'We'll be ready': Win over Penn State sends MSU soaring into rivalry week

Matt Charboneau
The Detroit News

As Michigan State headed home from Penn State on Saturday night, there was a feeling of contentment for coach Mark Dantonio.

La'Darius Jefferson celebrates with Brian Lewerke after a Michigan State touchdown in the first half.

The Spartans had just upset then-No. 8 Penn State in a game nearly no one gave them a chance to win, especially coming off  the home loss to Northwestern the week before. The offense was struggling, the injuries were piling up and it seemed confidence was waning.

But, instead of the season starting to snowball out of control, the Spartans headed back home on a high after scoring in the final minute to upset the Nittany Lions for the second straight season, 21-17 this time as Dantonio knocked off a top-10 opponent for the 10th time.

The optimism, in one afternoon, was back.

“I was excited to be with our football team, excited to see they had success yesterday and be part of that,” Dantonio said of the trip home. “It wasn’t over the top or anything like that. I just feel we earned the win and felt content that everything was right in the world. It’s probably the way every coach feels. When you lose and you don’t play well and you’re troubled. That’s probably an understatement.”

When the Spartans arrived back in town, they headed to campus and joined the basketball team and coach Tom Izzo outside near the Breslin Center and Spartan Stadium as part of the Izzone campout. The revelry was in full gear.

And with what’s coming up next — a meeting with Michigan — No. 24 Michigan State is convinced Saturday’s win was just the start of what’s to come.

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“I think no question this will give us a boost as far as moving forward in division,” Dantonio said. “We’re a 4-2 football team right now, which is a lot better than a 3-3 team. We’ll build on those things as we go but I think October is sort of, again, where you develop your identity. It’s halfway through October so we’ll come out knowing a little bit where you’re at after the next couple of games. Then you challenge yourself, you know, what are you gonna do in November.”

If November includes a push for a championship, these couple of weeks will play a big part. The win over Penn State was important not only to get Michigan State back on track, but to keep the Spartans in the mix in the Big Ten East. The Spartans have one conference loss, but getting a win over another top division foe could be big for tiebreakers.

With Ohio State and Michigan still to come, it puts the Spartans in a position to capture the division.

Of course, the Michigan matchup is next as the No. 6 Wolverines — who manhandled Wisconsin on Saturday — visit Spartan Stadium for a noon kickoff Saturday.

“We’ve got a big opponent coming in next week,” defensive tackle Raequan Williams said, “and I know everybody will be ready for that game, without a doubt.”

Michigan State’s readiness to take on its rival rarely depends on its win-loss record but having the game mean so much in the Big Ten race ramps things up that much more. So does the fact the Spartans have dominated the series, winning eight of the last 10.

“We’re coming off a tough away game win and that should rally Spartan Nation, so it should be a live atmosphere,” Dantonio said. “Any time you win good things usually follow throughout the week. It’s a lot easier coming in here, even as coaches, than it was last week and that’s what you look forward to.”

As is typical these days, Michigan State’s players spent Saturday night enjoying the Penn State win.

“I’ll worry about them tomorrow,” linebacker Joe Bachie said. “We’ll enjoy this win. It’s a big win but when Sunday comes it’s on to the next guys.”

The next guys haven’t lost since falling in the opener at Notre Dame. Since then, Michigan has built confidence on some overmatched opponents before taking it to a talented Wisconsin team.

That, along with the nature of the rivalry, has Dantonio confident his players will bring an effort like they did at Penn State.

“I don’t ever worry about peaking too high,” Dantonio said. “We know we have work ahead of us. Our players will be ready to play and I’m sure theirs will, as well. It’s a great rivalry week, a great rivalry game and we’re looking forward to the challenge.”

How healthy the Spartans are when the take on that challenge remains to be seen. Dantonio said eight regulars were left home from the Penn State trip, including running back LJ Scott and wide receivers Cody White, Darrell Stewart Jr. and Jalen Nailor as well as starting guards David Beedle and Kevin Jarvis.

Dantonio said on Sunday night that there are no discipline problems on the team and that he simply wanted healthy players available on the sidelines. How many of those players might be back against Michigan is something Dantonio doesn’t know.

“We’ll find out more about that as the week goes,” he said. “We’ll see who we get back this week and go from there.”

They’ll go from there feeling much better than they did a week ago with plenty to play for over the final half of the season.


Twitter @mattcharboneau