Mark Dantonio said he and his football team should use last week’s bye to take some time away from the game of football, to step back and refocus on the task at hand.
And the sixth-year head coach did — to an extent.
“I think I watched football from (noon) till 11 p.m. (on Saturday),” he said. “But in between there, I did some different things — went out and cleaned up the yard, did some things like that, cleaned up the garage. But I always centered back to that game … (Our family) certainly watched the Northwestern?Michigan game because that’s who we’re playing next.”
The Spartans (5-5 overall, 2-4 Big Ten) had an extended time to dwell on their heartbreaking loss to No. 16 Nebraska before moving on to Northwestern (7-3, 3-3) this week for their final home game of the season.
A win against Northwestern clinches bowl eligibility for MSU, continuing a postseason streak that stretches back to Dantonio’s first season at MSU in 2007. Junior quarterback Andrew Maxwell said continuing that streak was very important for the Spartans, as MSU only has two chances remaining to get that elusive sixth win.
“Especially for the seniors,” he said.
“You don’t want to end your senior year where you’ve been to four bowl games and your fifth year you don’t go to one.”
Dantonio said although the Spartans took the time to get healthy, they also were fortunate to use the extra week to prepare for the Wildcats and their unique dual-quarterback system on offense.
Northwestern quarterbacks Kain Colter and Trevor Siemian both see playing time at the position in games, with Colter having the ability to tuck the ball and run, while Siemian is a more prolific passer with the touch and accuracy that could cause problems for the Spartan secondary.
“They’ve gone a couple of different directions throughout the season,” Dantonio said of which quarterback he expects to see the most of on Saturday. “So it depends on what kind of game plan they have in mind when they come here to play Michigan State. But I think both guys have been successful, and they’ve sort of leaned on Colter here, as of late.”
“Your guess is as good as mine,” he added.
The Wildcats are coming off a 38-31 overtime loss against No. 23 Michigan, a game in which Northwestern held the lead late in the fourth quarter only to give up a tying field goal and eventually lose in overtime.
In each of Northwestern’s three losses this year, the Wildcats entered the fourth quarter with the lead, only to watch it slip away — a feeling the Spartans are somewhat familiar with, as four of MSU’s five losses have come by four points or fewer. Three of those four losses — against Nebraska, Michigan and Iowa — were the result of MSU giving up the lead in the final minute of regulation.
“I think we have that in common,” Maxwell said.
“If that’s any indication of how we’re feeling in our locker room, they’re probably feeling the same way. Just kind of having that ‘so close’ feeling. And if they’re working like we’re working, they’re going to be working hard.”