Spartans answer adversity call
East Lansing — Last week, Mark Dantonio talked about the leadership of his football team being important to whether Michigan State could bounce back.
Would the leaders of the Spartans allow the devastating loss to Ohio State torpedo the season or would they bounce back and finish strong.
Dantonio got the answer he was looking for in a 37-15 victory Saturday over Maryland.
"If we handle adversity, it's going to really define all of us," Dantonio said Sunday on his weekly teleconference. "That's one of the foundations for this program. … But I think it's defined in terms of how we get back off the mat or however you want to say it — respond to the adverse situations. That's how it's truly defined. I think we've done a good job with that.
"It starts because of the chemistry of our football team, chemistry among our coaches, and the leadership on the team, but most importantly ground level, which is our senior leadership."
The victory was far from perfect as the offense struggled at times, but the defense looked much more like the unit that has dominated the Big Ten the past few seasons. The Spartans allowed only 6 rushing yards, caused four turnovers and held the Terrapins to 2-for-13 on third down.
It's that quest for putting to together a full game that will push No. 10 Michigan State over the final two weeks of the regular season, beginning this week at home against Rutgers and culminating next week at Penn State.
The ability to put it all together has eluded the Spartans for the most part this season, even in some wins, the Nebraska victory most notably.
"I think when you look at us right now, we've had glimpses of a lot of great things," Dantonio said. "But to sit there and say we played a complete football game yet, I don't know that we have; where offensively we were extremely productive, defensively extremely productive, and special teams extremely productive.
"Now, I don't know how many times that exists anywhere really. There is always going to be mistakes and you have to overcome those mistakes. If you look down who we played and what we've done, there is a reason we've won. We have a good football team."
If they continue to get close to that complete game, all will not be lost in the season. A spot in the Big Ten Championship game might be lost, but a spot in one of the College Football Playoff bowl games not involved in the semifinals would be a pretty good consolation.
And with two wins to close the regular season, the Spartans would be playing in a bowl game with a chance to win at least 11 games for the fourth time in five seasons.
"We're always chasing excellence," Dantonio said. "Wish we would've come in at the most perfect time, but we played well. We've done some things extremely effectively, and we have a good football team. … But at the same time, we have not matched perfection yet, and I think we chase that."
A couple of injury concerns came up after Saturday's victory, most notably to starting left guard Travis Jackson. He left the game in the second half when Dantonio said Jackson "felt like he was disoriented."
He added the officials brought it to his attention and the Michigan State medical staff decided he would sit for the rest of the game.
Jackson, a fifth-year senior who is set to play in his final home game this week, has started all 10 games this season. Freshman Brian Allen stepped in for him last week and Dantonio said Jackson would be evaluated throughout the week.
Dantonio wasn't nearly as concerned about wide receiver Tony Lippett. The fifth-year senior went down for a minute at one point in the first half but returned to the game.
"He stayed down momentarily because of a minor injury, I guess you would say," Dantonio said.
Dantonio said Sunday he was also impressed with another solid outing from freshman defensive tackle Malik McDowell, who played nearly two-thirds of the defensive snaps against Maryland.
"To play that much as a true freshman in this defense shows he's making tremendous strides," Dantonio said. "He can really be a dominate football player. What he has to do is get consistency in terms of being at the right place, operating within the scheme of the defense, be in the right gap, those type of things.
"But he's about 307 pounds now, and certainly is a force when he's in the right place and he decides to play with the exact, correct technique, he can be a force. He'll be an outstanding player for us."