'We will regroup': Michigan State's players-only meeting puts focus on Big Ten opener
East Lansing — On Tuesday morning, Mark Dantonio promised his team would rebound from last week’s loss at home to Arizona State on Saturday.
It’s what anyone would expect to hear from the head coach. But just as expected from a team with a core of veteran leadership, the Spartans themselves were already well on their way to putting the frustrating defeat in the rearview mirror.
Included in that process was a players-only meeting on Monday morning.
Nothing volatile. Nothing earth-shattering.
Instead, it was a simple check to make sure everyone was on the same page heading into Saturday’s Big Ten opener at Northwestern.
“Just got to make sure everyone’s head’s on straight,” senior linebacker Joe Bachie said. “We had a meeting 6:30 Monday morning, just you know, our normal Monday morning meetings, watching the film and then we called a team meeting after Coach D did. We just wanted to see everyone. That was the main thing, wanted to get in there, see everyone, make sure everyone is OK, you know, the sun came up another day and we’re 0-0 in the Big Ten Conference and it starts this week.”
The sun came up all right, but that hasn’t exactly softened the blow of the loss to Arizona State, not when it comes with some epic collapses on both sides of the ball in the final minute of the game.
Questionable calls from the officials aside, the fact remains the defense allowed the Sun Devils to convert a fourth-and-13 and allow the winning touchdown with less than a minute to play.
That, of course, was followed by the bizarre game management decisions made by Dantonio in the final seconds and was capped by the Spartans having too many men on the field on what would have been the tying field goal.
The end result was a familiar one — Michigan State’s defense played well enough to win but the offense couldn’t put points on the board. It’s been the same story for quite some time now, but the Spartans insist they remain connected.
“I believe we have positive vibe in the locker room,” Dantonio said. “I think we have good chemistry. I've said that over and over throughout and when you have a situation like this, and we could be 3-0 right now but we're not.
“At the end of the day, you've got to regroup. You can't stand there and say — you can't have the ‘poor me's.’ You can't sit there and say, ‘All is lost, oh, my goodness, what just happened?’ You have to rally back. I think it's very important that you rally back in terms of what you're trying to do.”
Quarterback Brian Lewerke agreed there was no division in the locker room.
“I don't think there's a worry about that at all,” Lewerke said. “You know, obviously frustration could set in, but I don't think it's going to come to that point.”
Per usual, most of Michigan State’s frustrations lie on the offensive side of the ball.
However, the defense isn’t letting itself off the hook. After practice on Tuesday, Bachie was joined by senior defensive tackles Mike Panasiuk and Raequan Williams — Lewerke was the only offensive player made available to the media — to make it clear how the Spartans intend to approach this week.
“We look at it and it is what it is,” Panasiuk said. “You got to put it in the past and the one thing that we got to keep doing is just keep bringing the juice, connecting together and just keep bonding and that's what we've been doing.”
The other key for the Spartans (2-1) is understanding that no matter how frustrating, they’re trying to focus solely on Northwestern and the start of Big Ten play and that rehashing the final minutes from last week over and over might not be the best move.
“Yeah, it sucks but you know you can't really change the outcome, but you can definitely move on and just forget about it,” Lewerke said. “Like Coach D has been harping, it's not conference play so it won’t affect the Big Ten and I think that's just a positive for us.”
Michigan State has responded from bad nonconference losses in the past.
In 2017, after a 20-point loss at home to Notre Dame, the Spartans won the next four and finished the season with 10 wins. A road loss to Oregon in 2014 didn’t stop Michigan State from winning nine of its final 10 games and the loss at Notre Dame in 2013 was the only blemish on a season that ended with a Big Ten title and a Rose Bowl win.
It was that season that turned around in the conference opener and the Spartans are hoping that happens again this season with a trip to Evanston.
“The main thing that you'd better be able to do, you'd better be able to regroup when things go wrong with your program or inside, or you personally,” Dantonio said. “You'd better be able to regroup. If you can't regroup, then that's a problem.
“We will regroup. I can promise you that. We will coach with energy; I can promise you that. I can promise you that we will address the issues and we're going to continue to get better, and I think that there are a lot of good things that are happening.”
Michigan State at Northwestern
Kickoff: Noon Saturday, Ryan Field, Evanston, Ill.
Records: Michigan State 2-1, Northwestern 1-1
Line: Michigan State by 9.5