MSU's Dantonio: 'Chips on table bigger' in November
East Lansing — It’s a bye week, and for Michigan State, the next few days will be a much-needed respite from the daily grind of the regular season.
It won’t be so much a rebirth for the No. 6 team in the country that is unbeaten halfway through the Big Ten season, but the chance to recharge the batteries for the stretch drive is something coach Mark Dantonio is looking forward to seeing in his players.
“I’m sure next week when we come back and we start practicing, there’s going to be a new conviction, even newer conviction,” Dantonio said on Monday. “There is conviction here, but there’s going to be a buzz because we’ve been off and we’re looking forward. We don’t have to look behind right now because there’s nothing back there that we have to regret, so we can just look forward, and I think that’s positive.”
With the injuries the Spartans (8-0, 4-0 Big Ten) have suffered this season, Dantonio decided last Tuesday he was going to have his players take it easy this week before cutting them loose for a couple of days. After going through weightlifting and non-contact work this week, the Spartans will get most of the weekend off before coming back Sunday evening.
Then it’s on to the most important month of the season. A trip to Nebraska is first on Nov. 7, followed by a home game with Maryland. Then it’s the showdown in Columbus with Ohio State on Nov. 21 before the season finale at home with Penn State.
“I sort of feel like there’s a good buzz in our team,” Dantonio said. “There’s a good mixture of older players and young players, so there’s the newness of players who haven’t played before that are starting to play a little bit, and they bring a little bit of a different excitement. There’s the older players now really going into their last month of football, and our seniors saying, ‘OK, I’ve got four more games to play, and the chips on the table have gotten quite large now. What am I going to be able to do to finish the job?’ So there’s an excitement to that.”
That excitement should come with the return of at least a couple of key players.
Fifth-year senior center Jack Allen (ankle) should be back after missing the last two games, as should redshirt freshman running back Madre London (leg). The status of junior cornerback Darian Hicks (concussion) is still unclear, but after missing the last two games, the week off should get him closer to getting back on the field.
“We’ve been going since August, so we’ve had no bye, no down time, and I just think that after eight games, we’ve done what we needed to do,” Dantonio said. “It’s not perfect, but we are 8-0 right now, so we’ve done what we need to do. We need to heal up. We need to sort of get fresh. We need to look forward.”
Time for recruiting
While the players will be dialing it back a bit this week, Dantonio’s staff will be spending most of its time on the recruiting trail.
It’s how they typically spend the bye week, and with an 8-0 mark and a spot in the College Football Playoff still a possibility, it makes the job of recruiting that much easier.
“It is a testament to the culture of our program and to the program right now where we’re at and what’s been being done, and I think we can sell that,” Dantonio said. “That’s one of our main goals that we want to be able to attain when they’re here, when a player is here, and we want to win at a high level, and I think we’re doing that right now.”
Narduzzi gambles, too
Before Michigan State took the field last Saturday against Indiana, former MSU defensive coordinator Pat Narduzzi was about to make a call his former boss would be proud of.
The Pittsburgh head coach made a bold choice as his team was tied with Syracuse in the final minutes, deciding to call a fake punt. The Panthers went on to win on a last-second field goal and are unbeaten in the Atlantic Coast Conference Coastal.
No word if the play had a unique name like Dantonio has come up with over the years. And Dantonio wasn’t aware a fake punt was used. He said he’d be calling Narduzzi to talk about it.
“I knew they were winning close and they won close again this week,” Dantonio said. “When you start winning close, that’s a sign of a good football team and you build confidence like that.”
Dantonio said sophomore linebacker Drake Martinez “should be able to go very soon.” Martinez was expected to play a significant role this season, but a leg injury has kept him from playing.
… Dantonio added there has been no change to the status of suspended defensive end Montez Sweat.