Michigan State lost its fifth-straight game Saturday. MSU was not only discouraged by the weight five-straight losses can carry, but that the most recent was in-state rival, Michigan. The Spartans are making strides to move on, one of those steps being optimism.
"I wouldn't have came here if I didn't believe in coach (Mark Dantonio)," junior linebacker Antjuan Simmons said. "Or the coaching staff, or my teammates. I still believe in this program. I still love every single person within this program."
The MSU football program has been under harsh criticism since the lack of adjustments made on the coaching staff last summer. All signs of improvement and potential in early games against Tulsa and Western Michigan are gone. After the historic 37-34 loss to Illinois last Saturday, Spartan fans are reliving the 2016 football team that went 3-9.
But what about the players?
"You've got to keep that positive mindset regardless of the situation," David Dowell said. "Regardless of the circumstances, until the clock strikes zero."
Seniors like Dowell and quarterback Brian Lewerke understand that the clock is ticking. Their time playing college football is just eight quarters away from ending. So there isn't time to dwell on the losses. If they want to make it to a bowl game, the next two challenges must be won.
"Anybody that’s hanging their head down, (we've) got to pick them up," Dowell said.
Due to the unpredictable injuries, the Spartans played 12 freshmen Saturday; freshmen that are facing the frustration for the first time.
"I didn't predict that we'd have five offensive linemen out, two of our better wide receivers out," Dantonio said.
The emotional aspect of big games like rivalries and unforeseen comebacks are things that take experience to be able to move on from. After multiple unsportsmanlike conduct calls on both sides, it's clear the game is more than just physical.
"It's (the rivalry) everything you expect from it," freshman running back Elijah Collins said. "Two teams that don’t really like each other, going at it. A lot of emotions, a lot of feelings involved ... It is what it is, first time being really a part of it."
What's next? How does a team move on and finish the last two games out strong? They have no choice but to win if they want to get to a bowl game.
"You’ve got to keep a positive mindset," Dowell said. "Correct the things that we did wrong from this game and then put them in the rearview.”
The Spartans will play at Rutgers this Saturday, then their last game will be in the Spartan Stadium on Nov. 30 against Maryland.
"We've got two guaranteed games left," Dowell said. "Every time I step onto the field, I'm going to keep playing."