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Mel Tucker on Michigan-MSU rivalry: ‘It’s in your face’ every day

“I don’t try to play down any expectations or anything like that.”

NCAA Football: Michigan State at Northwestern Jon Durr-USA TODAY Sports

The LSU Tigers will have a coaching vacancy at the end of the 2021 campaign, Ed Orgeron is finishing the season in Baton Rouge, but Michigan State head coach Mel Tucker’s name continues to be mentioned as a top candidate for the job. However, Tucker has the Spartans 7-0 and are about to host 7-0 Michigan in East Lansing.

Despite the big matchup on Saturday, if you type in “Mel Tucker” on Google, almost every article you’ll see is something about the LSU rumors.

“My focus is on the upcoming game against the school down the road,” Tucker said in response to the chatter.

Tucker didn’t shoot down the rumors in definitive fashion, though, but mentioned how his team and coaches are focused on the task at hand. “Inherently this game is gonna bring an additional element of intensity, of excitement, and hype and things like that,” Tucker said. “So, we don’t have to add to that because it’s inherently part of the game. Let’s keep the main thing the main thing in our preparation.”

When it comes to the task at hand, Tucker said on Monday morning he got transfer players and freshmen acclimated to the Wolverines-Spartans rivalry. For example, this will be the first time Wake Forest transfer and standout running back Kenneth Walker has played in the rivalry.

“We took care of that history lesson, and really that introduction for our newcomers, we took care of that this morning,” Tucker said.

When asked how easy it is to ingrain the hate and animosity of the Michigan-Michigan State rivalry in MSU’s young players and transfers, Tucker said it isn’t hard

“In this type of rivalry I believe so, because it’s in your face and it’s not just today. It’s every single day,” Tucker said. “Since the day I’ve been here (February 12th, 2020), there hasn’t been a day that’s gone by that someone hasn’t mentioned to me something about this game.”

Something that will be mentioned all week is the fact that it’s been 57 years since these two programs last faced one another both ranked in the top ten. It’s always an important game for both teams no matter how the other team is playing during a given year, so the energy is just going to be up even more notches than its usually rowdy level.

“It’s a big game, and we embrace it. I don’t try to play down any expectations or anything like that,” Tucker said. “I told the players this morning, I told them this before, when you have rivalry games like this — at the end of the day, ultimately your legacy and your reputation, a lot of it is formed by how you play and how you coach in these games. This is the reality of the situation, which is a good thing because not everyone has the opportunity to coach and play in these games. We’re built for it and we’re gonna prepare for it.”

Tucker noted that Michigan State’s energy isn’t all the way cranked up on Monday, that it will ramp up in a gradual manner throughout the week and leading up to kickoff.

“We’re gonna prepare, and we’re gonna build up to the game. And then we will peak at the right time of the week — at noon and be ready to play,” Tucker said. “I know how big the game is, and if I know then my players are gonna know, and they do know.”

Something else Michigan State knows is they’re going to have to stop Michigan running backs Blake Corum and Hassan Haskins. Tucker mentioned he would like to make the Wolverines predictable by stopping the duo, thus putting quarterback Cade McNamara in situations where the defense knows he’s throwing and can key in on sending a pass-rush/playing coverage.

“Obviously you have to try to stop the run, you would like to try to make opponents one-dimensional if you can, and then make effect the quarterback in rush and coverage,” Tucker said. “So, in the run game we have to set the edge and build a wall. Have to do a really good job with our perimeter run support — and not just in our run game, but wide receiver screens, the bubble game outside.”

The animosity will unfold all week on social media, the crowd in East Lansing will be rocking, and the environment will be as big as any in all of college football. We’ll see how it all shakes out on Saturday at noon ET on FOX.