By: Will Burchfield
For all the emphasis Mark Dantonio places on rivalry games, he’s just as sure to stress those that follow.
It’s one of the many trends he keeps track of as Michigan State’s head coach.
“We’ve actually tracked how we play after our big games. We track that, ever since 2007. I’ve always believed what you do after you’re at an emotional high, what you’re going to do next, should be defined for our players. We talked about that yesterday,” Dantonio said at his weekly press conference on Tuesday.
Nothing charges the Spartans’ emotions like their annual clash with Michigan. For Dantonio, it’s the perfect benchmark.
“After the Michigan game, we’re 8-2. Whether we’ve won it or lost it, we’re 8-2. I think that’s a good measuring stick, but you need to be prepared for that because it is about what you’re going to do next. If you don’t play your best, if you play unemotional, then you’re not handling success right,” Dantonio said.
The Spartans will get a chance to improve upon that record in the wake of last weekend’s exhilarating 14-10 win over Michigan. It was a victory fueled by passion, and Dantonio wants to ensure his young team doesn’t experience an emotional letdown this weekend versus Minnesota.
“I think, right now, there’s a lot of messages,” he said.
And the chief among them is this: “‘Hey, don’t let your guard down. Keep pushing, keep climbing, keep scratching and keep displaying grit.’ That’s all I can ever ask for. Play hard, and usually things take care of themselves,” said Dantonio.
A number of Michigan State players, quarterback Brian Lewerke among them, called the win over Michigan one of the best of their lives. They were geared up and ready to go, and they delivered.
The challenge will be channeling that same energy against a less noteworthy opponent.
“Part of our problem I think last year was handling the success we had the previous years. We just didn’t handle success as well,” Dantonio said. “We expected it to happen, and when it didn’t happen we didn’t handle it very well. I’m talking about from a confidence standpoint.”
To get his players charged up to face Minnesota, a team that’s lost its last two games, Dantonio is focusing on everything the Gophers have done well. Ignore their 3-2 record, he says. Pretend they’re 5-0.
“I think Coach Fleck is doing an outstanding job up there. They play extremely hard. They’ve been in every football game and had opportunities to win. They’re a 3-2 football team right now with opportunities to be, really, 5-0. It will be another challenge for us as we got up there,” Dantonio said.