East Lansing — The lights were in place Friday afternoon at Spartan Stadium, and that usually means a big game is on tap for Michigan State.
While the opponent — Jacksonville State — might not have been what most fans expect for a big game, Michigan State coach Mark Dantonio still declared it a “statement game.”
The reasons are many, including the fact Michigan State is trying to build off last season’s record-setting performance.
But regardless of who is lining up on the other side, night games are always a big deal at Michigan State, and Friday’s was just the 15th in the history of Spartan Stadium.
Coach Mark Dantonio knows it’s a significant shift in the team’s approach on game days, but he also sees the excitement from his players.
“When game time comes at night, they’re excited,” Dantonio said. “Because there is a certain mix that goes into playing night games, takes you back to high school a little bit. It’ll be a wait but it’ll be exciting when we get to it. We’ve been very successful in night games at Spartan Stadium.”
The Spartans have had plenty of success in prime time, going 9-5 at home, including four victories over ranked opponents. They have also won three straight season openers, a trend that began with the first game of the 2011 season against Youngstown State, followed by a win over Boise State in 2012 and a victory over Western Michigan last season.
Much of the success can be credited to Dantonio and his staff.
“We played a lot of night games at Cincinnati,” Dantonio said. “So from an organizational standpoint, we have a method — the coaching staff — we have a method in terms of how we get ready for those games. But it is difficult to sit and wait all day, because there’s nothing to do but watch games and get nervous. But I think when you get to the game, I think they’re excited.”
There’s no doubt the players are ready by the time kickoff arrives, but as fun as it is for them to play under the lights, they don’t exactly love how long it takes for game time to arrive.
“I’m not a big fan of night games,” quarterback Connor Cook said. “I hate waiting. If I want to play, I want to play now. I want to wake up, eat breakfast and just get going, hit the field. Nothing is more frustrating than waiting around the hotel for like six or seven hours waiting to play.”
The Spartans will have to get used to killing time on Saturdays this season. There are three more prime time games on the schedule, including home games against Nebraska (Oct. 4) and Ohio State (Nov. 8) and a trip to Maryland on Nov. 15
Next week’s game at Oregon airs in Eastern Daylight Time at 6:30 p.m., but the 3:30 local start is more in line with what Michigan State is accustomed to playing.
Even so, as Michigan State continues to play among the elite in college football, more prime time games will likely be on the docket.
And for senior safety Kurtis Drummond, that means keeping his emotions in check until just the right time.
“It’s definitely harder,” he said. “You kind of start to get anxious, your excitement starts to build, and that’s when you’ve got to stay relaxed and not let all your enthusiasm get you worked up. You’ve really got to peak and build at the right time.”