December 30, 2012 at 1:00 am

Matt Charboneau

Resilient Spartans make Mark Dantonio's 'coachspeak' sound like gospel truth

Tempe, Ariz. — Often times it simply gets brushed off as a coach simply looking to stay positive.

"Coachspeak," as it's called, is heard around a team that isn't quite getting the job done.

For most of the 2012 season, Michigan State was one of those teams. And each week, coach Mark Dantonio would meet the media and tell us how his team was a play here or a play there from winning the close games. He went over and over how his team remained committed and there was no division, despite the fact that an outstanding defense was watching a toothless offense come up short time and time again.

"It's a game of inches," he would say on virtually a weekly basis.

For 12 weeks, it was all looked at as "coachspeak."

There was no quit in this team, Dantonio assured all Spartan fans. And that seemed fine, but it didn't exactly result in anything but more frustration.

The bottom line was Michigan State was a team that did not know how to win on any sort of consistent basis.

But on Saturday night in the Buffalo Wild Wings Bowl, everything Dantonio had talked about all season finally started to look like more than a coach simply trying to explain away a season gone wrong.

His team's offense was awful in the first half, forcing many fans in Michigan to flip the TV to off and dream of a team that could get past the 50-yard line. It looked like a script played out far too many times this season.

In the second half, however, the defense stiffened and the offense responded. Led by one of the nation's best running backs and a redshirt freshman quarterback, the resilient Spartans battled back. First they cut the TCU lead to six, then they took advantage of some else's mistake — a novel concept from this team — and went ahead midway through the fourth quarter after the Horned Frogs fumbled a punt, leading to Le'Veon Bell's 4-yard touchdown run.

TCU later kicked a record-long field goal, taking a 16-14 lead with less than three minutes to play.

Composed to the end

Instead of folding and lamenting another close loss, this time the Spartans punched back. Connor Cook moved the Spartans into position and Dan Conroy, the beleaguered kicker, nailed the winner from 47 yards out.

"The thing that was impressive to me was we stayed composed all the way through to the end," Dantonio said. "We won against Wisconsin very close. We won against Boise very close. So our guys have won. It's just that sometimes when you lose, it sort of gets magnified for all of us."

And it certainly got magnified this season, especially in the five Big Ten games the Spartans lost by a total of 13 points.

Saturday looked like it would be one more of those games, but for the first time this season — 13 games in — Michigan State finally grabbed hold of its own destiny.

"We've been in a lot of similar situations this year," linebacker Max Bullough said. "If you watched any of our games, that's clear to see. We're a team that we can lose to Iowa in the fourth quarter and bounce back the next week and play the whole four quarters, not be kicked when we're down. That's a testament to the guys we've got here, the leadership inside the locker room, all the way on up.

"There's no doubt in my mind, even with how many losses we've had this year, we're going to come out on top. That's the kind of confidence we have in each other and the kind of confidence I have in my teammates."

Foundation builder?

That confidence has been hard to see this season. Even after the overtime win over Wisconsin, the Spartans followed with two straight home losses. The question now is whether this team can build off this victory.

"It makes all the difference in the world," quarterback Andrew Maxwell said. "All the momentum going into the offseason, just the whole tone of how the next couple of weeks and the next couple of months are gonna go. When we walk out with a win, it makes the whole trip worth it."

Dantonio has said often this week he believes — despite his team's record — that a solid foundation has been built at Michigan State, and Saturday's win is further evidence of that.

The task now is to show this game was not another Wisconsin. Proving the resiliency shown at Sun Devil Stadium was no aberration will be imperative.

If everything we've been told this season is truth, no "coachspeak" will be needed when this team takes the field in the fall of 2013.

mcharboneau@detnews.com

twitter.com/mattcharboneau

Coach Mark Dantonio holds the Buffalo Wild Wings Bowl trophy on Saturday night in Tempe, Ariz. / Dale G. Young / Detroit News
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