EAST LANSING - Mark Dantonio is 3-1 against Michigan, as the Spartan head coach. His lone loss, a 28-24 decision at Spartan Stadium in 2007, still stings.Dantonio on the annual question about what impact this game has on recruiting: "Well, recruiting has become so accelerated that everybody's sort of lined up already for this year, but I think what it does is it impacts those guys that are ninth and 10th graders at this time, maybe 11th graders as well. But I think it has a bearing on the future. So it's critical in that respect.
After that game, Michigan players mocked the Spartans' use of a countdown clock. Michigan players also had a mock moment of silence for Michigan State on MSU's field after that game, as a retort to Dantonio's off-the-cuff "should we have a moment of silence?" comment soon after learning that the Wolverines had just lost to Appalachian State.
Michigan running back Mike Hart compared the victory to teasing a little brother prior to pulling out victory in the end.
Two days later, Dantonio scowled when asked about Hart's comments, saying, "Does Hart have a little brother? Or is he the little brother? I don't know, he's only that tall."
As for the moment of silence, when asked if he found it amusing, Dantonio said, "I find a lot of things they do amusing. They need to check themselves sometimes. But just remember, pride comes before the fall. Just hear me, pride comes before the fall.
"You don't have to disrespect people. We'll come to play. We don't have to be disrespected, we don't have to be disrespected. But if they want to make a mockery of it, so be it. Their time will come.
"Can you tell my tone? This game is an important game. So if they want to mock us all they want to mock us, I'm telling them it's not over. So they can print all that crap all over their locker room, it's not over. It will never be over, here. It's just starting."
Dantonio's comments on that day were well-received by Spartan fans, according to reaction on Internet message boards. This week, Dantonio acknowledged some regret.
"Some of it I'm proud of, some of it I'm not, I guess," Dantonio said, Tuesday.
What was he not proud of?
"I don't like to stoop to that level," he said. "I don't want to, I guess, some of my comments after the '07 game. But, hey, I was emotional, so, it happens."
When asked if that loss in '07 charged him up for this rivalry, Dantonio said: "No, I was already pretty charged up for this rivalry. It just sort of re-tapped some energy, I guess. But I think everybody's ready for this. Even when I was an assistant coach, you were ready for this game.
"Wherever you're at, you know too many people, you come across too many people that that make it personal for you. Whether it's past players or past coaches or being in the game yourself or whatever it is, it makes it a little bit more personal, I think. You tend not to forget what's gone on in these games."
Dantonio Notices Difference In UM Defense
The biggest difference between this year's Michigan Wolverines and last year's squad, which also was undefeated when they met the Spartans, is that under new head coach Brady Hoke there is a more realistic chance that they will continue improve defensively as the season progresses.
Michigan has already improved since its leaky victory over Notre Dame in second week of the season. The Wolverines rank No. 4 in the Big Ten in scoring defense and No. 6 in total defense, a year after ranking dead last in both categories last season.
"Everything I've seen of Michigan from the spring on, they've gotten back to basics, and I think it shows," said Michigan State head coach Mark Dantonio. "It shows when they play. They're playing extremely hard, and they're playing confidently. I think those are the things that you have to change first and foremost."
Dantonio encountered a similar need to rebuild a defense when he took over Michigan State in 2007.
"It's not so much usually about what you're doing, it's how you're doing it," Dantonio said. "When we came back here, we put an emphasis on blocking and on defense and tackling and space, and getting off of blocks.
"I think the first thing that happens, whether you inherit it or it's happening as you're currently there, is you have to do is rebuild their confidence as people," Dantonio said. "You have to rebuild that to some extent in terms of them playing hard and having attention to detail and being able to execute. I think you go back to basics to do that."
Pivotal Division Game
In addition to in-state bragging rights and the Paul Bunyan Trophy, also at stake during Saturday's Michigan-Michigan State game is the inside track toward the Legends Division title.
"It does take on an added meaning because of the tiebreakers and all the different things that go into it," Dantonio said. "I also think the winner of this football game obviously goes on to 2-0 in the Big Ten, and 2-0 in the Legends. So we'll see how well that plays out with everybody else. But it put that's particular team on top right now."
Dantonio has been careful to take measures to prevent his team from getting too high for the Michigan game too soon. He is also warning about not putting the entire season into this game, with a Homecoming showdown against top five Wisconsin looming on Oct. 22.
"What is important right now is this game," Dantonio said. "This is an important football game. I've never shied away from that, and I'm never going to. We'll be ready to play this football game. But at the end of this week, we need to turn our attention to the next challenge because there is something else just waiting for us. Obviously, after this game, regardless of what happens, you have to gear up for the next one, and the next one's Wisconsin for us. So regardless what happens, you need to move forward. That is the take.
"I believe in making it (the Michigan game) important, and doing certain things to try and put an asterisk behind that game. As far as what we've tried to do since coming here, we put a countdown clock up, because from day one, when we walked in here we pointed toward that, and there were others that said that we couldn't. So we wanted to make a point. I think we've made the point and we'll move on from there."
Hoover, Treadwell May Seek Redshirts
Dantonio said junior defensive end Tyler Hoover and junior center Blake Treadwell are out for this game, and probably longer.
"Right now Tyler and Blake are both guys that are out probably for three, maybe three weeks or plus more, and maybe candidates for red shirts," Dantonio said.
Hoover has not play since the season opener and has been suffering from a back/rib injury.
Treadwell has been out with a knee injury since the Notre Dame game.
Treadwell has not yet redshirted. Hoover redshirted as a true freshman in 2008. There are indications that Hoover may pursue a second medical hardship redshirt.
Sophomore wide receiver Bennie Fowler has not played this season, due to a foot injury. Dantonio anticipates Fowler making his season debut on Saturday against Michigan.
"I think Bennie will probably play," Dantonio said. "That's my take on things right now."
Fowler was expected to be among MSU's top four wide receivers this year, and possibly the Spartans' No. 2 receiver threat, as well as an impact player as a return man.
Bye Week Felt Positive
Coaches and players believe the bye week following Michigan State's physical 10-7 victory over Ohio State was a positive.
"I think our entire football team, we were able to step back, reflect on where we're at and what we have to do in the next football game," Dantonio said. "As much as anything, we've got some people back and healed up that I think are in a little bit better shape physically right now in terms of playing with injuries. It wasn't that they were out, necessarily, but they would play injured. I don't think that's the case right now."
Senior quarterback Kirk Cousins had good numbers in the rain game at Ohio State, completing 20 of 32 passes for 250 yards. However, he threw two interceptions in the fourth quarter, including what looked like a forced pass on third-and-three with less than five minutes to play and the Spartans up 10-0.
"He'll be sharp," Dantonio said. "He'll be ready to go."
Who Is Portraying Shoelace?
Tony Lippett gained acclaim last year as a redshirting freshman on the scout team when he portrayed Denard Robinson in practice.
This year, Lippett has a role as a two-way reserve for the Spartans as a back-up wide receiver and cornerback. Lippett hasn't gotten as much work as a scout team QB for this game, this year.
"We've used a variety of players," Dantonio said. "Mitchell White is a guy that we slide in and out of there, even though he's a back-up corner for us. He's played, but he was a quarterback in high school, quick-footed. You know, we'll use Tony a little bit in that area.
"Spencer Elliott's a young freshman that's played quarterback. A very good athlete. So he's played in that area as well."
Elliott (6-0, 181) is a walk-on from Forest Hills Eastern, in the Grand Rapids area. He threw for more than 600 yards and rushed for 866 yards last year as an all-conference senior. He rushed for 265 yards and four TDs last year against Grand Rapids Catholic Central.
"So we sort of take our practice and divide it up in terms of when we're going against scouts and when we're going against a little higher profile scout -- not scout team, but take our best players and put them in there and implement them into different situations that he (Robinson) would do," Dantonio said. "Obviously, we can't do that throughout the entire practice. We have to be careful not to get people injured. But we need to see game speed as much as we can, as best as we can simulate it."
Notes And Quotes
"Although probably for this state in particular, like I said, you're growing up one way or the other usually. Maybe it doesn't have as much as we think, but you certainly feel like it."
Dantonio on his previous friendship with Brady Hoke's brother, John Hoke.
"I got to know his brother John very well when Don Treadwell was a very good friend of John Hoke's," Dantonio said. "So I got to know John through that, and John Hoke coached over at Kent State when I was at Youngstown State. So I knew he and his wife, and I sort of met Brady through that.
"But I don't know him nearly as well as I do his brother. But I've always had respect for him and the job that he's done and where he's been as a college coach."
Dantonio on what he expects from Spartan fans: "I think everybody's coming," he said. "When I say you bring your A-game to this game, everybody's coming, bringing their A-game. The Spartans are out here in this stadium, they'll bring their A-game, I promise you. I think the Wolverines that are fortunate enough to come will probably have their A-game on too.
"But I've heard stories walking into this stadium, just people walking up to other people and saying things out of the blue. I think people come with a mindset to this game. It's not just any other game. This is a special game, not just to the players, but to families, for friends for a lot of different people in this state."
Dantonio on the donation of $1 million to the university by Tom Izzo. Izzo earmarked the majority of his donation to the Michigan State football program.
"I want to publicly thank Tom Izzo for their generous gift to athletics," Dantonio said. "Some people look at life through a straw in terms of how it affects them. This is a great example of someone looking at an overall picture and really giving to an entire athletic program, and giving to a sport other than his own. I think that makes a tremendous statement for the Izzos as people, and just want to acknowledge that and appreciate it very much."
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