East Lansing — In the wake of Saturday’s one-point loss to No. 2 Ohio State in the final home game of the season, the reality of missing out on a bowl game is setting in for Michigan State.
It will be the first time in 10 seasons under Mark Dantonio the Spartans will be done playing after the 12th game, no more practices until the spring.
That reality is a harsh one, and even though there has been signs of progress, Dantonio made it clear that simply feeling good about playing better over the last few weeks won’t be enough heading into the off-season.
“I’m not looking for hope,” Dantonio said in his weekly teleconference on Sunday. “We’re gonna get this done with hard work and there will be a plan and that plan will start to be executed as of next week. So we’re gonna make sure we move in the right direction here, so that’s what we’ll do. We’ve always taken that type of approach after a season and we’ll take a more direct approach this off-season.
There have been several signs over the past few weeks the Spartans already are responding, including pushing the Buckeyes to the limit while getting going a running game that struggled early. The Spartans have run for more than 200 yards in four of the last five games and have seen young players improve on both sides on the line of scrimmage.
Redshirt freshman Cole Chewins has started two games at tackle, while redshirt freshman Tyler Hibgy was playing well at left guard before injury his ankle two weeks ago.
And on defense, the youth is growing up quickly as freshman tackle Mike Panasiuk had a half-sack on Saturday and freshman end Auston Robertson had a forced fumble.
“There’s progress, our guys are playing better,” Dantonio said. “We’ve got a lot of young players playing and we’ve also got guys in and out of the lineup with injuries and things of that nature. … I do think one thing about young players is the learning curve is bigger. They’ll improve faster over a course of time. So you see guys like Mike Panasiuk playing much better football than he did as a freshman right out of the gate. Auston Robertson has a big play, caused fumble in the football game. It’s great and exciting for us to see that. I think Raequan Williams is playing better. I think Cole Chewins is playing, he got his second start and played pretty well against a good defensive football team.
“There are positives out there. There are a lot of positives and we’re a very young football team in a lot of respects.
“But it doesn’t help ease the pain when you lose and you lose close.”
It’s that losing that Dantonio is talking about changing with hard work and not hope. It’s something the Spartans have done plenty of in the past, but this season, they’ve been unable to finish games.
Michigan State has led in every game it has played this season but finds itself at 3-8 overall and 1-7 in the Big Ten heading into the finale Saturday afternoon at Penn State.
This week’s loss to Ohio State was no different as missed opportunities and a handful of crucial penalties kept the Spartans from the win.
The failure to convert a two-point conversion in the fourth quarter against Ohio State was just one example of not executing down the stretch and it was followed by a sack and interception in the last minute.
“I think we’ve had chances throughout every football game we’ve played this year,” Dantonio said. “We’ve been ahead, and then something’s happened. That’s the game. We gotta be able to make plays at the end of a football game, this ones no different.”
The Spartans will get one more chance to finish this season against the Nittany Lions, a team that is playing for the East Division title and potentially a spot in the Big Ten championship game.
Michigan State can throw a kink into that plan, but it’s not the sole reason for motivation heading into the final week.
After the frustration of the season, the Spartans are looking for momentum.
“You’ve got things to play for relative to being a spoiler in some ways,” Dantonio said. “But I think the more direct approach is how are we going to play and what element to do have to play for? To me, you always play for the future.
“I know we’re not going to a bowl game or anything of that nature here but you play for the future. You play because you’re a football player and you play because you’re a competitor. That’s what you do as a coach, too. So, we’ll get ready.
“We’ll be ready to play.”
MSU at Penn State
Kickoff: 3:30 Saturday, Beaver Stadium, State College, Pa.
Records: Michigan State 3-8 (1-7), Penn State 9-2 (7-1)
Line: Penn State by 13.5