Why Michigan State football had it made in the shade despite brutal heat, humidity

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For weeks, Mel Tucker made his staff prepare Michigan State football for the daunting impact of the heat and humidity in South Florida. In a lot of ways, his consistent use of the phrase “strain” since the start of preseason camp in August pointed directly to Saturday’s showdown in Miami Gardens, Florida.

By the time the fourth quarter came around, the Spartans began to dominate the Hurricanes. Their 21 points, plus 111 yards on offense and two turnovers forced on defense, in the fourth quarter squelched a 38-17 victory.

“We were prepared to go into the 15th round, if necessary. We were prepared to do that,” Tucker said after MSU improved to 3-0 for the first time since 2015. “We talked about that all week. We’ve trained in a manner that will allow us to do that and allow us to have confidence in a tight, tight ballgame. …

“We wanted to drag them into the deep water where we live, with the strain and the struggle and the pressure.”

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Sep 18, 2021; Miami Gardens, Florida, USA; Michigan State Spartans defensive end Jacub Panasiuk (96) sacks Miami Hurricanes quarterback D'Eriq King (1) during the first half at Hard Rock Stadium.

Sep 18, 2021; Miami Gardens, Florida, USA; Michigan State Spartans defensive end Jacub Panasiuk (96) sacks Miami Hurricanes quarterback D’Eriq King (1) during the first half at Hard Rock Stadium.

The temperature Saturday reached the low 90s, but the surface inside Hard Rock Stadium was upward of 110 degrees, thanks to the humidity and concrete. Players used ice bags on their necks to keep cool, while graduate assistants and student helpers held portable awnings over them on the sideline to provide temporary shade.

That helped MSU get two quick-strike scores to put the game away, with the first coming after Drew Beesley’s strip sack of quarterback D’Eriq King (which Jacub Panasiuk recovered) set up a 10-yard touchdown pass from Payton Thorne to Jayden Reed early in the quarter. Ronald Williams’ interception of King with 4:05 to play led to an 8-yard Reed scoring run to solidify the outcome.

“I feel on the defensive line, we did a good job keeping everybody fresh, trying to get subs and whenever they could, whenever they weren’t going fast tempo,” said Beesley, who had two sacks among his five tackles. “I feel like we were very prepared for for the heat, and we made things happen.”

Tucker and his players were quick to point to performance dietitian Amber Rinestine’s hydration plan and strength and conditioning coach Jay Novak’s offseason program for preparing them to remain fresh into the final period. Thorne heard his offensive linemen saying on MSU’s sideline, “We’re wearing them out,” and Walker sensed that as well, with many of his 172 yards (on 27 carries) came as a result of him powering through arm tackles.

“They did a great job with having us prepared for this heat,” Walker said.

Forcing the issue

Michigan State linebacker Quavaris Crouch (6) celebrates after recovering a fumble during the first quarter of an NCAA college football game against Miami, Saturday, Sept. 18, 2021, in Miami Gardens, Fla. (AP Photo/Michael Reaves)

Michigan State linebacker Quavaris Crouch (6) celebrates after recovering a fumble during the first quarter of an NCAA college football game against Miami, Saturday, Sept. 18, 2021, in Miami Gardens, Fla. (AP Photo/Michael Reaves)

MSU entered Saturday with one takeaway. That changed against the Hurricanes with four momentum-shifting forced turnovers.

The Spartans started strong by ending Miami’s first drive when defensive end Jeff Pietrowski forced King to fumble; linebacker Quavaris Crouch pounced on it. Late in the first half, safety Angelo Grose jumped a route in the right seam for an interception to prevent Miami from getting into MSU territory. Then came two more in the fourth quarter which helped the Spartans pull away.

But the Spartans also played turnover-free on offense for the second straight week; MSU has just one turnover this season — a fumble by Harold Joiner III following a hard hit to his head late in the opening win at Northwestern.

“We’ve been talking about taking care of the ball. We never stop talking about taking care of the ball,” Tucker said. “Ball security is everything. And we all know what happens when you don’t take care of the football. From a takeaway standpoint, we never give up on it. We continue to emphasize it in practice, and we know they come in bunches. … We were able to get that done in practice, and so we were able to carry it over to the game.”

Penalties problem

A general view of a penalty flag and football on the field during the second half between the Miami Hurricanes and the Michigan State Spartans at Hard Rock Stadium in Miami Gardens, Fla. on Sept. 18, 2021.

A general view of a penalty flag and football on the field during the second half between the Miami Hurricanes and the Michigan State Spartans at Hard Rock Stadium in Miami Gardens, Fla. on Sept. 18, 2021.

Both teams went through stretches of undisciplined play, though the Spartans cleaned up their issues down the stretch.

Miami committed nine penalties for 78 yards, six of them for 53 yards before halftime. MSU finished with 10 flags, equaling the Tucker-era high set in last season’s Ohio State loss, and the 89 yards penalized were second-most.

After Grose had a targeting call overturned in the third quarter on Charleston Rambo’s second touchdown, MSU freshman Charles Brantley was flagged for it and ejected in the fourth quarter. He will be required to sit out the first half next week against Nebraska.

Four of MSU’s penalties came on special teams, including a roughing-the-punter call on a block attempt by Maliq Carr, and two on a discombobulated punt sequence.

“We have not played our best football yet, we have not reached our full potential,” Tucker said. “There’s still more to do. A lot more to do.”

Contact Chris Solari: csolari@freepress.com. Follow him on Twitter @chrissolari. Read more on the Michigan State Spartans and sign up for our Spartans newsletter.

This article originally appeared on Detroit Free Press: Michigan State football had it made in the shade despite brutal heat





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