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EAST LANSING — Four games, four weeks.
One month, one mission: Keep winning.
Michigan State football’s most immediate tasks are putting an emotional comeback victory over Michigan in the past and preparing to make a tough trip to Purdue. And the No. 6 Spartans hit the road after staying unbeaten and continuing to move up in the national rankings, with both Big Ten championships and the potential of a return to the College Football Playoff becoming more and more realistic.
“We put ourselves in a good position heading into the last month of the season,” Tucker said during his weekly news conference Monday. “Really, we need to start playing our best football down the stretch here in November. That's what it's really all about, November madness.”
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MSU (8-0, 5-0 Big Ten) faces the Boilermakers (5-3, 3-2) on Saturday at Ross-Ade Stadium in West Lafayette, Indiana. Kickoff is 3:30 p.m., and the game will be televised on ABC.
Purdue won at Nebraska on Saturday, 28-23, and upset then-No. 2 Iowa on the road in mid-October, but it is 2-2 at home, with losses to Minnesota and Wisconsin. None of that, cautioned Tucker, means anything.
“All you have to do is turn on the tape and see they have a good football team,” Tucker said. “I have zero tolerance for any type of entitlement — roll your helmet out there and expect to win, not put the work in during the week, not prepare, casual attitude, things like that. We're not doing that. That's not gonna happen. … I mean, if anybody thinks they're gonna roll their helmet out there, they're not gonna be going on the trip.”
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The Spartans rallied from 16 points down in Saturday’s second half to overtake No. 10 Michigan, 37-33, in one of the most captivating and electric games in the 114-season history of the rivalry. Tucker became the first MSU coach to beat the Wolverines in his first two seasons.
“Every year, we take pride in this game and we work as hard as we can to come out on top,” receiver Jayden Reed said Saturday. “We'll continue to work hard and focus on next week. ... You just gotta take it game by game, be where your feet are.”
MSU is 8-0 for the first time since 2015, when the Spartans won their last Big Ten championship season and made their lone College Football Playoff berth in the second season of the sport’s restructured championship setup. MSU finished No. 5 in the USA Today Coaches poll that season.
And the Spartans are 5-0 in conference play for the first time since 2013, when Mark Dantonio’s Spartans went on to win both the Big Ten championship game and the Rose Bowl to finish No. 3 in the rankings. It remains the program’s highest finish since winning shares of the 1965 and ’66 national championships.
That's what Tucker and his team are chasing with one month remaining. To borrow a phrase from Dantonio, all of the Spartans goals remain in front of them.
“That's what it's all about,” Tucker said. “This is the stretch, this is November. This is where we need to be at our best. It's go-time.”
The Boilermakers have a history of playing Spoilermakers for the Spartans over the decades. And Tucker came to his news conference Monday armed with Purdue’s big upsets all the way back into the 1960s — 16 wins over top-5 opponents when unranked and six victories all-time over AP top 2 teams when unranked, the most in the country.
That list includes upsets over MSU in 1953 when it was No. 2 in the nation, in 1957 when the Spartans were No. 1, in 1958 when they were No. 5 and — missing from Tucker’s ticker — in 1961 when they were No. 6.
“It just goes on and on and on,” Tucker bellowed as he finished the list of Boilermaker spoilers.
Tucker pointed to the 1999 Spartans, who beat No. 3 U-M at home, improved to 6-0 and moved up to No. 5 in the AP poll. They went to West Lafayette and got blown out by Drew Brees and No. 20 Purdue the following week, 52-28. And in 1997, when Tucker was a graduate assistant under Nick Saban, MSU shocked No. 1 Ohio State on the road, then lost to unranked Purdue the following week at home.
“I've had people reach out to me and talk about a trap game and things like that. I don't understand any of that. I don't understand what that is,” Tucker said. “If you know your opponent, you study the film and you know who you're facing, then it's obvious they're a good football team. They have a history of beating ranked teams when they're unranked, and they won some big games this year. ... We have to raise our game and our preparation to get the football team where it needs to be to go on the road and do what we need to do to get the job done.”
Dantonio went 32-15 in November over his 13 seasons, leading to three Big Ten titles from 2010-15. The last time MSU entered the final month of the regular season in contention was 2017, when the Spartans finished 10-3 but got blown out at Ohio State to get knocked out of contention for the conference championship.
MSU has 16 players remaining who were part of that 2017 team, and Tucker said that is critical in knowing how to handle the pressure that comes with big games that remain. The Spartans also face Maryland, No. 5 OSU and Penn State after playing Purdue.
“It's November madness to us. That was communicated to our football team,” Tucker said. “We also communicate to them that we haven't come this far just to come this far. We have a lot ahead of us, and Purdue is next.”
This article originally appeared on Detroit Free Press: MSU's Mel Tucker has receipts of Purdue upsetting ranked teams