'We're in good shape': MSU, Pitt feeling confident Peach Bowl goes off without hitch
With bowl games getting canceled and the omicron variant of COVID-19 wreaking havoc on the entire sports world, it’s fair to wonder if things will go off without a hitch at Thursday’s Peach Bowl.
As of Wednesday morning, however, everything is on schedule as No. 10 Michigan State and No. 12 Pittsburgh were putting the final touches on their game plans in preparation for a 7:30 p.m. kickoff Thursday at Mercedes-Benz Stadium.
“Yes, we're in good shape headed into the game,” Michigan State coach Mel Tucker said Wednesday morning in a joint press conference with Pitt coach Pat Narduzzi. “We're nearly 100% vaccinated. We're following all the protocols set forth by our medical staff. And our players and coaches have done an outstanding job in our preparation, not just on the field but off the field as well.
“So the game is very important to us, and we're doing everything that we can to get to the game.”
While Michigan State’s basketball team was preparing to play in Wednesday afternoon’s home game against High Point down four players because of positive COVID tests, there have been no such reports coming out of the football program.
Earlier in the week, Tucker talked about a handful of players potentially missing the game — linebacker Quavaris Crouch, tight end Tyler Hunt and offensive lineman Jarrett Horst — but those are believed to be injury-related.
As for the Panthers, they’ve been following a similar plan as the Spartans and are keeping their fingers crossed that things will remain status quo up until game time.
“Our guys are vaccinated but as we know, that doesn't really matter anymore,” Narduzzi said. “I'm not sure it's going to help you a whole bunch going into the game. But our guys are in great shape. They're locked in. The hospitality room is where they spent a lot of time, which is outstanding. We appreciate it being so big so our guys can space out and do their thing in there. It's been so enjoyable they're really not out running around.
“I think they're locked in. I think they know how important it is. I don't make it mandatory to wear masks in our building. I think our kids are smart enough when they know when they're close to someone to put it on. They've all got one in their pocket. We're in good shape and can't wait for tomorrow night.”
As of Wednesday, five bowl games have been called off because of COVID issues with at least one of the teams, including the Hawai'i Bowl, Military Bowl, Fenway Bowl, Holiday Bowl and Arizona Bowl.
Leaving his Mark
Tucker and Narduzzi have both worked with former Michigan State coach Mark Dantonio. Tucker was a graduate assistant at MSU while Dantonio was on Nick Saban’s staff and the two worked together again at Ohio State when Dantonio was the defensive coordinator under Jim Tressel.
Narduzzi, of course, was Michigan State’s defensive coordinator from 2007-14 under Dantonio after serving in the same role with Dantonio for three seasons at Cincinnati. And when both were asked Wednesday about Dantonio potentially entering the College Football Hall of Fame — both teams visited the Hall this week — their responses were exactly what you’d expect.
“Mark obviously is a great friend and I know a great friend of Mel as well because they worked together,” Narduzzi said. “But to me, the job that Mark Dantonio did at Michigan State, when we first got there, the culture was different and he came in there, took over a program — we came in there, took over a program and built it up. Built it up to where Mel took it over and has done an outstanding job as well.
“The game's he's won there, bringing them to the playoffs, Rose Bowl victory, Cotton Bowl victory, my last game there. Just watching the build there was incredible. And that to me is what it's all about. And he did it the right way. He didn't do it the wrong way. He did it with integrity and character. The kids loved him. They still love him to this day. I think that's the most important thing is how he did it, not what he did.”
Added Tucker, “Certainly Coach Dantonio should get strong consideration to be in the hall of fame. He's done a tremendous job his entire career, and especially here as a head coach at Michigan State. He's won a lot of football games. Like Pat said, he's done it the right way. He's beloved by all Spartans in this country and throughout the world.
“A tremendous person. He's got a great family. And it was an honor and a pleasure to work with him for five of my 25 years in coaching.”
Narduzzi spent seven seasons at Michigan State, but it’s been seven seasons now since he coached in his last game with the Spartans.
So, there hasn’t been a lot of nostalgia this week for Narduzzi, though he said he did enjoy catching up with plenty of folks around the Michigan State program during a mixer on Tuesday night.
“A lot of dear friends,” Narduzzi said. “Had a great reception last night at the Capital Club, got to mingle with the rest of the guys and all the doctors and trainers, Sally Nogle — just everybody, so many friendly faces that we engaged with last night.”
But a game is a game, and when the teams take the field on Thursday night, Narduzzi won’t be thinking about his time at MSU.
“Once the game starts, it's like that first hit that our kids make, that first call, the kickoff,” Narduzzi said. “All those emotions go away. And, again, it's not like you're playing a team that fired you. East Lansing, there's only great memories there. Even the losses were great memories, because of the people in East Lansing and at Michigan State.”
'Working through the process'
While reports have said Tucker is set to hire Effrem Reed as Michigan State’ next running backs coach, Tucker said Wednesday nothing has been finalized
“We're still working through the process,” Tucker said.
Reed has been an offensive assistant at Michigan State for two seasons, but earlier this month was named the new running backs coach at Georgia Southern. However, with the departure of William Peagler to Florida, the Spartans are in the market for a running backs coach and Reed could be sticking around after all.