Mel Tucker: Michigan State football a 'work in progress' ahead of Western Kentucky game

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EAST LANSING — A 4-0 start with a wave of momentum, a homecoming game against a nonconference opponent.

None of that matters to Mel Tucker. To him, there remains a lot Michigan State football needs to get better at in a hurry.

“I cannot think of any reason, any rational reason, why anyone in our organization — player or coach or anyone in our support staff — would be looking past a team or feeling unreasonably good about where we are,” Tucker said Tuesday. “I don't see any reason why that would be the case coming out of any of the games that we've played. I think that would be being delusional and unrealistic and not grounded, and I don't see our team being that.”

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The Spartans jumped to No. 16 in this week’s USA TODAY/AFCA coaches poll coming off a 23-20 overtime comeback victory against Nebraska. They host Western Kentucky on Saturday at Spartan Stadium, a 7:30 p.m. kickoff (BTN).

Much of Tucker’s focus Tuesday was on the lack of focus at times in Saturday’s escape against the Cornhuskers. MSU was stifled in the run game all night and failed to get a first down in the second half, only getting one on the first play of overtime with a 23-yard run Kenneth Walker III run. It took a 62-yard Jayden Reed punt return touchdown to tie the game in regulation.

Michigan State's head coach Mel Tucker talks with players during the fourth quarter in the game against Nebraska on Saturday, Sept. 25, 2021, at Spartan Stadium in East Lansing.
Michigan State's head coach Mel Tucker talks with players during the fourth quarter in the game against Nebraska on Saturday, Sept. 25, 2021, at Spartan Stadium in East Lansing.

“There hasn't been a game this season where we came out of the game giddy about where we were in terms of productivity,” Tucker said. “We're a work in progress. We are now, we always have been and we always will be.”

One situation in particular drew Tucker’s ire, a 15-yard flag for sideline interference during Reed’s return that was assessed on the ensuing kickoff. Matt Coghlin’s booming 75-yard kick and a muff by Nebraska’s return man helped minimize the potential damage from the infraction, but the second-year coach pointed to it being MSU’s third penalty on a score this season, he said, and Tucker and his staff spent time Monday hammering on their players about better “sideline discipline” as much as their need for improving with blocking and tackling.

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“There was an element and healthy dose of productive anger on our team and coaching staff and with the players afterwards to begin the week in terms of preparation for this game coming up,” Tucker said. “And what I mean by that is productive anger, there's some things that are unacceptable. And we cannot ever accept the unacceptable in any aspect of our program.

“The things that are unacceptable, we need to change them. And that's what we're here to do and that's what everything is all about this week, changing those things that we cannot accept with productive anger. We have to do simple better.”

Tucker did not have an update on defensive end Drew Beesley’s “lower-body” injury, which forced him out in the second quarter against Nebraska. Beesley watched the second half and OT from behind the north end zone while sitting on a stretcher, his right foot in a hard plastic walking boot.

“He’s sore,” Tucker said, “and he’ll be ready when he’s ready.”

Western Kentucky (1-2) is coming off close losses at Army and at home against Indiana the past two weeks, falling 33-31 to the Hoosiers on Saturday.

Contact Chris Solari: csolari@freepress.com. Follow him on Twitter @chrissolari. Read more on the Michigan State Spartans and sign up for our Spartans newsletter.

This article originally appeared on Detroit Free Press: Michigan State's Mel Tucker: We're still a 'work in progress'

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