Youthful Spartans keep learning while winning

Matt Charboneau
The Detroit News

Michigan State took care of a lot of firsts with its trip to Minnesota over the weekend.

Getting the win was the priority, and No. 18 Michigan State did just that by jumping on Minnesota early and then sustaining a late rally to get the 30-27 victory and remain unbeaten in Big Ten play.

But with a young roster full of freshmen, redshirt freshmen and sophomores getting their first extensive action this season, it was the entire experience that was new, and Michigan State coach Mark Dantonio is hoping it pays dividends down the road.

From the first trip out of state to the long wait in a hotel for a night game that came complete with a weather delay, there was plenty for the Spartans to take in, both on the field and off.

“I thought we got the response that we wanted from our football team,” Dantonio said during his weekly teleconference on Sunday. “I thought we came to play. I thought we were energized. I thought we had a very workmanlike approach, really, to the game itself and were in control of the game until really the midpoint of the fourth quarter. Then, again, we had to handle adversity again.

“The game got very interesting but we closed out, won the football game and we’re 5-1. … We look forward to this weekend playing at home, in the afternoon, so that will be nice for everybody.”

That will be nice to avoid the late nights as Michigan State (5-1, 3-0 Big Ten) has played in prime time three of the last four games. This Saturday’s homecoming matchup at Spartan Stadium against Indiana kicks off at 3:30 p.m. and Michigan State expects to take some of the lessons learned from Minnesota into the game against the Hoosiers.

Those lessons center around the fact a young team is not only going through firsts off the field, but it’s making mistakes on the field, as well.

There were several against Minnesota, including Connor Heyward returning a punt at the 5-yard line and Dominique Long later interfering with the Gophers return man on punt coverage.

“These are two true freshmen that occurred to, and in both cases it hurt us a little bit,” Dantonio said. “There were some other, older players that made some mistakes. I thought we got a little lax there at the end and we didn't play as well as we had early, and their quarterback change sort of changed the structure of the game and we needed to go to more of a capture mode rather than just trying to take off and sack him at all costs. I felt like he got out a bit and extended players and that led to a couple of scores in the fourth quarter, that made it very close.”

Michigan State: Five things we learned vs. Minnesota

That lax effort in the fourth quarter nearly allowed Minnesota backup quarterback Demry Croft to rally the Gophers to a victory.

But the key for Michigan State is taking those mistakes and learning from them, something that’s happening at an accelerated rate for so many players on the roster.

“It's painful at times, but I guess we all learn with some of the mistakes that we make, or we learn with things that happen to us,” Dantonio said. “It's not so much the mistakes, just things that happen. It's older players, younger players. I feel like our football team is developing a personality as we do this, as we move through. We're going to play hard, we're going to make some mistakes, but we're going to play hard and we're going to come ready to play. Those are the biggest two things that I could ask for of our football team.

“I think so, but hey we're 5-1, so we're doing something right, and we're playing hard.”

Roster maneuvers

Junior right guard David Beedle missed his third straight game with an undisclosed injury, and while Dantonio wouldn’t give details, he again said Beedle’s injury would not keep him out the entire season.

It has led to true freshman Kevin Jarvis starting three straight games, and Dantonio has been happy with Jarvis’ progress.

“When you look at him he’s extremely talented and he’s not out of sorts in terms of his athletic ability with size or his strength,” Dantonio said. “He’s gaining valuable experience there and he’ll remain a fixture in that offensive line for many years and through the remainder of this year.”

… Michigan State has played 13 true freshmen this season but Dantonio said Sunday he doesn’t anticipate taking the redshirt off any other freshmen.


Kickoff: 3:30 Saturday, Spartan Stadium, East Lansing

TV/radio: ABC/760

Records: Indiana 3-3, 0-3 Big Ten; Michigan State 5-1, 3-0

Line: Michigan State by 7