Strong finish over Indiana sets MSU football on right track with U-M approaching
Bloomington, Ind . — For the first two quarters, the home crowd was alive and No. 8 MSU (6-1 overall, 3-0 Big Ten) was in serious trouble on Saturday against Indiana (3-4 overall, 0-3 Big Ten).
MSU then scored 42 unanswered points.
It was a dominant showing for the Spartans, as they survived a second quarter deficit to beat Indiana 56-17 Saturday in Bloomington, Ind.
Junior quarterback Connor Cook survived an early interception and turned in one of his better statistical games this season, going 24-32 with 332 yards, one touchdown and one interception.
Cook found senior wide receiver Tony Lippett for some highlight-reel catches, including a play in the third quarter when Cook scrambled right, went back to his left and threw an incredible pass over the head and into the outstretched arms of Lippett.
Senior running back Nick Hill had his best day of the season, carrying the ball 16 times for 178 yards and one touchdown.
For head coach Mark Dantonio and most of his staff, Saturday’s win was extra special.
Dantonio was given the game ball after finishing his 100th game in seven and a half seasons as head coach of MSU, and winning his 70th game as well.
“It represents so much to our football team because it represents longevity,” he said. “It’s a group effort and I appreciate everyone who decided to stay. They all had opportunities to leave.”
The players reflected on Dantonio’s time in East Lansing and what he has meant to them.
“It was really cool to give him the game ball,” senior safety Kurtis Drummond said. “Just to see a guy who is a man of his word, a man who has touched the lives of so many players and turned a lot of boys into men, it just means a lot.”
Drummond went as far as to say that Dantonio got a little bit emotional after getting the game ball.
“Oh yeah, he had a big smile on his face,” he said. “I think he just let everything sink in. It always feels good when you can win a milestone game.”
Calhoun also said it was special to be able to recognize Dantonio in the locker room after the game.
“It was very special,” Calhoun said. “He does so much for us, he gave us an opportunity to come to a great university, so to be able to give something back to him by winning the game and giving him the game ball was special.”
A Strong Finish
For MSU, it has not been about the talent on the field this season, but keeping their foot on the gas pedal for 60 minutes.
Against Oregon, the Spartans were up by nine in the third quarter before collapsing down the stretch and falling, 27-22. They let a 27-3 lead against Nebraska slip into a 27-22 win. Even last week’s victory against Purdue wasn’t officially sealed until a Darien Harris pick-six in the fourth quarter.
After falling down early, the Spartans put their foot on the gas pedal throughout the game.
“We talked about the fourth quarter issue,” head coach Mark Dantonio said. “But to me, it was more about keeping an edge when things started to turn and when there would be adversity, how would we react? I think we reacted extremely well at the end of the second quarter.”
Finishing was preached all week in practice according to players, and many of them were happy with how they performed when adversity hit.
“I think guys got refocused in the fourth quarter,” senior safety Kurtis Drummond said. “There’s been a lot of emphasis on finishing games stronger than we started. I feel like we did that today.”
The second quarter featured some long runs from Indiana junior running back Tevin Coleman. Those runs were not as prevalent in the second half, but Drummond said no strategic adjustment was made — the defense simply played better.
“Those big plays were on us,” Drummond said. “We just came out in the second half and played the kind of defense that we knew we could play.”
Junior defensive end Shilique Calhoun said the team came out during practice last week and tried to focus their energy on finishing strong during every practice.
“I think we did a very good job,” Calhoun said. “They scored 17 points in the first half and there were a lot of things that we didn’t do so well. We went back and corrected those things and finished on a high note.”
Calhoun agreed with Drummond that no real adjustment was made in the locker room for the defense in the second half. The adjustment was the play on the field.
“We wanted to come out more aggressive,” Calhoun said. “We just came out and played better.”
MSU avoided the trap against Indiana and now turn their attention to their biggest rival, the Michigan Wolverines (3-4 overall, 1-2 Big Ten).
But no one felt like talking about U-M following the win against Indiana though. The football team has a strict 24-hour policy where they try to enjoy a win or study a loss before moving on to their next opponent.
“There’s no way I’m going to be talking about Michigan,” Calhoun said. “I’m focused on this win, I’m happy for these guys, I’m happy for our seniors and I’m happy for our coach. I’m not going to bypass this win.”
Cook said they wouldn’t discuss U-M until the players were made available to the media on Tuesday.
“We have a 24-hour rule here,” Cook said. “We’re going to enjoy this one and when it comes time we’ll talk about Michigan.”
Dantonio said he wouldn’t address the looming game against U-M either.
“We’ll talk about that game next week,” he said. “We’re going to go 24 hours now, but it’s always a great week for college football and our program.”