Michigan State sees Big Ten opener as chance for relaunch
East Lansing — Most of Michigan State’s coaching staff was out recruiting last week, but that doesn’t mean there wasn’t practice during the Spartans’ bye week.
It just had a different look than usual.
That’s because aside from head coach Mark Dantonio and a handful of graduate assistants, it was the players who were running their own practice. And coming off a disappointing loss at Arizona State in week two, it sounds like it was exactly what the Spartans needed.
Or, at least, they believe it was.
“It’s very, very good that we did that,” senior wide receiver Felton Davis said. “It shows great leadership throughout our whole team. With the coaches being out (recruiting) it was just some GAs and Coach D and we needed that as a team. It’s probably something people don’t usually do, but I feel like that’s something good that we did because it allowed us to take another step forward in leadership roles at each position group.”
And with Big Ten play set to open this week as No. 24 Michigan State hits the road again Saturday to take on unbeaten Indiana, it gave each position group a chance for a reset just two games into the season.
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“We got on each other and you saw the intensity pick up a little bit,” junior linebacker Joe Bachie said. “It picked up these past couple days as well, so I think we’re going in the right direction.”
The righting of the ship is necessary if Michigan State (1-1) expects to start conference play on the right foot and begin with a win in the East Division and the week off was a chance for some recuperation and somewhat of a fresh start.
It’s something Michigan State has become accustomed after taking the bye in the third week last season and getting the second week off in 2016. And while each season is different, the Spartans believe their week off came at the perfect time.
“It’s kind of nice having it early after not having the season start the way we wanted it to,” junior quarterback Brian Lewerke said. “We can recuperate and kind of treat it as the beginning of a new season and come with more focus.”
The extra time to stew on a loss has left the Spartans eager to get back on the field. That’s especially true considering they believe they didn’t play anywhere near their best in the 16-13 loss to the Sun Devils.
Whether it was turnovers or costly penalties, the devil was in the details. Sophomore center Matt Allen called them “brain farts” while Davis called them “minor things.”
“You can’t shoot yourself in the foot,” wide receivers coach Terrence Samuel said. “We’re playing very good teams. We can make plays but if the focus is off we’re not that good to sit up there and overcome a lot of self-inflicted wounds, so we’ve got to continue to make sure we don’t put ourself in that situation.”
Michigan State has some experience overcoming early setbacks. They did it last year after losing to Notre Dame in Week 3 before going on to win 10 games and finishing second in the Big Ten East.
Having the same sort of response will be vital this week, something Dantonio has emphasized throughout his tenure whether it’s been coming off a loss or even an emotional victory.
“I think we've always tried to challenge ourselves,” Dantonio said. “I've said this before, ‘What are you going to do after big moments; what are you going to do after you win a big game? How are you going to respond the next week? Do you go flat or how do you play?’ Same thing when we've lost a game; when we've lost a moment. ‘How do you handle yourselves; what's the next step for you as a person?’
“Nobody likes to lose and when you lose, you want to get back on the other end — the other side of things. I think our players have had an opportunity to sit on this and dwell on this a little bit.”
What they’ve realized is there’s a long way to go in the 2018 season, and while playing again right away might have helped get rid of the taste of defeat quicker, it has allowed the Spartans to refocus.
“I think after that loss we were probably ready to get back on that field again,” Samuel said. “If you could have given us a fifth quarter, we would have told Arizona State to line back up.
“I think our guys are starting to understand that just look at the way we fought last year. You had the chip on your shoulder, there were things that happened and you were just ready to get back on the field. I think this group is starting to understand that same mentality again. I’m ready to see us play.”