Paul Bunyan is staying in East Lansing for another year, following Michigan State’s 37-33 victory over Michigan last Saturday. The team rallied back from being down 30-14 in the second half to defeat the Wolverines, and during this week’s press conference on Monday, head coach Mel Tucker said he was proud of the way his team handled themselves and battled through the adversity they faced.
“Last Saturday was a special moment for our players, our fans and everyone associated with our program,” Tucker said. “I was proud of how our team just kept chopping. When we were down, we just kept playing all the way to the end. The team, they believe in each other, they believe in our process and that showed during the game.”
The game was sealed on an interception by true freshman cornerback Charles Brantley with one minute remaining in the game, a play that will undoubtedly live in Spartan lore for a long time. When asked about whether Brantley’s play was designed for him or an instinct play, Coach Tucker said the coaches do what they can to get their guys in the right positions, but the players are the ones who make the plays.
“He was right where he was supposed to be…he used a technique that was taught and we work on every single day,” Tucker said. “He was doing what he was coached to do, but obviously it’s one thing to coach it up and drill it, but it’s another thing to do it in a game, in crunch time when we need it.”
The star performance of the game indisputably came from a familiar source — junior running back (and Heisman frontrunner) Kenneth Walker III. Walker ran for 197 yards and five touchdowns on the ground, accounting for every score for Michigan State in the game. When asked if he knew how good Walker would be for the Spartans this season, Tucker said he recognized the abilities Walker had in his time at Wake Forest, making him a high-priority transfer portal target for the staff.
“Well, obviously we could see his skill set…we felt like he’d be a difference-maker for us and that’s why we wanted him here,” Tucker said. “He’s a good player…he’s producing and it’s not a surprise to us that he’s producing because he puts the work in every single day.”
Despite the massive rivalry victory, Tucker was adamant that the team is continuously preparing for its upcoming matchup with Purdue.
“This week is going to be another tough challenge for us, Purdue is a very good football team,” Tucker said. “They’re hard-nosed and well-coached and they’re playing at a high level right now on both sides of the ball and on special teams.”
Purdue has earned a reputation over the years as a team that is very good at taking down high-level opponents, as evidenced by the Boilermakers’ 24-7 upset victory over then-ranked No. 2 Iowa. Tucker said he had studied up on the history of Purdue defeating top-ranked teams, listing off a number of Boilermaker upsets against top-five opponents dating back to the 1950s.
When asked about the team’s remaining schedule, which includes games against Ohio State and Penn State, Coach Tucker said he has put an emphasis on the team firing on all cylinders in November, as he says the team needs to play its best football down the stretch.
“We told them that we have to play our best football in November,” Tucker said. “This is November Madness for us…we haven’t come this far just to come this far. We got a lot ahead of us and Purdue is next.”