It’s no secret that Michigan State’s defenses have been stretched lately. With eight defenders suspended and no return in sight, and key players struggling to get injured, the Spartans’ ability to train is severely limited.
Head coach Mel Tucker said this week will mark the fourth week they are unable to score in practice due to a lack of available players.
“One of the challenges we had was not scoring,” Tucker said. “The only day we have contact where we hit pads is on game day. It’s been like this for the last three weeks because we don’t have enough people to practice with and we don’t have enough healthy bodies.”
The inability to go full throttle during training has forced defensive players to find new ways to stay sharp. Redshirt sophomore linebacker Cal Haladay, who was recently named Big Ten Defensive Player of the Week two weeks in a row, spoke about how the difference has affected defense.
“You just have to focus and take each rep as it is and make sure you’re doing everything perfectly because it’s going to be a little bit different,” Haladay said.
As well as speaking about staying physically fit, Haladay stressed the importance of staying mentally fit during match day preparation despite not being able to hit the ground running in training the week before.
“Besides, mental reps, make sure your mind is sharp,” Haladay said. “It’s really big too. When you’re not actually out there doing the reps or going through the reps, those still count and use all the reps you get.”
Although Saturday’s game against Penn State will be MSU’s last regular season game, the Spartans are well aware of what’s at stake this weekend. They are currently 5-6 and need a win to qualify for the bowl.
Despite this, Tucker continues to focus solely on winning, not even mentioning achieving bowl eligibility in his opening remarks during his Monday press conference. His only comment on the subject came when he was asked if he deliberately avoided the topic.
“We all know what’s at stake and the players know that too, so I don’t think there’s any reason to keep harping on it,” Tucker said. “That really speaks to the bottom line and what we really need to focus on as a program, what players and coaches need to do every day to prepare for this opportunity.”
Now, with the stakes as high as this season, the Spartans are deep in preparation for their upcoming opponent, who has bowl eligibility at stake but is unable to score in practice for the fourth straight week.
If this is week four, it would have been the first week without a goal in practice following the suspension of eight defenders following the tunnel incident at Michigan Stadium.
According to Tucker, this is an incredibly rare situation.
“There have been times where you know where we have specific days that we would normally meet, we usually have contact where we haven’t but usually not all week and certainly not three weeks in a row and that will be week four be for it,” Tucker said.
With another chance to qualify for the Bowl and end the season on a high note, the Spartans will need to overcome their lack of depth and draw strength from past experience so they can hit the ground running next Saturday.
Happy Valley kickoff is scheduled for 4 p.m. on Fox Sports 1.
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