East Lansing — Mark Dantonio expertly has played the Rodney Dangerfield card since the first day he stepped on campus at Michigan State. He has been accused, at times, of contriving grievances to keep sharp the ever present chip on his team’s shoulder.
“Accused?” he said with mock incredulity.
This time, though, he may have every right to play the card. The Spartans, at least in terms of reaping the Big 10’s weekly honors, have not gotten any respect.
Despite being ranked 10th in the nation in the Associated Press poll and 8th in the coaches’ poll, despite having the third-stingiest defense in the conference (8th nationally), despite the second most productive scoring offense in the conference (6th in the country), despite the conference’s most productive receiver and third most productive running back — the Spartans have not garnered a single player of the week honor.
Dantonio was asked Tuesday if it would be an overstatement to call that blatant disregard or disrespect.
“No, probably not,” he said. “There are some things we can control and some things I can’t control. Obviously they have a committee or a format for that.”
Dantonio, though, as he has on a weekly basis, continues to pound the table for his players. He mentioned receiver Tony Lippett has some 200 more yards receiving than the next-best Big Ten receiver, and he leads the conference in touchdown catches.
He talked about running back Jeremey Langford, who is fifth in the conference and has rushed for at least 100 yards against 14 straight Big Ten opponents, something that hasn’t been done in 18 years.
He talked about quarterback Connor Cook, who leads the conference in a couple of categories.
“All I can do is vote for them or bring them forward as I just have done,” he said. “Other people have to make those decisions. That’s not my call.”
He admitted, though, it was disappointing.
“Sometimes I think to the winner goes the spoils,” he said. “We’re a little bit of the forgotten ones right now. We have a very good football team. We have a chance to win 10 games, and we need to take comfort in that and take comfort in the fact that we’re going places and the program is strong and healthy and move from there.”
Deep down, he probably doesn’t mind if the conference continues to ignore his players, at least for another week. He’ll accept all the motivational fuel he can throw at his players.
Case in point: As he was discussing Langford’s attributes, he keyed on his will to succeed.
“He’s a little bit driven,” Dantonio said. “He’s hungry. So when you ask why he hasn’t been named (player of the week), that’s good. Muhammed Ali used to say, ‘I’ll show you how great I am.’ I will let him know.”
Dantonio never is afraid to tinker with players and positions, as evidenced by Lippett’s transformation from cornerback to receiver to two-way threat.
In the past couple weeks, Dantonio has given highly-touted redshirt freshman running back Gerald Holmes some reps at linebacker. He’s also given some running back reps to freshman linebacker T.J. Harrell.
“Really we did that because I don’t want anybody to ever get complacent on our football team,” Dantonio said. “So is that a change for the future? Probably not.”
But it is a way for young players to get onto the field and to keep them feeling like they are a part of the program.
“Gerald Holmes is a great football player,” he said. “A 10.5-foot long jumper, a big vertical jump guy, 225 pounds, and he’s got to start playing football for us on special teams. That decision was made by me to create change.
“I put T.J. over there to get him happy a little bit. I think he was excited about that opportunity, as well.”
Vayante Copeland, a cornerback, is another freshman who has been moved around, however temporarily.
“You’ve got to find your knack here, your position,” Dantonio said. “You have to be open to position changes. Your No. 1 goal is to become a football player. Your No. 2 goal is to become a position player. So that’s what we’ve done.
“I think at the end of the day, we want guys that can run, catch, do it all on both sides of the ball. That makes us stronger as we go.”
Dantonio would not give an update on starting guard Travis Jackson, who suffered a leg injury early last week. “He’ll make the trip, and that’s all I can say,” he said.
Michigan State at Penn State
Kickoff: 3:30 p.m. Saturday, Beaver Stadium, University Park, Pa.
Records: No. 10 Michigan State 9-2 (6-1 Big Ten), Penn State 6-5 (2-5)
Line: Michigan State by 13
Series: Penn State leads 14-13-1 (Michigan State 28-22, Nov. 27, 2010)
Did you know? Michigan State is 22-9 (.710) in Big Ten road games under Mark Dantonio.