Spartans Still Have a lot to Play for, Starting with Pride

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Mark Dantonio will have His Spartans Ready for the Gophers on Saturday.  Photo Courtesy of Mark Boomgaard.

Mark Dantonio will have His Spartans Ready for the Gophers on Saturday. Photo Courtesy of Mark Boomgaard.

Again we ask, is There a Letdown Looming?

 

As Coach D reminded Spartan Nation a couple weeks ago, we’ve never really seen an MSU letdown effort under his watch. That being said, the possibility of one this weekend is still very much present. Yet surprisingly, the fact that there really hasn’t been a letdown effort under Dantonio seems lost on some in the Spartan Nation. It’s stunning that anyone could overlook the lack of a letdown because so many teams under John L. Smith and Bobby Williams folded up ever so quickly once the big goals for a season were lost and out of reach. Instead of toughening up to fight the whole way through a season’s finish, as Dantonio’s teams have thus far, the Spartan teams of the dark era between 2000 and 2006 seemed to race to the bottom, as if only to make everyone quickly forget how good they might have looked early in a season.

It’s easy to collapse, become undisciplined, and finish off seasons winning maybe one or two of your last half dozen or so. It’s tough to keep bringing it each day in practice, and each Saturday in a game, when your biggest goals for a season can no longer be reached. That’s called playing with pride. The Spartan Nation should take notice of this drastic difference between the present and the recent past before they even think of comparing Dantonio with the previous two eras.

These days are better than that. There’s a resurgence in individual personal pride within the program, and a noticeable increase in the overall team pride of playing for the block “S.” Their play in the last four games of this Big Ten season will demonstrate as much. “We need to execute better,” Dantonio told Spartan Nation Tuesday, “but it (the Iowa loss) is not the end of the season.”

Though we’ve never seen a letdown under Mark Dantonio, if it’s ever going to happen, this might be the week. It seems easier for college football teams to get over games in which they were clearly beaten, tougher to get over games a team knows it was supposed to win, and toughest, in my estimation, to get over a game that may have been taken away from you. I’m not saying the Referees absolutely took the game away from the Spartans Saturday night. The better team won the game. But there’s a good argument to be made that the team that played better that night (MSU), didn’t. That scenario has historically been the toughest for teams to overcome, and perhaps the most prone to subsequent letdown effort. The Iowa loss could prove to be the toughest for the Dantonio led Spartans to immediately bounce back from.

“We have to move forward, we can’t look back,” Dantonio said Tuesday. “We’ve always been able to regain our focus (after a tough loss) and that’s a credit to our Assistant Coaches, and to the general leadership of our football team with our Seniors and our Captains.” The Spartans’ Head Coach also pointed out, “if we can go and win that game (Minnesota) to get to 4-2 (in conference), great things can still happen for our football team.” Dantonio recognized that’s a pretty big if, but if the Spartans’ leadership is as strong as the Head Coach believes it to be, they should leave the brand new “Gopher Hole” with a prideful W.

Momentum for a Minnesota Meltdown?

Minnesota comes into the Halloween night contest also at 4-4, but not quite the team of MSU. They are probably a bottom tier team in the Big Ten right now. The Gophers appear to be nearing a serious identity crisis, having shuffled through coordinators and schemes under first time Head Coach Tim Brewster ever since he arrived on campus. Minnesota foolishly dumped Glen Mason after the 2006 Bowl season, in a move they’ve still yet to make up for. Mason had built the Gophers into respectability, and had them playing the type of football that could’ve worked well outside in their new stadium, late into a Big Ten season.

Now it seems Minnesota is a program scrambling for an identity, just hoping to get back to the standard Mason had set. No one would be shocked if the Gophers are led by a new coach by the next time MSU returns to Minneapolis. This one could get scary for the Gophers if things don’t go their way Saturday, and could possibly spell the beginning of the end for Brewster.

Brewster has been impressed with the Spartans’ approach under Mark Dantonio. “They’re a very physical football team…that’s been their identity that Mark’s installed in the program, and you can certainly see that.” But Minnesota is greatly shorthanded this week, as they’ll be without Sr. All-Big Ten Wide Receiver, Eric Decker. Brewster knows Decker will not be easy to replace. “I believe he’s the most complete Wide Receiver in College Football today...all eleven guys on Offense have to step up to replace a guy like Eric Decker.” Still, Brewster thinks the Gophers can overcome the loss of their best player. “We’ve gotta make the plays that are there…take advantage of the opportunities that present themselves, and we’ll be just fine.”

Spartans’ Pride will Again be Revealed

As we discussed late Saturday night, this team still has a lot to play for. In reality, a look at the Big Ten title is now all but completely out of the cards, but a winning season and winning Bowl effort still are achievable. MSU needs to get over the Iowa gut punch and take down the Gophers in what should be a wild and memorable night game.

The Spartans’ pride will again be in focus Saturday. The Spartan Nation will be looking for evidence of an Iowa hangover. They’ll be looking closely to see if MSU can match the intensity of the amped up Gopher’s in front of their first night crowd at their new stadium. The Spartan Nation should expect Minnesota’s best effort, but if the Spartans can play well and get ahead early, Minnesota could go down relatively easy from there, ala the Illini from a few weeks back.

Not to look past Minnesota, but win or lose this week, the Spartans must return home next week to handle Western Michigan in a dominant fashion. If they can wrap Bowl eligibility by beating the Gophers and Broncos before travelling to upstart Purdue, MSU will have a real shot at travelling south for the post season. And of course, the season ending Land Grant Game should be another classic clash between the Spartans and Lions.

As for the possible MSU let down this week, I think we might actually see one. And as a result, this game could end up much closer in score than is expected. But MSU still should have enough to get past the shaky Golden Gophers in the end. More importantly than playing for a regular season of 8-4, or 7-5 though, the ’09 Spartans are first set to finish this season playing for pride.