Michigan State Head Coach Mark Dantonio has a ton to look forward to, but can't seem to get away from the past — specifically last Saturday. During his weekly press conference, Dantonio was asked what points during the Spartans' 37-34 loss to Illinois felt the "most frustrating."
Don't get the 13-year coach started because there was a lot to choose from.
"Well, don't get me going, because there were quite a lot of opportunities," Dantonio said. "The game could have been put away early, so we made some mistakes and prevented that from happening. You've got to give Illinois credit. We wanted to make the quarterback beat us and he made some throws and No. 9 hooked up with some throws, but there were some technical things from a technique standpoint that needed to happen that didn't happen, whether it's collectively ... as a coverage or as an individual."
"There were some calls, I think from an officiating standpoint, that were troubling to say the least," Dantonio said. "I'll just leave it like that. You still have (an) opportunity at the very end with the goal line stand or even driving down the field, it's third and four, we don't make it, make the field goal."
By now it is well known that Michigan State blew a 25-point lead it once held in the second quarter of Saturday's game against the Illini. Then the Spartans blew a 31-10 lead at the end of the fourth quarter. Illinois out-scored Michigan State 27-3 in the final period, completing its improbable comeback with a touchdown pass from former Michigan quarterback Brandon Peters to Daniel Barker with five seconds left.
"I could probably keep going for a half hour, but I try not to," Dantonio said. "Just distance myself there."
Dantonio and his football program want to put everything that happened last week farther behind the rearview mirror. That's because the Spartans travel to Ann Arbor on Sunday for a rivalry matchup in the Big House against Michigan (noon, FOX).
One way Dantonio has his team doing that is pulling from the positives rather than what went wrong in MSU's collapse. The Spartans built up a 28-3 lead, where they gained over 300 yards of offense before the break. Michigan State also found a running game again, as redshirt freshman Elijah Collins found the end zone twice.
"The one thing that we talked about last week coming into the football game is, we want to take initiative in everything that we were doing, and we wanted to be aggressive in everything we were doing, and I think that we did that," Dantonio said. "I think we did that with play-calling and how we did and I think we did all the way down to the end in terms of how we played on the goal line."
Dantonio's hope is the Spartans can forget about what happened in the second half of Illinois and get back to what they did to be successful before halftime — but this time around for a 60-minute game. MSU has won its last two trips to Ann Arbor. It knows that's what it will take to upset the Wolverines on Saturday.
"I think the thing you have to look forward, you have to take from a positive perspective in the Illinois game is, 'hey, we were productive and we had opportunities and we moved the football,'" Dantonio said. "The things that happened were from a negative perspective, were either, they are making a good play or us, you know — so they are hitting themselves in the foot. I think you draw the positives from it that you can and you try to fall forward in everything that we're doing."
That's what Dantonio's focus is on. Until then, he still has that second half to think about.
"Things caught up with us, and it just didn't happen," Dantonio said. "There were too many technical things overall that would happen whether it's play on a deep ball or whatever it is that prevented that from happening. So, very disappointed."
"It's one that I'll carry with me for probably the rest of my life, but that's coaching. Happened before."