After a monumental upset win over No. 6 Michigan, Michigan State’s confidence and energy are at a season high. Junior running back Kenneth Walker III solidified himself in the Heisman Trophy conversation with a five-touchdown performance, while timely stops and takeaways from the defense helped complete a 16-point second-half comeback.
Next up is a Saturday afternoon matchup at Purdue (5-3), many of whom are calling out to be a potential ‘trap game’, which MSU hopes to not fall into.
Michigan State Head Coach Mel Tucker said on Monday he does not believe in trap games, but he is well aware of Purdue's history of upsetting top teams in the country. Purdue has 16 wins versus top-five teams while unranked, which is the best mark in the country. The Boilermakers also became 6-10 all-time versus top-two teams when they upset then-No. 2 Iowa in Iowa City three weeks ago.
So while Tucker may not label it as a ‘trap game’, it is clear how dangerous of an opponent Purdue is. Two weeks ago, they entered the AP Top-25 at No. 25 for the first time since 2007, before falling on the road at Wisconsin. The Boilermakers have a strong passing attack noted by junior wide receiver David Bell as well as a great defense highlighted by junior defensive end George Karlaftis, a likely soon-to-be NFL first round selection.
“We’re not going to settle for anything less this week, just elite-level preparation and focus and intent in everything we do,” Tucker said. “Nothing casual. "If there is any casualness in anyone, they will not go on this trip. They will not go on to the bus to go to the airport. They will not go on this trip.”
If one were to try and predict any sort of abnormal casualness, it likely would come directly after a big, season-defining win, just like MSU had last week against Michigan. It was Tucker’s second win versus the Wolverines as the Spartans’ head coach after beating Michigan in Ann Arbor in week two of 2020. The next week of that season was a disaster with the Spartans being systematically dismantled by Iowa, 49-7.
That is why Tucker has stressed the 24-hour rule after each of Michigan State’s eight wins. The team gets 24 hours after the clock hits zero to celebrate the win, but that is it. Once 24 hours hit, they must turn the page and focus on the next opponent.
It also goes in hand with the challenge of managing expectations and blocking out the extra noises, something they have done well ever since defeating Miami in the third game of the season. On Tuesday night, the first College Football Playoff rankings of the season were released, with MSU sitting at No. 3 matched-up with No. 2 Alabama for one of the semifinal games. Instead of watching the release show, the Spartans held a team meeting with former players as part of the effort to stay focused.
“No one’s going to remember a team for just the first eight games of the season,” redshirt sophomore quarterback Payton Thorne said. “There's been no trophies given out after eight weeks of the season so we are not too concerned with that.”
Despite the record, despite the rankings, despite the Heisman Trophy race, the message and mission remain the same: The Spartans are taking it day by day, week by week, game by game.
“We are pretty much dialed in on the week to week thing right now, but everyone is aware of what’s going on,” Michigan State secondary coach Harlon Barnett said. “I think coach Tucker does a great job of keeping the guys focused on the week to week. ... Nobody is ignorant to the fact that what’s going on, but at the same time we still got to handle our business and Purdue is our business next.”
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