It’s been a tough season for Mark Dantonio and the MSU football team, but the Spartans’ head coach refuses to get frustrated.
The Spartans (5-6 overall, 2-5 Big Ten) have fallen short of lofty preseason expectations and now need a victory over Minnesota (6-5, 2-5) on Saturday (3:30 p.m., Big Ten Network) to extend the program’s streak of reaching a bowl game in each of Dantonio’s previous five seasons as head coach.
And although Dantonio works to avoid frustration, that doesn’t mean irritability doesn’t occasionally set in.
“I get disappointed,” Dantonio said. “My wife wants to know if I’m OK. I say, ‘Hey, I’m OK, I’m just irritated,’ but I’m not over the hill.
“I would be frustrated if we weren’t coming to play. I would be frustrated if we were having off-the-field issues. I would be frustrated if all of our guys were flunking out. That’s not the case. We have good people here. We have people doing the right things. We have people getting an education. … So we’re doing a lot of good things here.”
With dreams of returning to the Big Ten championship game no longer a reality, the MSU football head coach spent his weekly press conference addressing the importance of living in reality and fighting to extend the program’s streak of reaching a bowl game in each of his previous five seasons.
“It’s a program game for us — no question about that,” Dantonio said.
“It’s keeping the bowl streak alive. Going to six-straight bowls in a tough year where you’ve lost some tough games very close, to be able to continue to respond, get over the hump a little bit … it’s vital for the program. Vital is a strong word, too, but significant to the program that we become bowl-eligible.”
The challenge will be daunting for MSU when they travel to Minneapolis, where the Golden Gophers have won four of the past five games against the Spartans, with MSU recording only one victory since 1998.
Despite a number of heartbreaking losses this season, including two in the game’s final six seconds and another in overtime, junior quarterback Andrew Maxwell said he’s confident the team still is focused and determined to win.
“I think if the wheels were going to come off, they were going to come off a long time ago,” Maxwell said.
“I think it shows the character and resiliency of this team. Close loss, close win, whatever the outcome, we’re not going to dog it at practice the next week, get too caught up in it. We’re going to approach every week like it’s a new week; we’re going to work and come to play every Saturday. I think we’ve shown that every week.”
In an effort to solve the team’s issues with small mistakes and clinch bowl eligibility, Maxwell said players are beginning to pay greater attention to the little things in their day-to-day lives to make sure steps aren’t being skipped.
With the season down to its final regular-season game, Maxwell said nothing can be overlooked.
“We’re in a playoff right now. It’s win or go home,” Maxwell said.
“I think now is the week we need to find the inches, find the details, truly pay attention to them. I think everybody is buying in.
“We talked on Sunday (and) made a promise to each other. We said this week we are going to find the details over every single thing we do, whether that be going to a tutor, showing up to a lift on time, cleaning up your plate at the training table. If you start finding those inches, and we find them all throughout the week, then I think we’re going to like the results.”