East Lansing — Last season, it took a road win in the final week of the season for Michigan State to become bowl eligible.
The Spartans won’t have near the stress over reaching the postseason this year after Saturday’s 14-0 victory over Purdue. It moves Michigan State to 6-1 overall and makes it bowl eligible for the seventh straight season.
“We built that foundation, but it’s still a big deal,” coach Mark Dantonio said. “As I said, we waited until the last game of the season last year. Like it or not, that was real. We had to play at Minnesota to do it. Like it or not, that was real. We do it on the front end this time, that’s more exciting to do it that way. So, we’ll continue to climb and that’s our message to our football team.”
While the goals are much higher than simply playing in a bowl game — the talk is about reaching the Rose Bowl — it’s still not lost on the players.
Before Dantonio arrived in 2007, the Spartans had played in just one bowl game in five seasons. But they’ve played in one every season under Dantonio and have won the last two — beating Georgia in the Outback Bowl after the 2011 season and knocking off TCU in the Buffalo Wild Wings Bowl last year.
“It was a big focus,” defensive end Shilique Calhoun said. “Last year, our sixth win was against Minnesota — went down to the last game in 12-degree weather.
“We didn’t want that to happen this year. We want to be able to win early, win big, keep moving forward, because as you keep winning the bowls get better and better. When we got to the locker room, it’s been a main focus all year, so when we got to the locker room, he (Dantonio) definitely initiated that and let us know like, ‘Hey, listen, we’re playing for a bowl game today, don’t let this slip through your hands and play every play like it’s your last.’ ”
Last week, Michigan State was flagged for 10 penalties, prompting Dantonio to describe the performance as “disgusting.” And entering Saturday’s game, the Spartans were the most penalized team in the Big Ten, getting flagged 45 times for an average of 78.8 yards.
Against the Boilermakers, the Spartans had a huge turnaround, committing just two penalties for 14 yards. The two penalties matched their lowest total this season and the 14 yards were the fewest they have been penalized.
“We talked about them a lot,” Dantonio said. “We had two penalties, so it proves that we can do it. There is hope. That was another aspect that I think was very positive in the game.”