Michigan State is in its final stages of preparation for the Chick-fil-A Peach Bowl against Pittsburgh on Dec. 30. The Spartans (10-2) are looking to reach 11 wins for the first time as a program since 2015 and the ACC Champion Panthers stand in the way.
MSU traveled to Atlanta on Christmas Eve to begin the final week of preparation in the lead up to the 13th and final game of the season. Michigan State began practice at Georgia Tech’s facilities and has begun participating in bowl festivities like go-kart racing between the two teams.
“We're happy to be here in Atlanta,” Michigan State Head Coach Mel Tucker said. “The Peach Bowl is a great bowl. We had a smooth trip down. Everything's been great so far — the weather's great. We've had a couple of great practices over at (Georgia) Tech and they really rolled out the carpet for us. It's a first-class bowl game. Our players are very excited to be here and it's going to be a great week of preparation for us.”
Tucker said that MSU is working to maintain focus leading up to the bowl game and eliminate any distractions from outside the locker room as they have preached all season. The goal, he said, was to enjoy the bowl game as much as possible while still being ready for the task at hand to win the football game.
“We have some great events that are scheduled for us from the Peach Bowl, which we are really enjoying those — like last night we had a basketball challenge where our guys did very well,” Tucker said. “But then this morning, we had to get up and get right back to football. That's what it's all about. We had a 'coach-me-coach Tuesday' type practice today. We'll have a Wednesday practice tomorrow and we'll go through the week. Our guys seem to be really focused. We know why we're here. But we're also going to enjoy everything the bowl, the Peach Bowl has for us.”
The preparation has become much more specific as Tucker and the coaching staff have begun to study Pittsburgh’s tendencies. Despite not having Heisman finalist quarterback Kenny Pickett, who opted out of the bowl to prepare for the NFL draft, Tucker said that Pitt is very long and athletic and will pose problems to MSU.
“It's a very well-balanced team,” Tucker said. “I can see why they've had success this year.”
Michigan State is going through the motions of its final prep week without a few familiar faces on the roster. Walter Camp Player of the Year and Doak Walker Award winner Kenneth Walker III opted out of the Peach Bowl to prepare for the 2022 NFL draft.
The Spartans are also trying to fill in gaps left by players that entered the transfer portal and injured players who will not be healthy enough to play. Tucker said that players that entered the portal can decide to play or not and some, like senior safety Michael Dowell, will not play.
“It's hard to replace a guy like Ken, you really can't do that,” Tucker said. “But we have other players, obviously, on our roster at that position, that are going to be next man up and they're gonna step up and get the job done. And we have a plan for that and I feel really good about our run game.”
On top of Walker and the transfers who opted out, MSU is still dealing with a number of injuries on both sides of the ball. Tucker said that redshirt senior tight end Tyler Hunt and junior linebacker Quavaris Crouch are currently “doubtful” and starting junior left tackle Jarrett Horst is “questionable” to play on Thursday. Tucker added that every player that traveled with the team is trying to get healthy enough to play by game time.
While Michigan State traveled across the country to prepare for its bowl, the rest of the country and college football landscape has been scrambling to deal with the current surge of COVID-19 cases that is sweeping across the country. Multiple bowl games have been canceled already and teams are trying to mitigate outbreaks on the roster so they can play in the final game of the season.
Michigan State is business as usual on its road trip despite the increased cause for concern, Tucker said. He said he does not anticipate any disruptions caused by the virus and is listening to the team’s medical staff for advice.
“We're just handling the protocols and following the laws that are set forth by our medical staff and by the bowl,” Tucker said. “We're nearly at 100% vaccinated and we haven't had any substantial issues during the season relative to COVID. And so far this week we've been good. And so I don't anticipate any disruptions for the rest of the week.”
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