Dantonio stresses importance of first Big Ten game
MSU football head coach Mark Dantonio discusses the similarities and importance of the upcoming game against Iowa.
“A game of inches.”
It’s popular sports cliché, and for good reason — MSU head coach Mark Dantonio is never shy to break out the ruler when determining the margin in a close victory or a narrow defeat. And when it comes to playing Iowa, the margins for Dantonio are about as close as they come.
Four of Dantonio’s six games against the Hawkeyes have been decided by an average of less than four points, with the exceptions coming in a lopsided 37-6 loss in 2010 and a 37-21 redemption win the following season.
So, following a 17-13 loss to Notre Dame in South Bend, Ind., and the ensuing bye week, Dantonio said a trip to Kinnick Stadium to meet Iowa (4-1 overall, 1-0 Big Ten) could prove to be a tall order for the Spartans (3-1, 0-0).
“It’s very important because it’s the first (Big Ten) game, and it sort of sets the tone for you,” he said. “Especially when you’re going away, you’re playing in a tough environment. You come home, play in the next couple of games home.
“(It) sort of begins to set the table for you as a Big Ten contender and in the Legends Division.”
Dantonio said the Big Ten opener also will be a challenge for sophomore quarterback Connor Cook.
Cook now has started three of MSU’s four games and leads the Spartan offensive attack with 411 passing yards and five touchdowns while completing 53.1 percent of his passes.
Against the first opponent in MSU’s weight class this season, Notre Dame, Cook threw for 135 yards and one touchdown on 16-for-32 passing. However, the decision to pull Cook on the final drive against the Fighting Irish in favor of senior quarterback Andrew Maxwell was met with criticism from fans and the media.
Yet, Cook remains the team’s starter and will attempt to jumpstart a team that remains the only FBS squad in the country without an offensive play of 40 yards or more.
“It gives us an opportunity to go play on the road again, prove ourselves again on the road,” Dantonio said. “Another opportunity, I think, for Connor Cook to grow as a quarterback and our football team to grow.”
It’s been a tough week for college football head coaches.
Southern California head coach Lane Kiffin was dismissed from the program Saturday after a 62-41 loss to Arizona State, ending his four-year tenure losing seven of the last 10 games. On Monday, Connecticut severed ties with head coach Paul Pasqualoni following a 41-12 loss to Buffalo to cap an 0-4 start to the season.
Asked Tuesday to address what the recent firings mean in the current state of the collegiate coaching profession, Dantonio said it’s a climate entirely tied to results.
“It says ‘just win, baby,’ first of all,” Dantonio said. “But it’s a fickle society. We all know that. Patience is a virtue. I really, I just keep doing my job. I think that’s all we can do is work your job the best you can.
“The things you’re out of control on, sometimes you can’t worry about, even if it costs you your job.”
Dantonio’s two previous predecessors, John L. Smith and Bobby Williams, were fired from MSU, with the latter coming as an in-season change.
“You do your very best, and I think (Kiffin and Pasqualoni) did their very best, and try to remember the good things, the good times,” he said. “It’s difficult.”