Mel Tucker on Peach Bowl prep, staff changes and COVID-19 concerns

Mel Tucker has 25 years of college and NFL coaching experience.

The Michigan state sophomore coach has worked across the country and won national championships while on staff at Ohio State and Alabama. He’s now heading to his first bowl game as a head coach when the No.10 Spartans (10-2, 7-2 Big Ten) face the No.12 Pittsburgh (11-2, 7-1 ACC). at the Peach Bowl Thursday in Atlanta.

“I’ve learned a lot over the years in terms of preparing bowls and how to maximize our opportunities from a practice standpoint,” Tucker said in a video conference on Sunday, “to make sure our guys are in. good health and fresh, ready to play. “

Michigan State has questionable, questionable starters for Peach Bowl vs Pittsburgh

Tucker recorded a 5-7 record for Colorado in 2019 in his first season as a head coach before being hired at Michigan State. The Spartans finished 2-5 last year and declined to pursue a bowl invitation after the NCAA waived bowl eligibility requirements due to the pandemic. They are now heading to their first New Years Six game since 2015.

Michigan State arrived in Atlanta on Friday and trained Saturday and Sunday at Georgia Tech. The Spartans are scheduled to practice Monday at Mercedes-Benz Stadium, where the Peach Bowl will be played.

“We had a smooth descent, everything has been going well so far, the weather is great,” said Tucker. “We had some good practices at Tech. They really rolled the rug out for us. It is a first class ball game. Our players are very excited to be here and it will be a great week of preparation for us.

In addition to preparing to face Pittsburgh, the Spartans also participate in Peach Bowl activities, including a basketball competition on Saturday. Tucker said the festivities are a good way to balance the trip, and their focus of eliminating distractions remains unchanged.

“Our guys seem to be really focused,” Tucker said. “We know why we’re here, but we’re also going to enjoy everything the Peach Bowl has for us. “

Concerns related to COVID-19: After Maryland canceled two games last year due to positive COVID-19 results for the Terrapins, Michigan state’s schedule has held steady this year. At least so far.

An increase in COVID-19 cases amid the Omicron variant has disrupted college and pro sports and has resulted in the cancellation of three bowl games so far. The Hawaii Bowl was called off Thursday – a day before its scheduled game date – while the Military Bowl and Fenway Bowl were wiped out on Sunday. Additionally, Rutgers will replace Texas A&M in the Gator Bowl because the Aggies did not have enough players available.

“We just manage the protocols and follow those that are set by our medical staff and by the bowl,” Tucker said. “We are almost 100% vaccinated and have not had any significant issues during the season with regard to COVID. So far this week we’ve been doing good so I don’t foresee any disruption for the rest of the week.

Asked about COVID-19 and the health of his team, Pittsburgh coach Pat Narduzzi responded on Sunday by first making the sign of the cross.

“At the moment we are doing fine,” Narduzzi said. “You are scared, you hear about other people who are having problems. We follow the advice of our medical staff and what to do, how to do it. Right now this soccer team is as good as you are going to be. We are good and we must pass Thursday. Seems like things are changing quickly there. … We’re going to keep our fingers crossed and just try to make sure our guys are doing the right things.

Staff changes: Tucker heads to the final game of the season with an eye to the future, having to replace two members of his coaching staff. Cornerback coach Travares Tillman was hired as defensive backs coach and defensive passing play coordinator at Georgia Tech earlier this month while running backs coach William Peagler was appointed on Friday. tight ends coach in Florida. Both will train with the Spartans against Pittsburgh.

“It doesn’t change much at all,” Tucker said of Tillman and Peagler taking on new jobs. “The guys are always training hard, really happy for them. “

Tucker noted that Tillman is returning to his alma mater while Peagler will be closer to his family in South Carolina while reuniting with new Florida coach Billy Napier after the two have previously worked together in Clemson and Louisiana.

“I’m going to take my time with the hires,” said Tucker, “and make sure I have the people here who best fit our culture.”

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