Michigan State Coach Mel Tucker: “We Knew We Had an Athletic Quarterback That We Knew We Needed to Contain in the Scramble Game, We Didn't Do That”

By Zack Carpenter on December 5, 2020 at 4:51 pm
Mel Tucker
Mel Tucker – Nick King/USA Today

Mel Tucker knew all too well who his Spartans defense was up against this weekend.

Tucker, who was the University of Georgia's defensive coordinator from 2016-2018, had a full season of calling defenses against then-true freshman and five-star quarterback Justin Fields during Tucker's final season in Athens in 2018. Tucker reminded people of that fact earlier this week.

On Saturday, Tucker once again got a big taste of Fields' Heisman-worthy talent, and he got to see up close how he has developed into a top-five NFL draft pick. Fields went off for 199 yards passing and two passing touchdowns, and he amassed 103 yards rushing and two rushing touchdowns in Ohio State's 52-12 win over Michigan State.

Fields' career-high rushing total especially frustrated Tucker, as neutralizing Fields' running ability was a major piece of the game plan headed into the weekend.

“Defensively, being able to stop the run, we knew we had an athletic quarterback that we knew we needed to contain in the scramble game, we didn't do that,” Tucker said. “We knew we needed to contain him in the designed quarterback runs. We didn't do that. We knew we couldn't give up explosive plays in the run game and the pass game, and we gave those up.

“Obviously, we didn't do a good job on the quarterback run game, which is technique. Maybe we got out-athleted, maybe we were not as athletic on the edge to be able to get it done. ... When a quarterback can run the ball, that kills the defense, and then we gave up some big-play runs.”

Fields wasn't the only Buckeye quarterback who broke free for a huge run, as backup signal-caller C.J. Stroud scored his first career touchdown on a 48-yard rushing touchdown in the fourth quarter.

“At the end of the game, when they're basically just trying to run the ball out with their backup guy in there, they run the same play that they ran in the first half – basically the same thing, just a read-zone art type deal, and the guy basically hits his head on the goal post and goes untouched. It's just a basic run. Everybody in America runs that play. We run that play in practice all the time.”

The Spartans' matchup with the No. 4-ranked Buckeyes was on the precipice of being canceled earlier in the week due to the number of players and coaches Ohio State was missing for the game due to positive COVID-19 tests. During Tucker's opening statement to the media after the loss, the first-year Michigan State head coach said some of his thoughts were with the Buckeyes who had to miss the game.

“Coach (Ryan) Day and all those affected by COVID, obviously our hearts and our prayers go out to them for a full recovery,” Tucker said. “Obviously, the game is important, but the health and safety of everybody involved – players, support staff, coaches – is actually more important. So, again, my thoughts and prayers go out to Coach Day and any of his players and staff members affected by COVID.”

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