Thursday, October 21, 2021

'We gotta keep the outside noise out of it': MSU learning to manage new lofty expectations

October 7, 2021
<p>Michigan State Head Coach Mel Tucker analyzes the field during the Meet the Spartans event.</p>

Michigan State Head Coach Mel Tucker analyzes the field during the Meet the Spartans event.

Photo by Chloe Trofatter | The State News

Through the course of a college football season, it sometimes can feel like a roller coaster. There are a lot of highs and there are a lot of lows. 

For Michigan State though, it has not quite been that way.

Five games, five wins. Five games, five highs. It’s the first time since 2015 and just the 13th time in program history that MSU is 5-0 to start the season. 

However, with the 5-0 start comes unique challenges, certainly ones last year’s 2-5 team did not face in Michigan State Head Coach Mel Tucker’s first season as head coach: managing expectations and staying on course. 

That is why Tucker has implemented the 24-hour rule. The players and coaches get 24 hours after a win to celebrate and enjoy the win. As part of that, the team also hands out weekly awards such as the Percy Snow Big Hit Award, which was most recently given to redshirt junior linebacker Ben VanSumeren, Tucker said. After that though, the players and coaches must flip the page and focus on the upcoming opponent. 

“One of the most challenging jobs as a coach is to make sure your guys show up to play,” Tucker said. “You got to get guys, you got to get them to show up to play. Not just show up, but show up everyday ready to play every week.” 

Along with many of the other mantras and cultural tidbits of Tucker’s, the team seems bought into this one too. After games, they are fired up, as they deserve, but as the week progresses, they settle down and hone in on the next opponent. 

Many of these players played on dominant high school teams that won a lot of games. They are used to winning. That is what helped get them to Michigan State. But, it is not just beating other local high school teams anymore.

It is now beating college teams from across the country and not all of them have been cupcakes, which is part of the reason the Spartans have ascended to No.11 in the AP Poll. 

“Games are just like plays,” junior wide receiver Jayden Reed said. “We got the 24-hour rule for games. Once that game happens, it is over and you focus on the next game. If you drop a pass, you focus on the next play. If you live in the past, you won’t be able to succeed in the future.”

It can be easier said than done, though. With all of the buzz and excitement on campus, it is easy to get caught up in all of it.

Defensive Line Coach Ron Burton has been coaching football for 29 years with the last nine years being at Michigan State. He has been here for some of MSU’s highs such as the 2015 College Football Playoff run and the lows such as the 2020 season. He has seen it all. So, he understands what it means to be enamored in the moment. 

“We gotta keep the outside noise out of it,” Burton said. “We are not concerned about the rankings ... We have to be concerned with the voices in the room ... We try to create our own chapter in the book and this is chapter six.”

Chapter six, referring to the sixth game of the year, is Saturday afternoon at Rutgers. The Scarlet Knights, or any Big Ten road game for that matter, are no easy out. Sporting a 3-2 record with consecutive losses against ranked teams in Michigan and Ohio State, Rutgers cannot be taken lightly.

And the Spartans know that. After a miserable 38-27 loss last year to Rutgers that featured seven turnovers by the green and white, the players and coaches all have bitter tastes in their mouths. That extra set of motivation could be a key for making sure Michigan State is locked in and ready to go. 

“Ball security, it was an issue,” Tucker said. “That is what I remember the most. That was the first thing we showed them on Monday was to turn our attention to Rutgers.”

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