Editor’s note: This story has been changed to correct the day of Mark Dantonio’s heart attack.
When MSU football head coach Mark Dantonio made a surprise visit to practice Friday, junior safety Trenton Robinson said it was the most excited he’s ever been to see his head coach.
The next day, minutes before the No. 24 Spartans (4-0) defeated Northern Colorado, 45-7, Robinson said he finally realized the coach wouldn’t be there while sitting in the Spartan Stadium locker room.
“When we go into the locker room before the game, he usually talks to us, so it really hit me then like, ‘Man, Coach D isn’t here,’” Robinson said. “But that just kind of fires us up like, ‘Let’s go out and do this for him.’”
Dantonio’s visit was the first time players had seen him since he suffered a heart attack early in the morning of Sept. 19. Throughout the week and during the game against the Bears (2-2), offensive coordinator Don Treadwell took over head coaching duties usually handled by Dantonio while still calling the offensive plays.
The players were aware all week Dantonio would not be at Saturday’s game, and Treadwell said seeing their coach Friday helped the team feel better about the situation.
“I think it gave them just that much more peace to say, ‘OK, we’re going to be fine here, our leader is going to be fine and back soon, so let’s just go out and do the best we can until that happens,’” Treadwell said.
The Spartans did not miss a beat with Treadwell on the sidelines in place of Dantonio, as they jumped out to a 35-0 halftime lead on the way to the blowout win.
Junior quarterback Kirk Cousins, who threw for 290 yards and two touchdowns Saturday, said it was a “seamless transition” for the assistant coaches to step in during the last week without Dantonio.
Although Cousins said he is looking forward to Dantonio’s return, he knows the head coach’s health is the main concern at this time.
“We want to make sure that he gets well,” Cousins said. “And when we get him back, we get him back.”
Penalties a problem
Treadwell said the plan for Dantonio was to watch the game from his home. Although the outcome never was in doubt, the number of penalties committed by the Spartans could not have sat well with Dantonio.
MSU racked up 121 yards on 11 penalties against the Bears, and through four games, MSU ranks last in the Big Ten with 37 penalties against — nine more than any other conference team.
Although Treadwell admitted penalties are an issue for MSU, he said as long as players keep playing hard, it is a problem that can be fixed.
“We are going to try and live through those things and clean those things up,” Treadwell said. “Anytime you have a penalty situation, you can work from that.”
With the Spartans pulling away from Northern Colorado early in the game, a number of the MSU backups received significant playing time Saturday.
However, Treadwell said redshirt freshman quarterback Andrew Maxwell was going to play Saturday regardless of the score.
Coming in for one drive in the second quarter, Maxwell completed two passes for 37 yards and finished the game 3-for-5 with 41 yards.
“To get Andrew Maxwell in the game is huge for our program,” Treadwell said. “I can’t put a value tag on that. That’s huge.”
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