Michigan State head coach Mark Dantonio talks about moving on to Minnesota after defeating rival Michigan, as well as David Dowell's improvement. Matt Charboneau, The Detroit News
East Lansing — There are plenty of smiles around the Michigan State football program these days.
That will happen when you’ve just beaten your rival for the eighth time in 10 games, and it’s especially gratifying when that rival happens to have been the No. 7-ranked team in the country.
On top of that, the victory last weekend over Michigan has catapulted the Spartans into the national rankings for the first time this season at No. 21 and has them suddenly thinking about what this season might become. One that started with hopes of getting back into a bowl game and showing progress after last year’s struggles is now one that includes much more optimism.
With a young roster, however, coach Mark Dantonio is focusing on getting his team to realize things won’t suddenly come easy. A trip to Minnesota is next and while the Golden Gophers have lost two straight, there are no givens in the Big Ten.
“The message to our football team right now is, ‘What are you going to do now? How are you going to respond?’ Dantonio said. “Whether it was after a loss or after a win, how are we going to handle anything that comes our way now?
“We're going to be judged by our next thing. The next thing on our agenda is Minnesota. … They play extremely hard. They've been in every football game and had opportunities to win. It will be another challenge for us as we got up there.”
The emotional high created from the win over Michigan was lingering on Tuesday, but the Spartans have been in this situation plenty during Dantonio’s tenure.
In the first 10 seasons, Michigan State is 8-2 in the week following the Michigan game, one of those losses coming last season at Illinois in the midst of a seven-game skid. The other loss was to Ohio State in 2014, the only Big Ten game Michigan State lost that season.
“I've always believed what you do when you're at an emotional high, what are you going to do next, should be defined for our players,” Dantonio said. “It's a good measuring stick, but you need to be prepared for that. It is about what are you going to do next. If you don't play your best, you play unemotional, then you're not handling success right.”
Dantonio admitted that might have been some of the reason his team went just 3-9 last season – it didn’t handle the success it had in previous seasons.
So that, along with the Michigan win, will have Dantonio and his staff making sure the Spartans are dialed in this week.
“Right now, there's a lot of messages,” Dantonio said. “There's a lot of things we can point to and say, ‘Hey, don't let your guard down, keep pushing, keep climbing, keep scratching, keep displaying grit.’ That's all I can ever ask for. Play hard, usually things take care of themselves. If you don't, then play hard and I'm OK with it.”
A third leg
Michigan State traveled with three kickers to Michigan last week — redshirt freshman Matt Coghlin, who handles the field goals and fifth-year senior Brett Scanlon for the kickoffs were expected.
The name that was a bit of a surprise was Tyler Hunt, a freshman walk-on from Gobles.
“He's affectionately known as ‘new guy’ on the team,” Dantonio said. “First of all, he's a very good athlete. He's got a strong leg. Seen him kick 52- and 58-yard field goals.”
Hunt showed up at walk-on tryouts early last month and quickly had the coaches taking notice.
“He played a little bit of every position I think at his high school,” Dantonio said. “He looks like something. I think he could be a guy. Now, can he be a guy this year? We'll see. I'd like to continue to kick Scanlon. He's a senior, got experience. He covers. He's tough. He can tackle, which is an added dimension, I think.
“It remains to be seen, but I think he has a future here, I really do.”
Michigan State went with a pair of freshmen in the return game last week, but this week’s depth chart indicates there could be a switch.
Junior Darrell Stewart is listed as the starter for both kickoff and punt returns after both Andre Welch on kicks and Laress Nelson on punts had some problems in the Michigan game.
“It will probably play out a little bit during the week, I would say,” Dantonio said.
… Former offensive and defensive lineman Devyn Salmon is no longer with the team. Dantonio didn’t give an explanation but said the fifth-year senior “left the team probably three or four weeks ago.”
Salmon played in the opener against Bowling Green, his only action this season.