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Mel Tucker Postgame Notes & Quotes: “These guys are coachable, they will listen and they will work”

Michigan State v Penn State Photo by Scott Taetsch/Getty Images

The Michigan State Spartans closed out the 2020 regular season with a 39-24 loss to the Penn State Nittany Lions. The Spartans took a 21-10 lead into halftime, but fell apart in the second half and allowed the Nittany Lions to outscore them 29-3 in the final 30 minutes.

Following the game, Michigan State football head coach Mel Tucker spoke to the media about today’s result.

“Like I said before, we’re building a football team,” Tucker said. “It’s a process-driven culture. As I mentioned earlier this week, we need to play complementary football and we have to do it for four quarters. It was crystal clear today what we’ve been talking about and what we’re striving for. In the first half we played complementary football — we did (it on) offense, defense and special teams. Guys were playing hard, we had execution, and we were able to have success. In the second half, we did not do that. We were’t able to really do anything on offense. Defensively, we gave up plays. And then on special teams we gave up a touchdown, which was a huge momentum play and a huge play in the game.”

Tucker and the Michigan State program felt like there was a good chance for the Spartans to earn a road victory today. That looked obvious in the first half, as MSU was dominant, but it was not a complete performance and the team couldn’t expand its lead.

While he felt like the players played hard today, Tucker isn’t looking for silver linings. With that said he knows what his football team is capable of doing.

“Like I told our players, when we went into this week, and at the hotel before the game, and in the locker room before the game, I said ‘Listen, all we’re asking you to do, all I want you to do is go out there and play as hard as you possibly can, be as physical as you possibly can and trust your training and execute and do it for 60 minutes, four quarters in the game. And play the next play and don’t look at the scoreboard. That’s what we’re asking you to do,’” Tucker said.

“And I felt like they played hard, but that’s not a moral victory, but it just goes to show you what we’re capable of doing,” Tucker added. “Going into the game I felt like we had a team that could win this game. At halftime I felt like we had a team that could win the game — felt good about our football team and about what we could do. And after the game I feel the same way about this football team. I feel that we could do some things and we can win some games and that we have a bright future.”

Tucker added that MSU is going to “recruit like maniacs” to help the team in the future. He also said that the locker room and coaching staff was very disappointed with how this game finished after taking a double-digit lead into halftime.

While he admitted the disappointment in today’s loss, and how the Spartans looked like a completely different football team in the first half compared to the second half, Tucker does not want to use the word “frustrated.”

“I wouldn’t use the word ‘frustration,’ it’s disappointing,” Tucker said. “You can’t really afford to get frustrated because (getting) frustrated doesn’t really do anything for you — there’s no production out of it. It’s more of there’s a disappointment of ‘We didn’t get it done, and we know what we needed to do to get it done.’”

Tucker added that it was a lack of execution in the second half that kept the Spartans from having any success. He credited James Franklin and the Penn State players for making adjustments and playing better and more aggressive in the second half, but he didn’t feel “overwhelmed” by Penn State’s talent versus the talent on Michigan State.

Redshirt freshman quarterback Payton Thorne drew his first career start today, as Rocky Lombardi wasn’t dressed after exiting last week’s game with an apparent head injury. Thorne played well, especially in the first half, and finished the game with 325 passing yards, three touchdowns and one interception.

When asked about Thorne’s performance, Tucker said he has to review the tape to give a more in-depth analysis, but he saw some good things from the redshirt freshman.

“I can tell you that (Thorne) was poised and he wasn’t rattled and he was into the game, and he was aware the entire game — start to finish,” Tucker said. “Even when we started slow, he was there, and that’s good to see. He had a good look in his eye and he was into the game.”

Tucker added that Lombardi “will be ready when he’s ready.” Whether or not that means Lombardi will assume the starting role once he is healthy remains to be seen, but it was clear in today’s game that the offense moves the ball better with Thorne at the helm.

Tucker also praised the play of wide receivers Jalen Nailor and Tre’Von Morgan, as well as true freshman running back Jordon Simmons.

Despite Michigan State falling to 2-5 with today’s loss, Tucker likes the progress he is seeing from his guys. As he continues to get more familiar with the players, he likes their attitudes and ability to take coaching. He knows there is still a lot of work to do, but feels it is trending in the right direction.

“I know this team a lot better than I knew them months ago when we first started,” Tucker said. “These guys are coachable, they will listen and they will work. They take coaching and that’s what we need. We’ll figure out a way to get it done.”

While the team got off to a nice start in the first half and showed off some of its potential, it ultimately faltered. At the end of the day, today’s effort as a whole was simply not good enough.

“We didn’t win today,” Tucker said. “There are some bright spots, but as a football team, we didn’t get it done. It wasn’t good enough in any offense, defense or special teams, it just was not good enough, period. So we all need to get better.”

Coach Tucker’s Full Post-Game Remarks

Payton Thorne’s Full Post-Game Remarks