The Michigan State Spartans were the opponent that gave Rutgers its first Big Ten win since 2017, with the Scarlet Knights snapping their 21-game conference losing streak last week in East Lansing behind a decisive 38-27 win.
Now, the Spartans have the challenge of facing No. 13 Michigan, who defeated No. 21 Minnesota in its season opener. Michigan has won three of the last four games in the series, including a 44-10 victory in Ann Arbor last season. The Wolverines enter the game this week as 25-point favorites, per Vegas Insider.
First- year MSU head coach Mel Tucker has experience with the Michigan-Michigan-State series, having been a graduate assistant at MSU from 1997-98. He’s also been a part of several other heated rivalries throughout his career. Tucker described this coming week’s contest as more than “just a game.”
“When you have these rivalry games, it’s just different,” Tucker said at his weekly media availability. “There is no way around it. I’ve been very fortunate as a player, very fortunate as a coach to be part of these rivalry games.
“In all of those rivalries we’ve embraced those games, and there’s no difference now.
“There’s not a day that goes by that you don’t hear about this game from someone in one way shape or form. It’s certainly not just game, and that’s what makes college football special these types of rivalries and that’s what makes it special to be here at State.”
And the Spartans aren’t approaching Saturday’s tilt like it’s ‘just another game,’ either, Tucker revealed. They prepare for it year-round, and throughout this week, the Spartan coaching staff is educating their players on the importance it carries within their program. In addition, Tucker wouldn’t refer to Michigan specifically by name, referring to them continuously as either “the school down the road,” or “the school up the road.”
“This game against the school down the road is not just another game,” Tucker said. “It’s special to me. It’s special to our players. It’s very important to our coaches, our former players, our fans, to the people in the state of Michigan. It’s a special game and we’ll treat it as such.
“We are doing some things in-house to emphasize what this game means in terms of educating and reminding our players what’s at stake. We have coaches on this staff that have played in this game, and we’ll be talking about the history of this game. We’ll be showing guys videos, framing it up and putting it in perspective of not what just what this game means now, but what it has always meant for us here at Michigan State.
“We’re treating it as special. Putting an emphasis on it as well as continuing with our process of preparation of things you have to do. Every day we are doing something a little different to emphasize the importance of this game.”
The Spartans had seven turnovers in their loss to Rutgers, something Tucker pointed to as an area to clean up ahead of what will be a “physical” game against the Maize and Blue.
“We know that it’s always a physical game,” Tucker said. “… One of the most physical games that we’ll play this season. We’ve really got to focus on being fundamentally sound and taking care of the football. First and foremost, we have to be physical on both sides of the ball and special teams.
“We are building a foundation. It’s a process and there are some things that we’ve got to get right. We are looking to get those things right this week.”
Tucker was complimentary of U-M head coach Jim Harbaugh on Tuesday, lauding his coaching ability and pedigree. The two coached against each other in the NFL and have had communication throughout this past offseason on Big Ten coaches Zoom calls.
“I know that he is a fantastic coach and he’s a football guy, comes from a football family,” MSU’s head man said.
Harbaugh commended his counterpart this week, as well.
“Really gotten to know him well through all the Zoom calls and Big Ten head coaches meetings that we’ve been having since April, north of 30-something calls,” Harbaugh said while appearing on 97.1 The Ticket’s Stoney & Jansen Show. “Mel’s really good. Like his creativity, like listening to him on those calls. He helped us a lot getting football back.”
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