Sunday, December 5, 2021

MSU working to block out noise as it prepares for historic matchup with Michigan

October 26, 2021
<p>Then-freshman safety Xavier Henderson (3) defends a pass to Michigan receiver Donovan Peoples-Jones (9) during the game at Spartan Stadium on Oct. 20, 2018. The Wolverines defeated the Spartans, 21-7.</p>

Then-freshman safety Xavier Henderson (3) defends a pass to Michigan receiver Donovan Peoples-Jones (9) during the game at Spartan Stadium on Oct. 20, 2018. The Wolverines defeated the Spartans, 21-7.

Photo by Matt Schmucker | The State News

The highly anticipated matchup between Michigan State and Michigan has finally arrived. The Spartans and Wolverines enter the game as the final undefeated teams in the Big Ten and ranked in the AP top 10.

This is the first time since 2010 that both teams will be undefeated and the first time that both teams were ranked in the top 10 since 1964. Michigan and MSU have had very different paths to 7-0, but nonetheless have shocked their respective fanbases with the perfect start.

The juiciness of the matchup on Saturday is directing eyes all around the country to East Lansing. As the only matchup between two top 10 teams in week 9, Michigan-Michigan State has become the premiere matchup in college football this week.

ESPN and Fox will do their national pregame shows from the shadows of Spartan Stadium and millions of people will tune in to the game that could have playoff implications.

As the stakes have steadily grown as Michigan State continued to win, the emphasis from Michigan State Head Coach Mel Tucker and the players has been to remain determined in staying focused and blocking out voices “outside of the locker room." Now, as pressure and implications come to a head, MSU has continued to preach its commitment to staying in the dark.

“We love the hype, we see it all over social media, you see it on campus, you see them setting up the tailgate and stuff like that,” redshirt senior tight end Connor Heyward said. “But honestly, we listen to what the coaches say, what our peers and the other support people have to say, we don't really care about what's going on outside the building. ... Hopefully the hype continues and, in order for that to happen, we have to go out there and produce.”

The team has worked to prepare for the game as it would for any other on the schedule while adding in some history lessons about the rivalry with Michigan. Tucker said that the team had a history lesson this morning about the Paul Bunyan Trophy and the rivalry game. 

Outside of informing the new guys about the history of the matchup, the preparation for Michigan State has largely been the normal routine, Tucker said. He said the coaching staff doesn’t have to do much to get players involved in the rivalry because it presents itself to you as soon as you arrive at MSU.

“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, today there hasn't been a day that's gone by that someone hasn't mentioned to me something about this game.”

Despite the possible historic implications on the line, the preparation has remained the same for the Spartans. The focus of the bye week was to fix recurring issues on both sides of the ball and this week will be more focused on preparation for Michigan while blocking out the noise.

“Our focus and our point of emphasis this morning and throughout the week is to eliminate the drama,” Tucker said. “And our preparation at the end of the day is going to come down to execution and playing with extreme effort.”

The players are preparing for its toughest test yet. The undefeated Wolverines have gotten to this point relatively easily, on the back of dominant play in the trenches on the offensive and defensive line. The game on Saturday will be Michigan State’s most challenging test to date in terms of athleticism and discipline.

Heyward said that the team is working to stay focused on the task at hand and keep a level head going into Saturday, which he deemed as the biggest game of the year. With the attention of the college football world bearing down on East Lansing, MSU is trying to stay focused on the voices in its own locker room.

“I feel like everybody knows, ultimately, the head coach and assistant coaches, everybody knows in the building, this is the biggest game of the year,” Heyward said. “Coach Tucker talked about earlier, this is the game that you're judged on ultimately, as a player as a coach. You need to be at your best and your best is needed.”

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