John Niyo and Matt Charboneau discuss Michigan State's win over Michigan. Matt Charboneau, The Detroit News
East Lansing — As late Saturday night turned into early Sunday morning, Michigan State coach Mark Dantonio sat alone on the bus heading back from Ann Arbor alone with his thoughts.
Just a couple of hours earlier, Michigan State had upset No. 7 Michigan, a win Dantonio said was as big as any other in the series, saying how much joy he took simply watching his team celebrate on the field and in the locker room.
He told his players that bus ride back would be the best they’d had considering so many players on the roster had just experienced their first win in the rivalry.
“Just the ride itself,” Dantonio said on his weekly teleconference Sunday night. “Nothing important on the ride, it’s just sitting, sort of with yourself and collecting yourself after you win a big football game like that. That’s the nature of it.”
It’s also the nature of Big Ten football these days, which means more night games and quick turnarounds. Dantonio said he was back home around 2 a.m. and that he had a brief few moments Sunday morning to bask in his eighth win over Michigan in 11 meetings.
But then it was back to work with preparation for Minnesota beginning for the coaching staff.
“I think we have to have a certain amount of maturity to handle the success that we’ve had here recently, Dantonio said. “So, we’re gonna find out more out about our football team in all areas. And like I said before this game, we were going to win the game and have to handle success. We have seven more games to go, or we were gonna have to regroup, and we have seven more games to go.”
That’s a bit different than after most Michigan games. Yes, there’s always been games left on the schedule, but more often the rivalry had been played later in the season.
Now Michigan State must learn how it responds to such a big win early in the season that comes not only with confidence inside the locker room, but expectations from outside.
The Spartans (4-1, 2-0 Big Ten) find themselves ranked for the first time this season — they’re No. 21 in the Associated Press poll and No. 22 in the coaches’ poll — and now can think about contending in the Big Ten East, something that seemed far off just a week ago.
But even with that young roster, Dantonio believes everything that’s happened around the program — from the 3-9 record last season to all of the off-field issues — has helped this group mature quickly and put it in position to handle what is to come.
“Just because you’re young does not mean you’re not mature,” Dantonio said. “We’ve gone through some things this past season that have given us pause and caused, I think, a great amount of growth for us, actually. You see how things played out last season when we went through some of the different things. All these things, I think, helped to give us some resolve, and hopefully makes us a mature person on the football field and away from the football field.
“I think that you have to have a certain amount of discipline and maturity within your program in order to handle success, and that’s what we now must do. We must handle the success that we’ve been given.”
Dantonio was quick to point out, however, that the victory doesn’t mean the Spartans are playing perfect football. As good as they were defensively — four sacks and five forced turnovers —they had a hard time running the ball in the second half, the penalties kept mounting and the special teams came close to making some big mistakes.
He gave return men Laress Nelson and Andre Welch a bit of a pass considering the freshmen were playing in extreme conditions.
“It is difficult for anybody out there,” Dantonio said. “Laress has done a good job back there. We want to continue to help him grow in that area, but the circumstances were tough. He’s not playing all the time on offense, he’s in and out a little bit, but not all the time. ... Same with Andre Welch. On the back end, he bobbled the one when he did catch it at the goal line.”
Dantonio also isn’t happy with the penalties, though he wasn’t buying every one of them, especially the holding call on Chase Gianacakos on the final drive that gave Michigan critical seconds.
“He graded out pretty well on that play, but a lot of things happen on the field,” Dantonio said. “I can only do my job to the best of my abilities.”
Dantonio also said they would be sending several plays into the Big Ten office for review as it appeared on at least one play that quarterback Brian Lewerke was hit with helmet-to-helmet contact.
MSU at MINNESOTA
When: 8 p.m. Saturday
Where: TCF Bank Stadium, Minneapolis
TV / radio: BTN / WJR 760
Records: Michigan State 4-1, Minnesota 3-2
Line: MSU by 4
Michigan State has won eight of the last 10 games against Michigan.
2008 MSU 35-21
2009 MSU 26-20 (OT)
2010 MSU 34-17
2011 MSU 28-14
2012 UM 12-10
2013 MSU 29-6
2014 MSU 35-11
2015 MSU 27-23
2016 UM 32-23
2017 MSU 14-10