EAST LANSING, Mich. (AP) — Mark Dantonio is understandably disappointed that Michigan State, picked No. 13 before the season, is 5-6 and fighting for its postseason life Saturday at Minnesota.
His team went through similar setbacks in 2009, when a 6-7 step backward helped fuel back-to-back 11-win seasons, the first in school history. Even then, Michigan State didn’t lose five conference games by just 13 points.
“I’m disappointed, but I’m not frustrated,” Dantonio said. “I’d be frustrated if we weren’t coming to play. I’d be frustrated if we were having off-the-field issues. I’d be frustrated if all of our guys were flunking out. That’s not the case. We have good people here. We have people doing the right things.”
He pointed to the highest scores on the NCAA’s academic benchmarks in the program’s history but noted that success or failure in the public’s eye still comes down to a pass-fail grade on the scoreboard that everyone sees.
“Our APR is as high as it has ever been, up around 972, so we’re doing a lot of good things here,” Dantonio said. “We’ve just got to win. I’m not naive to that. Coming close is great. But the bottom line is you do have to win. We understand that.”
After watching Michigan State fail to go to a bowl in 1998, then serving as an assistant on a 10-2 team the following year, Dantonio knows the lessons adversity can teach. But he thinks there has been enough of that instruction and believes it is time to make the plays required to win this week and meet a revised but still-important goal.
“Without question, for me it’s keeping the bowl streak alive and going to six straight,” Dantonio said when asked what a win over the Gophers would mean. “In a tough year when you’ve lost a lot of games close, to respond and get over the hump is big. The bowl preparation is good. But do you get significantly better? If I had to place thing one above the other, I’d say a program win. It’s vital for the program.”
Dantonio did promise some tweaks in his system, beginning with preparation for postseason play, assuming his team beats the Golden Gophers in a matchup of 2-5 Big Ten teams. He also mentioned changes to become more diverse on offense, starting with his quarterbacks being live for at least limited contact in spring ball.
That additional contact is fine with quarterback Andrew Maxwell, who was injured last spring with almost compete protection from hits. But before next spring or a bowl opportunity, there is a final challenge that has to be met.
“I think if the wheels were going to come off, that would’ve happened a long time ago,” Maxwell said. “We’re not going to hang-dog it in practice. We realize how special this is. We’re in a playoff right now. It’s win or go home. And we’re going to find the inches we need this week in everything we do.”
The Spartans are 3-5 in games decided by four points or less after going 8-1 in one-score games the previous two seasons. They have played better on the road this year with a 3-1 mark compared to a 2-5 fizzle at home.
Notes: Free safety Kurtis Drummond is a go this week after leaving the Northwestern game with a stinger, not a concussion as was originally thought. Injury-plagued defensive tackle Tyler Hoover, a starting defensive end for the 2010 Big Ten co-champions, has decided to petition the NCAA for a sixth season.
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