MSU's Mark Dantonio looks past 'juvenile' pregame incident, ahead to Purdue
East Lansing — A day after losing at home to Michigan, Michigan State coach Mark Dantonio didn’t feel any better about what happened during the game or any differently about what happened before it.
The result almost became secondary as Michigan controlled the game for the most part, beating Michigan State, 21-7, for the second straight time at Spartan Stadium and finishing the day alone in first place in the Big Ten East.
It was what happened before the game and the war of words after that became center stage as Michigan coach Jim Harbaugh called Michigan State’s actions “bush league” and called out Dantonio in the process. Dantonio quickly responded, calling Harbaugh’s comments “B.S.”
During his weekly teleconference Sunday night, Dantonio was ready to move on.
“As far as everything prior to the game, I’m really not gonna bother commenting on it,” Dantonio said. “I’ve never commented on a coach in the past. I’m not gonna comment on one now and the whole thing to me was sort of juvenile and things are gonna happen in rivalry games. I stand by what I said yesterday.”
It all began well before the game when Michigan State (4-3, 2-2 Big Ten) took its regular walk down the length of the field at Spartan Stadium, something it has done at all home games under Dantonio and something that never has created problems. While doing so, several Michigan players were at midfield and an altercation followed.
Michigan players said Michigan State was late to arrive and no one asked them to move while those on the Michigan State side say they were asked to move. It resulted in Michigan’s Devin Bush tearing up the Spartan logo at midfield.
Dantonio was just behind the players walking when the incident happened and didn’t appear to react to the players yelling at each other. After the game, Harbaugh said Dantonio was walking behind, “smiling the whole time,” to which Dantonio responded with the “B.S.” comment.
Deciding not to address it any further on Sunday, Dantonio turned his attention to his team, which will get set to host Purdue at noon on Saturday as the Boilermakers are coming off an upset win over Ohio State.
There was plenty of focus on quarterback Brian Lewerke, who was just 5-for-25 passing against Michigan and was playing with a bad right shoulder. It was bad enough that it kept him from throwing during the week, but it had improved enough that the decision was made he could play on Saturday.
“This is a situation that gets better over the course of time,” Dantonio said. “Even now, as the week progressed he felt better. That’s why we made the decision — he made the decision that he would play. I think it’s better today than it was yesterday, but we’ll make the decision (to play or not) as we go.”
Redshirt freshman Rocky Lombardi took over for Lewerke on the final series of the game and completed on pass as Michigan penalties allowed the Spartans to move into Wolverines territory. Dantonio said Lombardi got plenty of reps during the week and there was discussion about putting him in the game against Michigan earlier.
But Dantonio made the choice to stick with the junior who has been the starter since last season.
“I wanted to stay with Lewerke for one more series,” Dantonio said. “There’s a lot of things (that go into it). Production, down and distance, separation of wide receivers on the defensive backs. Then, certainly, concepts. You have to look at that as well.
“You can’t put (the offensive struggles) on one person. People want to put it on one person. It’s not just on one person, it’s on our entire unit, and the coaches.”
Dantonio said he wasn’t worried the offensive struggles would shake Lewerke.
“I’ve always believed in him,” Dantonio said. “I’ve always felt he has a great demeanor. He’s a confident guy on the field and off the field and he can roll with things. … I have faith in our other quarterbacks, too, but I’ll always give a guy a chance that’s put himself in a situation where he’s proven himself and he’s done that for us, so that’s the reason we stayed with him.”
The depleted Spartans offense took more hits on Saturday as wide receiver Felton Davis III was lost for the season to a ruptured Achilles and center Matt Allen was also hurt. Dantonio said Davis would likely have surgery this week and then begin rehab as he preps for next spring’s NFL Draft.
As for Allen, Dantonio said his status was “sort of an unknown” and wouldn’t speculate on his status. He did say wide receiver Cody White would be back “sooner than later” but didn’t offer specifics. White hasn’t played since breaking his hand against Central Michigan.
With Laress Nelson and C.J. Hayes also hurt, cornerback Justin Layne played some at receiver, something Dantonio said would continue.
“We’ve got to be able to play through the pain, I guess,” Dantonio said.