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Notes & Quotes: Mel Tucker says “we’re a very inconsistent football team”

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“Consistency in performance is how you become successful, and we’re a very inconsistent football team.”

Ohio State v Michigan State Photo by Gregory Shamus/Getty Images

Tuesday are always interesting because Michigan State head football coach Mel Tucker gets a chance to speak to the media via Zoom, and always has plenty to say while going into great detail about many topics.

First and foremost he mentioned last week’s pitiful performance against Ohio State and what the team needs to do to be better this week against Ohio State.

“Yes, we are re-building the culture here, the behavior modification, to neutral thinking, and certainly recruiting is a big part of that,” Tucker said. “But I don’t, and I know our fans don’t want excuses, we want results. We’re looking forward to Penn State, and going into this game it’s all about execution, all about execution, is what it’s going to come down to. It will take commitment. It’s gonna take mental and physical toughness to deliver at our highest level, so we can play to our fullest potential. And we have to do it to consistently. Consistency in performance is how you become successful, and we’re a very inconsistent football team.”

While the Nittany Lions enter the game with just a 2-5 record, Tucker knows he has a tough task at hand against a team that is better than its record may show.

“Penn State’s got a team that is better than their record,” Tucker said. “They’ve gotten better throughout the year. They’ve got good players, they’re really well-coached — (Penn State head coach) James (Franklin) does an awesome job, he’s got a good coaching staff. I have a lot of respect for what’s he’s done throughout his career, what he’s done there and what he’s done to build that team.”

Later on the call, Tucker also talked about the support he receives from head basketball coach Tom Izzo, and the support that Tucker gives back to Izzo and the basketball program. The two have known each other for a long time, first meeting back when Tucker was a graduate assistant under Nick Saban in 1997-1998. Tucker stayed in touch with Izzo from time to time after he left East Lansing, and now that he is back here as a head coach, Izzo’s support means everything to him.

“Quite frankly, in order for me to be successful here, I want and need (Izzo’s) support,” Tucker says. “Because he’s been here so long, he’s done so many great things, he’s a Hall of Fame coach. I can learn a lot from him. Getting support from him goes a long way for me and my program, for my coaching staff. So I really appreciate that. I don’t think he would support me if he didn’t believe in me because he’s that not that type of guy.”

As mentioned earlier, Tucker often speaks about the importance of “consistency” when it comes to the Michigan State football team, both currently and for how the program is being built for the future. But what does that actually mean? One of the most enlightening parts of Tucker’s media availability today was his extremely detailed response about “competency levels” and what it takes for each player to get there, in order to be a more consistent football team as a whole.

“There’s basically four levels of competency,” Tucker said. The first level is you don’t know and you don’t know (that) you don’t know. That’s where you start...Then you get to the point where you don’t know, but you know you don’t know. That’s when the players start to realize, ‘OK, I don’t know exactly what I thought that I knew, but I realize that so now I want to be coached.’ They’re hungry for the information, they’re hungry for the coaching...The next level of competency is they do know they’re having success, but they don’t know why. They’re not exactly sure why a play was successful, or why they were able to get the job done, they just know that it happened. In that third level of competency, they’re often doing the right things, often doing the right behaviors, and that creates some success, but they’re not exactly sure why, thoroughly, they’re having that success. When you’re at the point, it’s hard to repeat it because you don’t know why you had the success...The fourth level is you do know, and you know why you know. But even at the point, even if you know what to do, and you know why it’s important to do it that way and you understand it, you still have to do it.”

Tucker says that certain guys are currently in between “levels three and four,” but the best way to become a consistent football team is to hammer on the fundamentals. He said that may mean the staff needs to “change the stimulus,” or “change the drill” or change the way the information is delivered — showing them through video, through walkthrough, through paper or whatever it takes for each guy, but finding a different way to emphasize the same thing is how his team will get better.

There was also a small update given on the health of junior quarterback Rocky Lombardi — who was forced out of the game against Ohio State. Still, Tucker is unsure at this point whether or not Lombardi will be available and if redshirt freshman Payton Thorne will start against Penn State or not.

“(Lombardi) seemed to be better yesterday,” Tucker said. “So we’re evaluating everything. We’re gonna go through today, and I’m anticipating some time by the end of the day tomorrow we’ll know who we’re gonna go with. But we’re still in the evaluation process right now.”

(please excuse the typo in the above tweet).

Speaking of the quarterback position, Tucker spoke about what he is looking for from Thorne and Lombardi, and from any quarterbacks he may be recruiting for the future.

In addition to things like accuracy, being able to “win” (throw) outside the numbers, being able to read defenses and go through route progressions, and of course being smart with the football, the most important thing Tucker wants to see out of his quarterback is the ultimate competitiveness.

“Your quarterback has to be the number one competitor on your team, period, that’s the way he’s got to be,” Tucker said. “If you look at the best quarterbacks in the country, or the best quarterbacks in the NFL, they are the number one competitor on the team, or at least on the offense and it’s obvious. They’re leaders and they have command of the offense and they have mental toughness.”

Also of note, with the early signing period quickly approaching on Wednesday, Dec. 16, Tucker was asked if he expects each of the 19 recruits currently committed to Michigan State’s 2021 class to sign with the Spartans. Tucker said the indication was that at least the majority of those players plan to sign with MSU, but recruiting is “fluid” and “they’re not signed until they’re signed.” Tucker also mentioned that he and his staff will “fight for the guys we want.” He also said that MSU is aggressively monitoring the transfer portal and looking for players there as well.

Perhaps the best quote of the day came toward the end of Tucker’s time, though. With the Land Grant Trophy up for grabs this weekend, he was asked about his thoughts on the trophy possibly being considered the “ugliest rivalry trophy in college football.”

“I haven’t evaluated the aesthetics of the trophy, I just would like to have it,” Tucker said. “Obviously, they’re not just gonna give it to us, so we’re gonna have to earn it. You know, ugly trophies, ugly babies, you want to have them.”


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