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Notes & Quotes: Mel Tucker and Michigan State were “prepared to go into the 15th round” with Miami (FL)

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“We were prepared to go into the 15th round, if necessary,” Tucker said. “We were prepared to do that...and we wanted to drag them into the deep water, where we are, where we live.”

NCAA Football: Michigan State at Miami Jasen Vinlove-USA TODAY Sports

The Michigan State Spartans made a statement on Saturday afternoon, defeating the No. 24-ranked Miami (FL) Hurricanes by a final score of 38-17 on the road inside of Hard Rock Stadium.

To the surprise of many, the Spartans — led by head coach Mel Tucker — have started the season 3-0. Tucker credits the entire program for the victory on Saturday, and the team’s success thus far.

“It was a good team win for us on the road against a good opponent,” Tucker said. “Credit to our entire organization — we talk about our trainers, our nutritionist, our strength and conditioning, operations, our doctors, coaches, support staff and players. Everyone had a part in this. We had a lot of challenges that we knew we would have to overcome to get this done on the road and we were able to do that as a team.”

Thousands of Michigan State fans made the trip to Miami, and Tucker noticed. He was impressed with the number of MSU fans in Hard Rock Stadium and gave the supporters a shout out.

“I want to thank our fans,” Tucker said. “Our fans were tremendous. Spartan Nation was strong here in Miami. We could feel it as soon as as we touched down, we could feel it at the hotel, and then in the stadium today.”

Tucker and several of the players mentioned the “24-hour rule,” which means the Spartans are going to enjoy the impressive victory over Miami tonight, but when tomorrow hits, all focus turns to next week’s opponent, the Nebraska Cornhuskers.

With temperatures near 90 degrees (Fahrenheit) and high humidity, many fans and analysts alike wondered how the Michigan State players would handle that sort of heat and respond in that sort of environment. The Spartans, however, seemed to get better as it got deeper into the game. Michigan State outscored Miami 28-10 in the second half of the game, and 21-3 in the fourth quarter.

Redshirt sophomore quarterback Payton Thorne — who completed 18 of 31 passes for 261 yards and four touchdowns, along with zero interceptions — compared the game to a boxing match, and gave credit to the behind-the-scenes staff for preparing the team to be ready to play in the heat.

“We really believe in our training,” Thorne said. “We’ve really fallen back on training, and our strength staff, our nutritionist, our support staff has done such a great job preparing us for a game like this, down here in this heat. We talked about going into the deep rounds with these guys, in terms of boxing, and I thought that we might have played our best football in the fourth quarter.”

Thorne thought it was a good team win, especially on the road, but like Tucker, he will enjoy the victory tonight, and then get prepared to take on Nebraska next weekend at home (Saturday at 7:00 p.m. Eastern Time).

“I thought it was a good win (against Miami),” Thorne said. “We’re coming down here on the road, playing in a stadium like this, it was a good job getting down here. I talked about the heat earlier. We were prepared for the heat. It was hot today, but we were prepared for it. And it’s a big win for us. You know, we’ll enjoy it tonight, but then tomorrow our focus goes to Nebraska next week at home. So we’re gonna put everything we’ve got into preparing for Nebraska, and that’ll be our focus here in a couple hours.”

While the players on the Hurricanes are perhaps more used to the souther Florida heat and humidity, it appeared to be the Spartans who were better conditioned late in the game. In fact, Thorne heard his offensive linemen sensing that the Miami players were getting worn out, and it was time to provide the knockout punch.

“I heard (the offensive linemen) talking on the sideline, and they were talking about, you know, ‘We’re wearing them out,’” Thorne said. “And that was like I talked about (earlier), the late rounds. That was a goal for us, and we ran the ball well again today. And we did a lot of good things. Obviously, there’s a lot of stuff that we are going to get better at because there’s a lot of stuff that we missed today. But, that’s every week. You know, you’re never gonna play a perfect game...But yeah, I do think there was a point in time where we kind of just said ‘Let’s put our head down, let’s finish this thing.’”

Thorne also gave credit to Michigan State’s defense for forcing four turnovers, saying the unit “played their tails off.” He was sacked three times by the Miami defense, and said the Hurricanes kept the Spartans “on their toes,” but also said the sacks were not on the offensive line and he liked the way guys up front played.

The turnovers were an emphasis at practice this past week. Tucker and his staff always put an intense focus on taking care of the football on offense, and taking the ball away on defense.

“We’ve been talking about taking care of ball, and we never stop talking about taking care of the ball,” Tucker said. “Ball security is everything. And we all know what happens when you don’t take care of football. From a takeaway standpoint, we never give up on it, we continue to emphasize it in practice, and we know they come in bunches. We knew that we had to get some takeaways, we had to force some takeaways in this game, for field position, momentum and the like.”

Tucker says his offense was able to move the ball in the first half, but needed better execution when it came to actually scoring points. The MSU coaching staff made adjustments, the players were able to play with better execution and the Spartans rolled in the second half, despite the intense heat and humidity.

“We were prepared to go into the 15th round, if necessary,” Tucker said, making a boxing reference similar to Thorne. “We talked about it all week, we’ve trained in a manner that will allow us to do that. And we have confidence, in a tight ballgame, you know, in the second half and third quarter and the fourth quarter, we were prepared to do that. And we wanted to drag them into the deep water, where we are, where we live. With the strain, and the struggle, the pain, the pressure, the weight room, the discipline, the attention to detail, you know, all of those things. That’s what we want it to be.”

Tucker also spoke about the team’s confidence and ability to do enough of the right things to win. But, as always with Tucker, he is not yet satisfied with his team.

“We came in here expecting to have success, but only if we did what we needed to do to win the game,” Tucker said. “We were able to do enough...What does that say about our program? This is a marker of where we are right now. We know that our guys will play hard, we know that they won’t quit. We know they won’t flinch...Our players should be more hungry when they come back in to start start preparation for Nebraska (next week), and should be more dialed in, because we have not played our best football yet and we haven’t reached our full potential.”

In a similar thought, Tucker later added, “I don’t know how far we can go. I don’t know how good we can be. We just know that we’re not as good as we can be yet. And the only way to improve is through practice and preparation, and being realistic.”

Tucker also praised the run game overall and called junior running back Kenneth Walker III a “difference-maker,” but hammered home the point that team wins are just that, a full team effort, and not just from one individual. Tucker also complimented offensive coordinator Jay Johnson’s play-calling and Thorne’s play at quarterback.

Speaking of Walker — who had another incredible game with 27 carries for 172 yards (6.4 yards per carry) and a receiving touchdown — the junior running back was just happy to get a tough road win as a team. He isn’t worried about individual stats or being the “focal point” of the offense.

“It was an all around team effort and a great team win,” Walker said. He later added, “We believe that we can win (every game). We work it, and we’ve been working since winter, spring and camp. We believe in our team, we believe in Coach Tucker. We’ve been doing a lot of work behind closed doors, so we know what to expect.

Walker credited Amber Rinestine, the team’s head performance dietitian/nutritionist, along with the strength and conditioning staff and other support staff members, for getting the team prepared to play in the grueling Miami sun.

Graduate senior defensive end Drew Beesely — who had five tackles, two sacks and two tackles for loss — perhaps had the most impactful play of the game for the Michigan State defense.

Beesley strip-sacked Miami quarterback D’Eriq King, and the ball was recovered by Michigan State redshirt senior defensive end Jacub Panasiuk, setting the Spartans up at Miami 13-yard-line. Three plays later, Thorne found redshirt junior wide receiver Jayden Reed for a touchdown, giving MSU a 24-14 lead, and momentum that carried over throughout the rest of the fourth quarter.

“I mean that was just the one of many plays that needed to be made in the game,” Beesley said of the turnover he forced. “That strip-sack fumble, you know, it wasn’t really gonna mean anything unless we finished. It was a critical point in the game, and I was telling everybody ‘We’ve got to finish, we’ve got to finish’ and that’s exactly what we ended up doing.”

Beesley said this win will set the tone for the Spartans moving forward, but the the season is long and the road will be difficult.

“I definitely feel like this win will set the tone for the rest of the season going into Big Ten ball,” Beesley said. “You know, being able to beat a great team like Miami, at their house, it’s definitely a huge confidence booster. But at the same time, you know, 24-hour rule, move on to the next, and Nebraska is a whole different team.”