November 23, 2010

Dantonio: 'I want us to play with confidence'

EAST LANSING - Mark Dantonio didn't watch the Bowl Championships Series rankings show in previous weeks. But he did this past Sunday. And there was an agenda and scheme behind it.

"I wanted to put it (the BCS announcement shot) in front our football team so they could watch it," Dantonio said. "But first I wanted to see what they said before I put it in front of them. That's why I watched it."

There was nothing negative about Michigan State during the broadcast. So Dantonio replayed the show during Sunday night's team meeting. He used it as a tool.

"I wanted them to understand where we're at in the big scheme of things," Dantonio said. "I want us to play with confidence."

Dantonio is trying to create a culture of belief and confidence this week, heading to Penn State's Beaver Stadium, a venue at which Michigan State has not been victorious since the 1965.

"It's tough to play at Penn State," Dantonio said. "We understand that. We need to make sure we go over there with a mindset that we are going to be successful.

"You want to match up and you have an opportunity to be champions, you have to go throughout difficult times and that's part of this. It will be a battle over there for us, a challenge. A good thing."

This week, Michigan State can win a share of the Big Ten title with a victory at Penn State. Two years ago, the Spartans were playing for a share of the conference title, and were shellacked, 49-18 by the Nittany Lions.

Dantonio is spinning that experience as a positive this week, and using the championship nature of this game as a call to arms.

"We are getting to that point," Dantonio said. "I wanted them to see how close we are getting to what our goals are.

"The championship has to be foremost in our minds because at the end of the day, that is what you are going to remember. Your bowl experience, secondarily. Primary is: Did you win the championship? Or did you finish second or third.

"That was like a two-minute thing, watching the BCS," Dantonio explained.

But it was apparently an important two minutes Dantonio wanted to utilize as the kickoff to one of the biggest practice weeks Michigan State football has had in years.

"I think it would be tremendous for this football program," Dantonio said of winning at least a share of the Big Ten title. "It would be one of the biggest things that has happened in the last 20 years, certainly. I think it would set us apart from a lot of football teams between then and now.

"If you go in the football facility here, there is a section that is called Great Teams, and a section called Great Players, and Great Moments, and Great Future. I think that this football team encompasses all four of those aspects. You will see that display there as we move forward. But in the end, the term 'championship' is going to define us. That's what we came here to do.

"I said that on the first day that I was hired, it was a collective thing, it wasn't a thing that we talked about that was going to be about me. I said 'we' came to win championships. When we were recruiting a young man and talking to him and saying, 'Hey, we can win a championship at Michigan State and you can help impact this team and we can do it,' you know, there's proof right now that we are on the cusp of being able to do that."

Later in the team meeting, Dantonio asked one more question of the players.

"We asked our players to stand up from the '08 team," Dantonio said. "Early on, we asked them to stand up who had played at Michigan and won.

"We have a significant number of players who have gone through that experience (at Penn State). I think experience breeds success. We look forward to going over there, being successful and going to 11-1."

Dantonio was asked if he notices a different approach, a different level of belief in his players this week as opposed to '08.

"Absolutely," Dantonio said. "I can already sense that because we have already been there. We have already been in that environment in that exact situation. We have guys that can draw on that experience.

"When I sat down and talked to someone after our loss to Ohio State in '08, the question I was asked is how many times have your players been in a situation like this? They hadn't.

"When we asked the same thing to ourselves after the season in evaluating and critiquing, how many players here had played for a Big Ten championship? They answer was none of them have.

"Now we have a group of 30 who have done that before. That's a positive thing. We can draw from that. We have been in that arena trying to do exactly what we are trying to get done this week. That doesn't mean we will be successful. You have to block, tackle, make plays on the ball. You have to do things that need to be done at that moment in time."

Evaluate Us Later

Dantonio made a moment of Sunday night's BCS talk, but he isn't getting caught up in lobbying for the Spartans to be mentioned equally with Ohio State and Wisconsin.

"I think those are things that you talk about afterwards," Dantonio said. "Don't evaluate us when we are No. 5 in the nation when we are going to Iowa, because we didn't win. Don't evaluate us when we're 10-1. Evaluate us after the season, and then we can lobby and say this is what we have done and this is where we should be and then we can talk about it."

If all three teams finish 11-1, the Spartans will be the only team of the three to have a 1.000 winning percentage within the three-team group. MSU is 1-0 within the group, having beaten Wisconsin and not having played Ohio State. The Badgers are .500 within the group, with a victory over Ohio State and a loss to the Spartans. The Buckeyes are .000 with a loss to Wisconsin.

However, the Spartans are a consensus No. 3 choice among the three in the human polls and BCS criteria.

"But before that is really irrelevant," Dantonio said of poll lobbying prior to season's end. "We have to do our deal. I don't worry about the things we can't control. There are enough people out there that are talking about these different schools. They have us in the Top 10 right now. They are talking about us some. But all we can do is control what is in front of us. What we can control is Saturday what we can control is preparation. We can control our mindset going into the game. And then after the game we have to see where we're at and move from there."

Dantonio on Penn State

Penn State lost three of its first six games, but has now won four of its last five. Penn State's first defeat was a 24-3 loss at Alabama on Sept. 11.

"I throw out the Alabama game because it was so early in the year and they had a true freshman at quarterback basically in his first game and that's at Alabama," Dantonio said. "That's a very difficult situation.

"They played with a young quarterback in Robert Bolden early in the season, a very talented player. Matt McGloin has sort of taken over that position for whatever reason, whether it's a concussion (to Bolden) or whatever, and he has done an outstanding job. They have great football players. They are very good on the defensive front.

"On film, they are an outstanding football team in the fact that they are very well-coached.

"They have a system in place offensively and defensively and they are a 7-4 football team working toward 8-4.They have a system in place and that system has been in place for quite some time. They are schooled in that system and as they come along as they play more games they get better."

"We have to win up front. There is no question in my mind about that. You have to win up front to win football games, especially on the road. So we are putting a premium on that."

Who You Rooting For?

Just for giggles, Dantonio was asked if he could bring himself to root for Michigan to beat Ohio State this weekend. OSU is Dantonio's former employer, and is coached by one of Dantonio's best friends, Jim Tressel.

As for Michigan, Dantonio was once quoted as saying he had a black mark on his soul for that university.

But what about this weekend? If Michigan beats Ohio State, the Spartans can earn a Rose Bowl bid with a victory over Penn State.

Spartan fans are overwhelmingly rooting for Michigan, based on talk show discussion and message board chat.

What about Dantonio?

"Um," Dantonio said, smiling, "everything is irrelevant unless we win. We will worry about that after we win."

Both games kick off at noon on Saturday.

Dantonio Unplugged

  • "If you are going to be a championship-caliber team, you have to win away. I think it's very fitting that we have to win away. Life is about challenges. The greater the challenges you have, the great the joy if you meet those challenges. This will be special."

  • Dantonio is one of eight finalists for the Eddie Robinson Award, given annually to the national coach of the year by the Football Writers Association of America. The other finalists are Wisconsin's Bret Bielema, Auburn's Gene Chizik, Oklahoma State's Mike Gundy, Stanford's Jim Harbaugh, Oregon's Chip Kelly, TCU's Gary Patterson and Boise State's Chris Petersen.

  • Dantonio said Saturday's food drive at Spartan Stadium, chaired by the waives of MSU coaches, resulted in surpassing the goal of 5,000 pounds of food. "It was an active campaign and very successful," Dantonio said. "They had to bring in more trucks to collect it."

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