EAST LANSING, Mich. – Michigan State football coach Mel Tucker tried to avoid saying the name of his in-state rival ahead of their matchup this weekend, calling Michigan “that school up/down the road” four times during his Tuesday press conference.
In his first season as Michigan State’s head coach, Tucker is stoking the flames of an already-hot rivalry between the Wolverines and Spartans.
This type of subtle trash talking isn’t new to Michigan. Ohio State coaches and fans regularly refer to Michigan as “That Team Up North,” and former Wolverines coach Brady Hoke used to simply call Ohio State, “Ohio.”
Tucker tried to set the tone that he knows Michigan-Michigan State isn’t just another game on the schedule.
You can hear Tucker calling Michigan “the school up/down the road” in the clips beneath each quote.
“This game against the school down the road is not just another game, so it’s really special to me," Tucker said. "It’s special to our players. It’s very important to our coaches, to our former players and to our fans, and to the people of the state of Michigan. So it’s a special game and we treat it as such.”
While Michigan leads the all-time series 71-36-5, the Spartans have won eight of the last 12 meetings. Jim Harbaugh has helped turn the series back around, though, with three wins in the last four years, including a 21-7 win in 2018 and a 44-10 blowout last year.
“We know that it’s always a physical game," Tucker said. Tuesday. "It’ll probably be the most physical game -- one of the most physical games that we play this season.”
He said during his playing career as a defensive back at Wisconsin, he was aware of the other rivalries in the Big Ten, including this one.
“Michigan-Michigan State has been a huge one," Tucker said. “There’s not a day that goes by where you don’t hear about this game from someone in one way, shape or form. It’s certainly not just a game.”
Tucker was asked how he motivates his team for this week after a surprising loss to Rutgers in the opener. The Spartans turned the ball over seven times and fell to the Scarlet Knights, 38-27, in East Lansing.
“We’re well into our game plan for the school up the road, and so our focus is a laser focus on this game on Saturday.”
Tucker also spoke about Michigan State’s current two-game losing streak in the rivalry and how older players stress the importance of this game to the freshmen.
“That’s what a team does,” Tucker said. “The older guys -- they educate the younger guys on the culture and the tradition and the importance of what it means to be a Spartan and what it means to play the school down the road, so I’m happy to see those guys do that.”
When Tucker was directly asked whether he was intentionally avoiding saying “Michigan,” his response was the following:
“I mean, I don’t think there’s any question from anyone who we’re playing this week, so it’s the school down the road -- I think we all know who that is and so, I mean, I just think that’s pretty obvious.”
Tucker said he considers Harbaugh an excellent coach and that he respects all the coaches in the Big Ten.