According to Dantonio, MSU hasn't yet played its best football
In a lot of ways, MSU has been a pleasant surprise.
The Spartans are ranked as the No. 18 team in the country; legitimate contenders in the Big Ten East division. The defense is fifth in the nation in total defense, allowing just 263.8 yards per content.
MSU has already defeated a top-10 team on the road, a then-No. 7 Michigan. The Spartans have far surpassed the three wins in 2016, winning five of their first six games.
The team is supremely young, a point that has been drilled into the Spartans and their loyal fan base to the point of exhaustion.
But still, as such youthful teams do, MSU is no different in its many faults. There have been mistakes; execution errors along the way despite the steady stream of wins. It means the team has yet to “peak,” according to head coach Mark Dantonio.
“I think we’re a football team that’s still growing,” Dantonio said. “There may be some dips in there as we go, but we are so young, we’re not physically dominant yet with certain guys because they’re still young.”
Just last Saturday, facing a Minnesota team and winning by multiple possessions, the Spartans allowed the Gophers to squeeze back into contention. The end result: a 30-27 win that felt far closer than originally anticipated.
Elsewhere, the defense has carried the offense when the Spartans desperately needed it. Look no further than both the Iowa and Michigan games to begin Big Ten play.
In both contests, quarterback Brian Lewerke and co. didn’t score a single point in the second half. Yes, there were outside factors against U-M — namely, rain, and a lot of it — but the stats paint a picture.
It’s not the full one, as MSU did put up 30 points amid stormy conditions against the Gophers, but the offense didn’t hesitate to say its defensive counterparts have guided them.
“I feel like the offense still has a long way to go,” Lewerke said. “I think the defense has been playing really well. We’re still looking for the game where both are doing very well at the same time."
But elsewhere, the defense’s resurgence is a welcoming one.
MSU has realistically leaned on its strong defense this season, shades to the glory days of 2013, when standouts like Darqueze Dennard and Max Bullough patrolled the gridiron.
And thus, it’s an aspect that has pumped the Spartans with even more optimism added to their bounce-back season.
“I think that’s another thing that’s awesome,” center Brian Allen said. “I think the defense has bailed out the offense a couple times. As far as offensively, we got so much more in the tank. They’ve been playing so well that we’ve been able to get away with what we’ve been doing.”
MSU is far from a complete squad. That much is certain.
And as the Spartans are perfectly halfway through their season, there’s still a lot to learn. One the coaches are certainly excited about.
“I think we’ve not peaked, even this season,” Dantonio said. “We haven’t played our best football game yet. That’s the beautiful thing about this. We haven’t hit on all cylinders yet."