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Mel Tucker keeps preaching fundamentals, technique after Michigan State's loss to Iowa

Matt Charboneau
The Detroit News

You hear it from Mel Tucker all the time.

For Michigan State, the focus from day-to-day, week-to-week, game-to-game is on technique and fundamentals.

It’s hammered home to the Spartans over and over again — technique and fundamentals, technique and fundamentals.

Michigan State head coach Mel Tucker is emphasizing fundamentals and technique after last weekend's loss at Iowa.

On Tuesday, Tucker had fully digested Michigan State’s listless defeat at the hands of Iowa.

“Last week's game was unacceptable,” he said, “and I will continue to hold this team to a higher standard of performance.”

But he also was ready to move on as Michigan State began preparations to host No. 10 Indiana (3-0) at noon on Saturday. Tucker wasn’t backing off his approach, an approach that is designed to develop consistency, something that has been lacking through three games for the first-year coach and his team.

“You have to be at your best with technique and fundamentals,” Tucker said. “That’s how you gain consistency and performance. So, that's the main thing I took from the Iowa tape. Offense, defense and special teams, we need to improve in the areas of technique and fundamentals. You can never get bored with the fundamentals, and that is in all three phases.”

It sounded a lot like coach-speak, and to an extent, it was. But when you’re dealing with a relatively young and inexperienced team, it becomes a tall task. Throw in the fact a top 10 team riding a wave of momentum is coming to Spartan Stadium, and it becomes even more critical.

Tucker understands that, and just like after the Iowa loss, his generally laid-back nature is giving way to a bit more emotion. As he rattled off all the small things the Spartans were focusing on this week, his voice kept getting louder and grew more animated.

“Yesterday we added an extra period of individual (work) so we could hammer some fundamental things that we need to work on,” Tucker said. “And that’s exactly where I go. I go to technique and fundamentals, which is stance, alignment, key initial move responsibility, pad level, hand placement, foot work, eye discipline, and then mental errors. That's where you go, and then penalties, foolish penalties and pre-snap penalties. That's where you go first, and that's how you fix things.”

There’s plenty to fix for Michigan State (1-2). There was virtually no area of the game it fared well in against Iowa.

The offense failed to run the ball — again — and was unable to make up the gap in the passing game as three Rocky Lombardi interceptions proved too much for the offense to overcome. The defense did little to slow Iowa’s run game and gave up a handful of big plays, while the special teams were as bad, allowing a punt return for a touchdown and missing a field goal.

It left Tucker at a loss to pull out many positives.

“We had a hard time finding guys that played well,” Tucker said. “It was hard to find anyone that we felt like played at a high level in that game. And then, from a coaching standpoint, we need to coach better.”

But Tucker did his best. There were some things the Spartans did well, but even as Tucker started to talk about those aspects, it wasn’t long before he pointed out how the Spartans continually shot themselves in the foot, eliminating any chance to be competitive.

“We had 15 runs in the game that were efficient,” Tucker said. “Every game we play we've done some good things. Now, how can we be more efficient? How can we have more plays in the run game that are efficient? It's not like we can't do it. You have to be more consistent. The same thing in the passing game. We have guys that made plays, but we had six drives on offense last week that we killed ourselves, whether it was a jump offsides or you got a late snap. We had two drops on third downs that would continue drives and, you know, mental errors, things where you look and it wasn't so much what the other team does a lot of times, there's things that you just didn't do correctly.”

Which, of course, has led to a week that will include game-planning for Indiana and quarterback Michael Penix Jr. However, it will also include a lot of the basics.

For Tucker and his staff, it’s necessary and there’s no doubt how the next few days will play out.

“From an approach standpoint, it’s in the weight room, in the training room, nutrition, how you sleep,” Tucker said. “It’s in the meeting room, on the practice field, I mean, every little detail. Hand behind the line, jog on and off the field, shirt tucked in, mouthpiece in, chin strap buckled up, pad level, eyes right, get to the ball, get off the field, get on the field, hand signals, communicate.

“Those are all things that are fundamental to the program’s process. We’re tightening the screws every possible way that we can.”

As Tucker said, it’s part of the process. It might not all get fixed in one week and the consistency is likely to continue to come and go, but this week is just one of the early steps to what Tucker believes are brighter days ahead.

Tuesday’s practice in full pads was the latest chance for Tucker to see if the work off the field over the past couple of days has been fruitful. He thinks it will be, and that’s why Tucker expects far better on Saturday.

“We’re gonna find out who wants to get better, who can get better,” Tucker said, “and we're gonna coach them in that manner. I expect to see a better football team out there this Saturday than what I saw out there in Iowa.”

Twitter: @mattcharboneau