Mark Dantonio pleased with play, sees room to improve

Matt Charboneau
The Detroit News
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East Lansing — It didn’t take long on Saturday to figure out that Michigan State came to play in its matchup with Eastern Michigan.

By the time the first quarter ended, the Spartans were ahead by 28 points and the outcome was no longer in doubt. The quick start was a pleasant sight to see for coach Mark Dantonio, who preached all week to his team that it be game-ready despite being 45-point favorites.

“I don’t want to say I was surprised,” Dantonio said in his weekly teleconference Sunday. “But the way we came out, collectively as a team (was impressive). We knew we were heavy favorites in the game and wanted to make sure, as coaches, that we played up and did not play down to that point margin that was predicted. We wanted to be game-ready.

“That’s a simple statement but it affects how you go into a game mentally, physically and emotionally. I thought we did that. I thought our players on the sidelines were very emotional and very enthusiastic. Those are good things.”

The result was a 73-14 victory that was good for the third-most points in Michigan State history and helped move the Spartans to the No. 9 ranking in the latest Associated Press poll released Sunday.

Dantonio credited much of his team’s approach after its loss to Oregon two weeks ago to not only leadership, but the chemistry of his team, including the coaching staff.

“I just sit and wait and see who shows up,” Dantonio said. “Kurtis Drummond has done a nice job (leading). I’ve seen Shilique Calhoun doing those things and Connor Cook is doing those types of things. As an offensive lineman, Travis Jackson. Tony Lippett is another guy. Every position group has one guy that leads the group, sort of a bell cow as we call them.”

And entering Saturday’s game, those leaders were sure to keep the Spartans from suffering a letdown.

“I really believe people don’t want to let each other down,” Dantonio said. “We’re striving for perfection. That has to happen with a lot of enthusiasm and energy. It can’t just happen with ability. It has to happen with energy and we got that yesterday right out of the gate.”

As dominating as the win over Eastern Michigan was, it was not perfect, the coach said.

Dantonio intended to get a lot of people in the game and was able to do that, specifically at linebacker, a position that has been under some pressure early this season. Riley Bullough started in place of Ed Davis on Saturday while red-shirt freshman Jon Reschke got plenty of work, as did true freshman Chris Frey.

Overall, Dantonio was pleased with the play of the linebackers.

“We had a pretty good performance by all those guys,” Dantonio said. “You look at them collectively and they were in the right place a lot of times, but they had a couple of (blown plays) because nothing is perfect. … Overall the linebacker play was (graded as) low-winning, or when you look at it you could say high-winning because they didn’t run much at all.

“But we’re trying to chase perfection and chase excellence. So we’re sort of nitpicking at times in terms of gap control and exact responsibilities.”

In that group of players who got to see plenty of playing time were the six true freshmen who have been getting consistent playing time all season. Dantonio singled out defensive tackle Malik McDowell as one who has stood out and become a regular in the defensive line rotation.

“He’s a guy that you know is going to play every game, you know he’s going to make some plays,” Dantonio said. “He’s been stout in there and he’s got a knack for getting off the ball and running, and he controls his gap.

“He rolls in there right now, he’s a guy that’s going to play every game that’s going to roll in there. Is he a starter right now? No. But does he roll in there on the third series or is he in there on the second series or if a series gets long? I think you have to include him as one of those one-and-a-halfs right now.”

Wyoming visits Spartan Stadium this week for the final non-conference game before No. 21 Nebraska comes to town the following week to begin Big Ten play.

And the win over Eastern Michigan could be just an indication of what direction the Spartans are headed.

“Coming into the football game I felt a sense of focus and that is what we got right from the start,” Dantonio said. “There was no letdown throughout the game. Did we play perfect? No. Do we have things to fix? Absolutely. But for the most part, we played well.”

Wyoming at Michigan State

Kickoff: Noon, Saturday, Spartan Stadium, East Lansing

TV/radio: ESPN2/WJR

Line: Michigan State by 33½

Records: Wyoming 3-1; No. 9 Michigan State 2-1

Series: Michigan State leads 1-0 (Last: 1976 — (at) Michigan State 21, Wyoming 10)

Did you know? Wyoming and Michigan State share a common foe — both have lost to No. 2 Oregon this season. Wyoming lost to Oregon on Sept. 13, 48-14.

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