Friday, November 27, 2020

'The school down the road': Intensity builds for MSU as rivalry weekend nears

October 29, 2020

The freshmen weren't like deer in the headlights as they listened to linebacker Antjuan Simmons and quarterback Rocky Lombardi. Simmons put it simply: it’s rivalry week for the Spartans.

That means something, even if MSU is coming off a loss to Rutgers, who snapped a 21-game losing streak against Big Ten foes in a 38-27 victory in East Lansing.

“We just told them what this game means to the program,” Simmons said. “It’s a trophy game … means a lot to this program and means a lot to them.”

Simmons said he doesn’t think the underclassmen were surprised, he himself has seen how intense the two rivals can get as a recruit: He was at The Big House when MSU won on a blocked punt in 2015.

“They were just listening, asking questions,” Simmons said of the freshmen, who’s start to this rivalry will be unparalleled to any before it. “They don’t really have much talkers … for the most part those guys are listeners.”

Simmons has played in the big game three times now. He gets it.

“The school down the Road” as Spartan Head Coach Mel Tucker consistently referred to the No. 13 Michigan Wolverines on Tuesday during his weekly presser, looked undeniably good in their opener. A 49-24 victory over No. 21 Minnesota on the road is evidence that Jim Harbaugh and his team are legitimate this time around. 

It’s a season where everything is different, no fans, bands, cheerleaders, or even the infamous tailgating scenes. Landscapes and campuses of college football once devoured by the love of sport are empty.

In a way, the Spartans are lucky that one of the largest college football stadiums won’t be packed full of maize and blue. 

‘The school down the Road’ 

“I don’t think there is any question who we’re playing this week,” Tucker said when asked about saying “Michigan” during his presser. “It’s the school down the road, I think we all know who that is.”

A Cleveland, Ohio native, Tucker was a graduate assistant at MSU early on in his career. It’s where he got his start.

He gets the rivalry, just like Simmons and just like Lombardi. He’s copying, a little bit, the term: “The Team Up North” that Ohio State has coined whenever discussing the Wolverines. 

Seven turnovers aren’t likely to happen again this season — it could — but the coaching staff at MSU has likely gone over a million drills on holding on to the football since Saturday.

Michigan likes to get after the quarterback and has the personnel to make it happen, so maybe turnovers aren’t out of the question. Michigan quarterback Joe Milton is relatively unknown as a pro-style quarterback recruit out of high school who’s career opened on national TV. 

MSU’s defense: a new-look 4--2-5 scheme, could have problems against a talented Michigan offense. The Spartans outgained Rutgers on Saturday, but the turnover battle, which was one of the most lopsided in recent memory, just was too much.

But it’s one of the biggest rivalries in the nation, Tucker, Lombardi and Simmons all resonated that. The game is still, regardless of record, the battle for the Paul Bunyan Trophy.

“We are who we are,” Simmons said. “They’re over there, we’re over here. That’s how I look at it. That’s how I feel about ‘em.”

“Focus on the game, do what you gotta do. Both programs know what it’s going to look like on Saturday when we touch the field … I don’t think there's really too much respect amongst both programs but it's kind of just an unwritten rule in the sports world I guess, you know: Keep your mouth shut the week of games and focus on your opponents.”

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