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Michigan State football and Antjuan Simmons relish stunning win over Michigan

November 1, 2020
<p>Cardboard fans watch MSU play U of M in The Big House on Oct. 31, 2020.</p>

Cardboard fans watch MSU play U of M in The Big House on Oct. 31, 2020.

Photo by Alyte Katilius | The State News

This wasn’t supposed to happen.

After a sloppy loss to Rutgers, Michigan State was heading into Ann Arbor with seemingly a mountain to climb as a 21.5 point underdog — depending on where you looked — to their rival Michigan.

They climbed that mountain, winning 27-24.

“It was big,” MSU linebacker Antjuan Simmons said. “It was important to me. It was important to this program to come out and get a win this weekend. I put a lot into the prep and just being mentally locked in. As I said, this was going to be a 60-minute ball game, and I’m definitely feeling it now.”

After this win, Michigan State Head Coach Mel Tucker became only the second head coach in Michigan State history to win their debut game against Michigan, joining Alabama Head Coach Nick Saban, whom Tucker served as a graduate assistant during Saban’s first win against Michigan. 

“Certainly Coach Saban means a lot to me,” Tucker said. “He gave me my start in coaching, he gave me an opportunity, he’s been a mentor to me and he’s really been helpful to me for over 20 years. I’ve known Nick Saban since I was 18 years old, and he recruited me when he was the head coach at Toledo. Just to be mentioned in the same breath with Coach Saban is humbling to me.”

This win means a lot to the Michigan State community anytime but especially so after all that 2020 has put people through.

“This game means so much to so many people: our current players, our former players, our fans, and our alums,” Tucker said. “The Paul Bunyan trophy, we’re very proud to bring that trophy back to East Lansing where it belongs.”

Although, the game means even more to Simmons, who grew up just miles away from The Big House, going to high school at Ann Arbor Pioneer.

“This is a personal game for Antjuan," quarterback Rocky Lombardi said. "He went to Ann Arbor Pioneer high school, which is about 200 feet from The Big House. All his buddies from home were probably talking about this game. I’m sure they were giving him some s---. He’s been great all week, a great attitude motivating the guys, and then during the game he does a good job hyping me up and I try to do a good job hyping him up. He was the energy of that defense and he did a great job.”

“It’s big,” Simmons said. “Definitely happy and definitely excited. I said it last week after the game that we would be a better team this weekend. I said that. I meant it. We had a good week at practice, a great week of practice. We got better and played good football today.”

Simmons, as a senior on this team, has played this Michigan team many times, making it easy for him to prepare for this week.

“I know who I’m playing against,” Simmons said. “I know those guys. I’ve played against those guys every year. Some of those guys are from the state of Michigan. I got recruited with some of those guys.”

Tucker was thrilled with his leading linebacker.

“He’s a leader," Tucker said. "He’s got good mental and physical toughness. He does not flinch. You know what you’re going to get from him day in and day out. He’s a relentless competitor. He loves football, and he cares about his football team. It means something from him to be able to play with his teammates and for Michigan State. That’s a sense of pride for him.”

The rivalry always can have its fiery moments, and today was no exception. Michigan State nickel cornerback Shakur Brown, after a big hit, stood over Michigan wide receiver Giles Jackson, drawing an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty.

That continued into the postgame, as Michigan quarterback Joe Milton said that Simmons was “not on his radar” in his postgame press conference.

“It doesn’t matter, ‘Pauly B’ is back with us,” Simmons said. “I don’t know what those guys do over there, but we study our opponent, and we know who we’re playing against. I don’t care if I’m on Joe Milton’s radar or not. He’s just a quarterback who plays here at Michigan. I’m not worried about what he’s thinking.”

Simmons and the Spartans will be heading to Iowa to take on the Hawkeyes and look to improve to a winning record on the season.

“This is just the beginning for us,” Tucker said. “We’re going to continue to build on our process. Our guys have bought in, and they believe in it. We’re going to take a look at this film, we’re going to grade it, we’re going to see some things we might not like and we’re going to work to correct those things.”

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