Mark Dantonio talks about turning things around at Michigan State after a 3-9 season
State College, Pa. — Michigan State coach Mark Dantonio made it clear on Saturday night that the 2017 season begins on Monday morning for the Spartans.
That’s when the returning players will assemble for a 7 a.m. meeting.
What Dantonio also made clear in the wake of a 45-12 loss at Penn State to close the 2016 season was that he did not intend to make any changes on his coaching staff.
“No, we’ll look at what we do as a staff,” Dantonio said. “But I’m not even considering letting any of our staff go, if that’s the question.”
There has been pressure on almost every part of the staff this season, something that isn’t a stretch when a team goes from the College Football Playoff to a three-win season that included only one victory over the final 10 games of the year.
But that’s where the Spartans stand now, heading into and offseason that is full of uncertainty after not reaching a bowl game for the first time in the 10 years under Dantonio.
The last time Dantonio made a staff change was when defensive coordinator Pat Narduzzi left after the 2014 season to become head coach at Pittsburgh. Mike Tressel and Harlon Barnett were promoted to co-defensive coordinators while Mark Snyder was hired to coach linebackers and special teams.
Before that, the last change on the offensive side of the ball came after the 2012 season when offensive coordinator Dan Roushar left to become running backs coach for the New Orleans Saints. Dave Warner was promoted to co-offensive coordinator and Jim Bollman was hired as co-offensive coordinator. Bollman also took over the tight ends as Mark Staten took over the entire offensive line.
Four of Dantonio’s current assistants have been with him all 10 years, including Warner, Barnett, Tressel and Staten. Quarterback coach Brad Salem has been on the staff seven years, wide receivers coach Terrence Samuel has been at MSU six years and defensive line coach Ron Burton just completed his fourth year.
Dantonio has had three coaches leave to become head coaches, including Narduzzi, Don Treadwell (Miami of Ohio, 2011-13) and Dan Enos (Central Michigan, 2010-14).
Lions get payback
Last season, Michigan State beat Penn State, 55-16, at home in the final game of the regular season. The Spartans capped off the win with center Jack Allen running for a touchdown.
On Saturday, Penn State returned the favor, throwing deep well into the fourth quarter and leaving its starters in until the final drive.
“You know what they say about paybacks,” Dantonio said. “It was 55-16 last year. I guess they felt it. We got to make the play to stop them. So we sent blitz on that last (touchdown) and they got loose. But whatever.”
Penn State coach James Franklin mentioned last year’s game early in the week but said it wasn’t a motivating factor.
“We were focused on what we saw on film this year,” Franklin said. “We were focused on finding a way to be successful against Michigan State, a great program, Coach Dantonio, a great coach.
“We haven’t beaten Michigan State since 2009, so if we go back and chase all those ghosts, we wouldn’t have been spending time getting ready to play them this year.”
Michigan State junior defensive tackle Malik McDowell missed his third straight game with an injured left ankle and could very well have played his last game for the Spartans.
McDowell is rated as one of the top defensive linemen in next spring’s NFL draft, and while there has been nothing specific, odds are he’s leaving early as a potential high first-round pick.
Safety Demetrious Cox also did not play and did not make the trip for what Dantonio called a violation of team rules. It was the final game for Cox, a fifth-year senior captain and a native of Jeannette, Pa.
Also not in uniform for Michigan State were cornerback Tyson Smith, linebacker Ed Davis, defensive back Jalen Watts-Jackson and running back Madre London.
Michigan State running back LJ Scott needed 65 yards to reach 1,000 rushing yards for the season but ended up 6 yards short after carrying 16 times for 59 yards.
Scott left the game in the second quarter with an apparent leg injury and returned in the third quarter wearing a brace on his right leg.
… Sixth-year lineman Brandon Clemons, a native of Milford, Pa., was hurt in the first half and did not return.