Michigan State has now won seven of its past nine meetings with Michigan.
Regardless of time, record or circumstances, the Spartans vs. Wolverines is always important. State bragging rights are always up for grabs, but sometimes–like during this past weekend–there is much more on the line than a simple Big Ten win or interstate pat on the back.
Thanks to a 27-23, miracle-play victory, coach Mark Dantonio’s No. 7-ranked Spartans remain unbeaten (7-0, 3-0 B1G) and securely on the trail toward the College Football Playoffs. Maintaining energy and focus heading into this weekend’s matchup with Indiana (4-3, 0-3) has now become the major point of emphasis–not the four-point win over Michigan.
The idea of the Hoosiers catching Michigan State slipping after a big one is just that–an idea. Dantonio is confident that the Spartans will continue to take care of business (as usual).
“I think first of all, we track how we play after big games whether we win or we lose them. We’ve always tracked that,” Dantonio said during Tuesday’s conference call. “Our record is very good in terms in how we’ve been able to handle that. That’s something we’ve always made a point of (doing).”
Sure, players can hop right on their phones and watch Jalen Watt-Jackson’s game-winning touchdown over and over again. They’ve probably seen it a few times on TV, and they’ve certainly been reminded of it by friends and family. But it’s not about what was done. It’s no longer about Watts-Jackson’s heroic moment–he suffered a season-ending hip injury all in the name of beating Michigan, but there are more opponents waiting for Michigan State.
Time doesn’t stop.
“It’s not the moment you’re in, it’s how you handle the moments after that, too–winning or losing–so we’ve got to be able to handle success in this case,” Dantonio said of the win Saturday. “Secondly, our dreams are important–our dreams are all in front of us. Our goal, is to, first and foremost, to win the (Big Ten) East. Well, to do that, you had better win every football game in this conference.
So, the next one up is Indiana. They pose a great challenge for us. We’ve played them in the past, they’ve been very competitive games and we’ve got to get ready for them. But I think as much as anything, though, the final thing is our senior leadership and our maturity as a football team. We’ve been there, in terms of having to do these things in the past, and this is just another step in the process.”
On Saturday, Spartans senior quarterback Connor Cook methodically picked apart one of the nation’s best sets of defensive backs, completing 18 of 39 passes for 328 yards and a touchdown. Hooking up with senior receiver Aaron Burbridge nine times for 132 yards helped Cook and the Spartans, but his instincts in the fourth quarter really set the tone for the comeback.
With 9:25 to play, Cook found fifth-year senior fullback Trevon Pendleton, who ran 74 yards for what looked to be a touchdown. The call was reversed, so freshman running back L.J. Scott was left to pick-up the goal-line score–which he did.
With 4:54 to play and trailing 23-20, Michigan State started its final march toward points. Cook started out well, later connecting with Burbridge for 25 yards, but his final two throws were batted down by a determined Wolverines secondary.
On 3rd and 19, the second-to-last gasp, Cook targeted Burbridge.
Lewis wasn’t having it.
Dantonio called timeout.
On 4th and 19, Cook went to senior Macgarrett Kings, Jr., who had just reeled a 30-yard touchdown with 7:07 to play in the third quarter.
However, Dymonte Thomas’ superb coverage didn’t allow for a completion.
Dantonio described what happened as the Spartans offense returned to the sidelines.
“There really wasn’t time to talk too much (with Cook)–we had to get our defense out on the field,” Dantonio said. “My main focus was, you know, stop them from getting a first down. Let’s see if we can make them punt and see if we can have some seconds back. You know, I was disappointed that I had to use a timeout on fourth down. But maybe that was the best thing to try and get the best play involved. Didn’t know whether to punt or not.
So a lot of things we going through my mind as well. All I can tell you is that we do the very best that we can do when we play until the end of the game and we keep coaching until the end of the game. So, you know, that’s Connor. That’s what he does as well. There really wasn’t any interaction. We just kept moving the process forward. And we would talk after the game.”
Close win, blowout. Style points. No style points. Doesn’t matter for Dantonio.
He has Cook. That’s what matters.
“He’s a competitor. He’s always going to do his very best. And his best, really, has been good for us… has been good enough 30 out of 33 times he’s been the starter,” said Dantonio. “So, that’s where we’re at.”
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