East Lansing — There was a clear theme in the wake of Michigan State's dismantling of Michigan on Saturday — respect.
The Spartans have felt, since Mark Dantonio arrived in 2007 and well before that, that they have never received respect from their rival down the road. It's been the motivation for their recent domination and was once again in the 35-11 victory at Spartan Stadium.
Dantonio and his players were quick to point it out again after the game, pointing to Michigan's players planting a spike in the field just before kickoff.
"They ran out and stuck the dagger on our grass and disrespected us right out of the gate," quarterback Connor Cook said. "We weren't having that."
The final touchdown — a 5-yard run by Jeremy Langford with 28 seconds to play — was the answer.
The issue of the spike was a popular topic afterward and on Sunday, Michigan coach Brady Hoke issued a statement, apologizing for the actions of his team before the game. Dantonio, as he did after the game, reiterated he had no issue with Hoke, personally.
"I want to publicly apologize to Coach (Mark) Dantonio as well as the players and supporters of Michigan State for our act of poor sportsmanship displayed pre-game yesterday," Hoke said in a statement released by the Michigan athletic department. "I spoke with Mark earlier today and expressed to him that we meant no disrespect to his team."
"Coach Hoke did call me," Dantonio said in his weekly teleconference on Sunday. "But I think that conversation is probably private. I will say Brady and I have a very good relationship and I have a lot of respect for him.
"It's my feeling as a person — not as coach, as a person — that I don't really care to cause pain for anybody. That's not why I'm here. So I'm good to go. We'll focus on the future."
In the rivalry, the question of respect seems to be resolved, but dominating Michigan — which used to mean nearly everything to Michigan State — isn't the ultimate goal anymore. A spot in a BCS game was the first step last season, and now a shot at reaching the College Football Playoff is next.
So while respect has long been attained within the state of Michigan, respect on a national scale is a different matter.
The playoff selection committee will release its first set of rankings Tuesday and it will be interesting to see where the Spartans stand. There's not a lot of agreement between the Associated Press and coaches' polls.
Michigan State is No. 8 in the AP and No. 5 in the coaches poll. While the coaches believe the Spartans rate better than Oregon, Notre Dame and Mississippi, the writers disagree.
But Dantonio believes Michigan State's ranking shows they have gained some respect throughout the country.
"I think we've been in the top 10 almost every week, with the exception of maybe a couple," he said. "When you're in the top 10 in the country I think that's a positive thing. All we have to do is continue to take the next step and things will work out in our direction. It's important we take things one at a time. That's what we're trying to do here is live in the present."
The Spartans will get this week off before the final stretch of their season, beginning with their showdown against Ohio State on Nov. 8.
November has been kind to Michigan State, as it has compiled an 18-5 record (.783) in that month under Dantonio. His teams have won 12 of the last 14 games in November (3-0 in 2010; 4-0 in 2011; 1-2 in 2012; and 4-0 in 2013), including five straight
"I think November is very critical to every football team," Dantonio said. "It defines you. You can't have a great September and October and don't play well in November. We've played very well in the month of November in the past and will need to continue to do that if we are going to reach our goals."
Dantonio addressed some non-Michigan-related topics in his teleconference, as well.
He said he still believes in sophomore kicker Michael Geiger, who has missed a field goal in four straight games. He is now 7-for-12 on the season.
"I have a great amount of faith in Mike Geiger," Dantonio said, adding the wind on Saturday was "abrupt" and that his kicker remains confident.
Dantonio was also happy with the crowd, a few weeks after he was critical of the empty seats against Nebraska.
"Our crowd was outstanding," he said. "The fans came to make a difference and they made a difference. My ears were ringing until 1 (a.m.)."
The Spartans will go through limited practices this week with a focus on healing some minor injuries as the coaches hit the recruiting trail and get extra prep for the Ohio State game.
"There's four weeks to go starting with Ohio State next week," he said. "So we've got four difficult games and we need to be at our best."