East Lansing — Michigan State suffered its first Big Ten loss on Saturday at Northwestern, but that doesn’t mean the season is over for the Spartans.
Sure, not many before the season expected Michigan State would be near the top of the East Division standings with just four games remaining, but after the 39-31, triple-overtime loss to the Wildcats, that’s exactly where the Spartans are.
With the final push in the regular season now here, Michigan State (6-2, 4-1 Big Ten) sit a game behind first-place Ohio State along with Penn State, which lost to the Buckeyes on Saturday. With the next two games against the Nittany Lions and the Buckeyes it’s clear there’s still plenty for the Spartans to play for.
And yes, that means a division championship.
At least, that’s how the Spartans are looking at it.
“We’re still in control of our own destiny,” coach Mark Dantonio said during his weekly teleconference on Sunday night. “I think that’s important to recognize for our football team, that November is when you win championships regardless of whether we won this football game or not (Saturday). I thought we were gonna have to play through November and we are in charge of our own destiny, so I think that’s the first thing that’s got to be mentioned and our goals remain in front of us.”
For a team that always includes winning the East Division and the Big Ten after that as a primary goal, the idea that goal still remains is absolutely true.
Beat Penn State and Ohio State and No. 24 Michigan State would be in prime position to do just that with games against Maryland and Rutgers to close the season.
However, that’s still a ways off, not to mention the Spartans will be heavy underdogs against both Penn State and Ohio State.
And while Michigan State excels in the month of November — it’s 10-1 in the month during its last three championship seasons — it’s not about to start looking past a team as talented as Penn State, which had Ohio State down early and by a lot most of the game before the Buckeyes ralied.
“We’ve always tried to make a big deal about November itself,” Dantonio said. “That’s when you really have to play your best football down the stretch. That’s a large plan. But above that, obviously, you can’t look past your games. We’re playing Penn State this weekend. So, you need to focus on the moment. We’ve always focused on the moment.
“I just think it’s important after a disappointing loss like this that we say to ourselves, ‘Hey, our goals are still in front of us. Just do what you’re supposed to do, concentrate on the present and what we can do.’ At the beginning of the year, if we got to November and said we still had a chance to win a championship, and we were 4-1 in the conference, I think we’d take that.
“And that’s where we’re at.”
The Spartans will have to pick things up quickly from Saturday’s loss at Northwestern to take advantage of the position they find themselves in.
The defense didn’t get it done in overtime while the offense continues to struggle running the ball. But the missed opportunities were the biggest problem as quarterback Brian Lewerke missed several deep shots and a fumble from Cody White inside the Northwestern 10 were critical.
“As I’ve always said it’s a game of inches and you can take a number of those opportunities and sort of lay them out there and you’re probably winning the football game,” Dantonio said. “So it is what it is.”
Overall, Dantonio still was happy with his team’s effort and admitted he thought a brief second about going for two after Felton Davis’ touchdown catch with 25 seconds to play in the game.
What he was sure on, however, was the fact travel issues did not factor into the outcome.
Michigan State was forced to bus to Evanston, Ill., after issues with their team plane in Lansing.
“It did change our plans a little bit, but never once did anybody say that we lost this football game because of a bus ride,” Dantonio said. “That’s not in our mentality. I think we were ready to play. I think we had good energy at game time.”
PENN STATE AT MICHIGAN STATE
Kickoff: Noon Saturday, Spartan Stadium, East Lansing
Records: Penn State 7-1, 4-1 Big Ten; Michigan State 6-2, 4-1
Line: Penn State by 11