — are some of the things Tucker wants his football to be.— The Only Colors (@TheOnlyColors) December 1, 2020
“We want to be strong all the way around,” Tucker said. “We want to have a relentless football team that plays the game the way the game’s meant to be played where you can win in the trenches on the offensive and defensive line and control the line of scrimmage, and be able to run the ball on your terms, and be able to stop the run on defense and make folks on dimensional. You have to have a physical football team — the name of the game is hit, this is a collision sport, we’re in the Big Ten. If you don’t have a physical football team then you’re not gonna be able to get much done. We want to be a smart football team — a team that doesn’t beat itself, a team that doesn’t have a hundred yards of penalties per game. A team that takes care of the football and has respect for the ball.
“That’s the type of team that we want to have,” Tucker added. “A team that’s best conditioned that can start fast and finish strong in the fourth quarter. A team that doesn’t flinch — plays together (and) is unselfish. And a team that wants to be relevant, wants to be in the conversation — not just here just to participate, but actually get something done. The way we play and our behavior should reflect that. You should look on the field and say ‘that team cares, that team loves football and that team is doing everything they possibly can to win the game, and they’re playing a brand of football that you can look out there and say that’s what Michigan State football is supposed to be.’ If you can’t look out there and say that, we’re not playing to our identity, and like I said we’re work in progress, we got a ways to go.”
if this game between Michigan State and Ohio State is played Saturday, the Spartans are in for a tough battle with a seemingly wide talent gap between the two teams, but rest assured, Tucker will have his guys ready.
Offensive line coach Chris Kapilovic also met with the media today. Along with Tucker’s full availability, Kapilovic’s comments are also embedded in a video below.