Spartans Make it: Two in a Row!

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I sit here thinking back on the biggest win of Mark Dantonio’s head coaching career and can’t think of one great moment. The fans were incredible, and truthfully, since he arrived, they are truly at a Big Ten level. They were fantastic from the start until way after the finish.

 

Listening to the crowd sing the fight song and cheer their Spartans long after the players were gone and the showers were empty was amazing. As I was standing just inside the tunnel after the game, I heard one recruit tell another, “That crowd was sick, they are crazy, that was tight.” I must concur if what he was saying was they were great. His smile made me think that was good?

 

The Thrill of Victory and the Agony of Defeat!  Photo Courtesy of Bill Marklevits.

The Thrill of Victory and the Agony of Defeat! Photo Courtesy of Bill Marklevits.

The coaching was great, and they had been calling good games previous to this, but the onus fell on them to win this. They had players who had not performed to what they had done previously and youngsters that had not stepped up. They reached back and did it and did it well.

 

The Spartan defense was masterful as they handled, what I believe, is the nation’s best freshman QB. Forcier is all that he had been advertised. He wasn’t rattled and he had the poise and presence of an upper classmen. That D found a way to hold him and even though he made his plays, they contained him. The Spartans can celebrate today, but can’t be pleased with the prospects of playing him three more times.

 

 Narduzzi’s trademark enthusiasm was on full display after the game when he said, “It was a heck of a game and I hope you guys enjoyed that thriller. I have to give our kids credit because they went out and made plays today and it was nothing to do with the coaches. The kids played hard, they were jacked up before that game and came out and played with a lot of enthusiasm. I just love those kids to death.”

 

The offense kept the Wolverines off balance and wondering what was next. Misdirection toss sweeps, bubble screens and street fight brutality were on display. Normally, mild-mannered TE Charlie Gantt talked about the physicality, “They came ready to play today. We were knocking them back. They had a good D-line front but I just felt like the O-line really stepped up today and brought it to them. “

 

The offense gave the defense something they hadn’t this entire year. A rest. Treadwell’s gang held the ball for 40 of the games 60 minutes. Narduzzi had high praise for his counterpart; “Well, half of it was Coach Treadwell keeping possession for however long he did - I don’t know what the time of possession was, but it helps when your offense is on the field all day. I have to give credit to Coach Treadwell, he had them running the ball for 197 yards and running it down their throats pretty good.”

 

Normally complimentary to anyone, but he and his guys, the modest Treadwell himself addressed the job his guys did holding the ball and controlling the time of possession. “I don’t know if it was the first or second drive where we just had to keep overcoming adversity, and that was so critical. When we are in rhythm, usually that’s when we are hitting on all cylinders and moving the ball down the field.”

 

Even Michigan head coach Rich M ROD Rodriguez addressed the time of possession issue. “The disappointing part is that we played good defense for a while but it was the third downs that killed us. It was third and longs, a lot of third and longs, cost us. I don’t know how many times the quarterback scrambled and got first downs and that’s very frustrating when you play two good snaps and the third snap they get a big first down. They really controlled the game and never allowed our offense to get into a rhythm. They battled and we battled and we just didn’t make plays when we had to.”

 

Later, he addressed it even more in his press conference, “The time of possession…that is frustrating. It’s just not getting off the field defensively and not staying on the field offensively. I’ve always said we’ve got to make the other team play some defense, and in the first half they didn’t have to play any defense. They did, but they didn’t have to play for extended periods of time because we weren’t getting first downs and we weren’t stopping them.”

 

I said in my prediction article on Friday morning that the Spartan mentality this week swayed me to see the win. Had you asked me five hours after the Wisconsin loss, I would have sided with the Wolverines on who would win this game. The Spartans were fragile and beaten up after the Badger loss.

 

Mark Dantonio willed this team to a win. He will say it is the players’ game because he is modest, but he reached down and willed it. He refused to let them do anything other than lose. This group of young men had not had their confidence rattled like this since he arrived and they needed to see that confidence he displayed on day one. “I can tell you they are all emotional. I don’t know that I’ve had an unemotional win. This certainly is one of the ones you point at and say, ‘Michigan-Michigan State’ and sometimes it defines you. To me, it’s a critical game. That’s just the way it is. I’ve always pointed to certain games when I’ve been a head coach and I try to draw on the rivalries that are important to the people that played in the past.”  

 

The Spartans certainly wish they were 5-0. They aren’t. They are 2-3, but with a big win against their archrival the season is back on track and the previous three losses are more palatable for a program still smack in the middle of a rebuilding program.

 

Now, all of the emotion and good will should be there for the winning team. That, however, isn’t to say that there isn’t concerns. This team has used three freshmen, Chris Norman, Dion Sims, and Blake Treadwell who lost his red shirt for only a few plays, that will not be able to red shirt, that in the crunch time of their biggest game were on the sideline.

 

Secondly, this game could have easily been a loss when the coaching staff went conservative and the Spartans had three, three and outs in the fourth quarter. I have asked myself when I hear or read the critics of this staff who can never see a glass half full if they hold their personal lives and careers to the same standards they ask of this group.

 

It is fair to ask why they went conservative. You can wonder why they went for a 4th and four, but then you can’t say they went entirely conservative? You can ask why the QB took a knee with 2 seconds remaining rather than going for a win? All of those are germane. All those, however, have to be looked at in the prism of a win.

 

I loved that Danny Fortener, who I think has not played enough this season, was involved in the OT interception of Chris L. Rucker. Rucker, coming into the season, was considered among the best junior CBs in the nation and I had a gigantic smile on my face seeing him catch that interception in the end zone.

 

There are questions, and there certainly are issues with this team. They are young. There will be issues and questions. They did, however, do what they had done all season and they played hard and didn’t quit. Unlike the past three losses, the breaks went their way.

 

Certainly the Wolverines drove home frustrated. You can’t blame them. I can also tell you that they drove home sore. MSU was physical in all phases and they took their fellow Big Ten comrades to the woodshed and they lost a street fight.

 

Both of these teams are young. Both of these teams will think about this for the next year. The biggest difference? MSU won…again!