No. 25 Michigan State (1-1) had chances to pull away from No. 23 Arizona State (2-0) Saturday night.
Before the Spartans eventually fell, 16-13, coach Mark Dantonio said his team had chances to pull away when they led by 10 points going into the fourth quarter. But instead, red-zone deficiency — only scoring one touchdown on four trips within ASU’s 20 yard line — kept the Sun Devils in the game.
“We expected a tough game and expected a tight game and got one, really, as we went through it,” Dantonio said at his weekly news conference Tuesday. “That football team hung around, instead of being 20-3 or something like that, it's 13-3 and inevitably somebody is going to make a play. I think a little bit of that happened. Need to play better in certain situations.”
After the loss, however, Dantonio said his team handled the loss well and the “leadership is intact,” even after arriving back in East Lansing around 8:45 a.m. Sunday with a three-hour time zone change and cooler temperatures.
“I think really the biggest thing on the trip was the time change and takes it out of you a little bit, especially coming back,” Dantonio said. “We had to wear compression tights, a four-hour plane flight, hydrate 24 to 30 hours, and I was pushing water like you can't believe and Gatorade. Then, you know, the weather, it was 104 (degrees) at game time. You know, there's a lot of things that we needed to control. I thought we did that.”
Dantonio said he's had past teams that suffered early-season losses and responded well.
“We've had these kind of setbacks in the past, where we've stumbled our feet a little bit coming out of the blocks and regained ourselves and we've played well,” Dantonio said. “That's what I'm anticipating and that's what I expect and that's our players' expectations.”
And Dantonio thinks his team pulled together, not apart.
“Either people get pulled apart or people get brought together, and it's my feeling that things like this forge — your working together, forges unity, solidarity, perseverance and probably the most important thing, it forges action, which, we need to take action,” Dantonio said. “Very proud of our team and how they handled things.”
During the bye week, the Spartans will practice two more times this week, while coaches go on recruiting trips this Wednesday through Friday and players have time to recover from injuries.
Next week, MSU will travel to Bloomington to take on the Indiana Hoosiers (2-0) at 7:30 p.m. on BTN for its first Big Ten game of the season.
But, for Dantonio, it's just another game towards his team's goals. To him, sports are no different than life.
"Everybody just points to sports and they want answers," Dantonio said. "But you know, it's no different than anything you go through in life. You stub your toe, you've got to get back in the ring and you've got to get back in there and do what you're supposed to do and change the results. If you feel sorry for yourself, you're going to be chasing bad times. But you get up off the mat and you go."
With this, Dantonio said 2018 can be no different than previous years, when MSU lost to Notre Dame in 2013 and 2017, along with Oregon and Ohio State in 2014. The Spartans finished 13-1 in 2013, 11-2 in 2014 and 10-3 in 2017.
Dantonio said an early loss to Arizona State can give his players the experience of enduring pain, and learning to fight through that pain, just like in life.
"These are all life experiences that our players get," Dantonio said. "Some you're going to win, some you're going to lose. I don't want to be philosophical up here, because everybody wants you to win and everybody wants you to be upset if you don't."
And because of that, MSU still has its goals — to compete in November for a Big Ten Championship — in sight.
“All of our games are in front of us, all of our goals are in front of us,” Dantonio said. “We’ll be fine.”