Michigan State head football coach Mel Tucker started off his weekly press conference by recalling what he told the team following Saturday’s 56-7 loss to the Ohio State Buckeyes, which was that the most important thing is to keep moving forward and to keep their heads high.
“As I told our team Saturday after the game, at this point it’s really about what’s next,” Tucker said. “It is a test of character and resolve and things of that nature.”
Tucker also emphasized the importance of learning from the team’s mistakes, as well as taking accountability for the loss.
“We looked at the film, we broke it down, analyzed it, evaluated everything,” Tucker said. “We accept responsibility for what happened, coaches and players, we learn from it and put together a plan to improve and correct things and then we turn the page to prepare for Penn State.”
Tucker acknowledged the fact that the team needs to move on quickly following the loss, as the Penn State Nittany Lions come to East Lansing next Saturday. He also acknowledged the importance of the game, as it occurs on Michigan State’s Senior Day.
“Penn State is a very good football team,” Tucker said. “We know they’re going to be ready to play.
“We have a lot to play for on Saturday, we have a significant amount of seniors...and we want to make it a special day for them.”
The Spartans also have an opportunity to go undefeated at home this season with a win on Saturday, an important accomplishment in Tucker’s eyes.
“We have an opportunity to win 10 games and go undefeated in the Woodshed in front of our fans, which I think is a significant accomplishment,” Tucker said.
Tucker also made it clear that, although the team has far exceeded outside expectations this season, the coaches and players are far from satisfied with what they have accomplished at this point.
“I also talked to them about external expectations because if I’m hearing it, I know that they’re hearing it,” Tucker said. “The expectations that we have here and that we have had from the beginning, prior to the season starting, they were high expectations for us, internally. We told our players that there wasn’t a team on our schedule that we didn’t think we could beat and there wasn’t a team on our schedule that we didn’t think could beat us.
“The expectations were high, and although the expectations outside of our room were not as high, that doesn’t mean that we’ve done enough. We still have more games to play, so it’s about being the best that we can be and reaching our full potential, and it’s always been that. We’re not playing with the house’s money, so to speak.”
One of the biggest stories for the Spartans during the second half of the season has been the rumors of other schools looking to hire Tucker away from Michigan State, but these rumors have recently been overtaken by rumors of a massive contract extension to keep Tucker in East Lansing. When asked about the extension and whether it has been signed, Tucker was adamant that he isn’t thinking about that currently and is focused on the team and the remainder of the season.
“That’s not my focus and that’s not the focus of my team,” Tucker said. “I’m not thinking about anything right now, not focusing on anything other than our upcoming opponent. That’s the only thing I’m thinking about.”
The Spartans are currently dealing with a number of injuries on both sides of the ball, including several playmakers and key contributors. When asked about those injuries and whether they are affecting the team, Tucker said injuries are tough to overcome, but it’s something the team has to deal with and be ready for.
“Injuries are a part of the game, so it’s a next-man-up mentality,” Tucker said. “We have a significant amount of injuries on both sides of the ball and also on special teams, I don’t think that’s a secret. It’s next-man-up and we game-plan and we prepare with the guys that are available.
“It does matter who’s playing, obviously, it’s a human performance business, so we need some guys to step up.”
Tucker also discussed the talent and depth of the team, saying that after the team’s second scrimmage before the season, he gave the team good and bad news.
The good news, he said, was that based on his coaching experience, he could see that the Spartans had the necessary guys and the necessary talent to win games.
The bad news was that the team lacked the depth it needed to be an elite team. Tucker said he realized this well before the season started and has been trying to get more guys prepared to potentially fill a starting role if necessary throughout the season.
Tucker said the team has opened the doors to NFL scouts, and that the Spartans are hosting scouts who are looking for potential NFL talent on a daily basis in an effort to help their guys get better recognition and have a better chance to get to the next level.
“We have NFL scouts and personnel guys in here daily, we’ve opened up our operation to the NFL.” Tucker said. “They’re able to come here whenever they want, they watch practice, they watch film, they talk to myself, they talk to the staff, they talk to trainers, academic folks, we’re wide open.
“We wanted to be a very inviting place for the NFL so they can evaluate and so they can see us and get good information on our guys, and that helps our players.”
When asked about the seniors the team will be recognizing on Saturday, Tucker said he knows many of the seniors have been through a lot in their time as Spartans, but the team and the university as a whole have focused on giving them the opportunity to succeed during and after their time in school.
“I’m sure these guys could probably write a book about their time here at MSU,” Tucker said. “A lot of these guys have come in here on the heels of a playoff run and then have gone through the process and ups and downs and now a coaching change and that’s a lot. Our goal...is that they’re better off because they decided to come to Michigan State and they’re able to launch their careers, whatever they may be...Once a Spartan, always a Spartan.”