Michigan State football now heads to Minnesota with legitimate expectations

Win in Ann Arbor has Spartans back in national discussion

By NOAH TRISTER, AP Sports Writer
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Michigan State Spartans head football coach Mark Dantonio enters the stadium prior to the start of the game against the Michigan Wolverines at Michigan Stadium on October 7, 2017 in Ann Arbor, Michigan. (Photo by Leon Halip/Getty Images)

EAST LANSING, Mich. - Mark Dantonio is 8-3 against Michigan since taking over as Michigan State's coach -- a mark that has done plenty to endear him to the fans in East Lansing.

This week, however, it's another part of Dantonio's resume that's front and center.

"We've actually tracked how we play after our big games. We track that, ever since 2007," Dantonio said Tuesday. "I think after the Michigan game, we're 8-2. That's whether we've won it or lost it, we're 8-2. I think that's a good measuring stick, but you need to be prepared for that because it is about: What are you going to do next? If you don't play your best, you play unemotional, then you're not handling success right."

For the first time in 2017, the Spartans are dealing with some legitimate expectations. Saturday night's 14-10 win at Michigan vaulted Michigan State into the Top 25, and the No. 21 Spartans have taken a big step toward putting last year's 3-9 showing behind them. The question now is what they can accomplish this season. A bowl bid certainly seems likely, but perhaps this team is capable of more. 

Minnesota next

Michigan State (4-1, 2-0 Big Ten) plays at Minnesota (3-2, 0-2) this weekend. The Spartans have done a good job under Dantonio of avoiding letdowns after the Michigan game -- and by game time this coming Saturday night, they should be well aware of how important that is.

"We went over that in a team meeting - he showed us all the wins and losses that we've had," quarterback Brian Lewerke said. "He was just trying to make sure that we didn't think that we had won a Super Bowl or anything."

The game after Michigan

The only times under Dantonio that Michigan State has lost the next game after Michigan were in 2014, when the Spartans fell to eventual national champion Ohio State, and last year, when a seven-game losing streak derailed their season completely.

"Part of our problem I think last year was handling the success we had the previous years. We just didn't handle success as well," Dantonio said. "We had injuries, a lot of different things, but one thing you could point to was that we expected it to happen, and when it didn't happen, we didn't handle it very well. I'm talking about from a confidence standpoint."

Michigan State is favored to win again at Minnesota, and the Spartans are fourth in the nation in total defense. But Michigan State has been held under 20 points in each of its past three games.

The Spartans were largely shut down on offense at Michigan, but their defense prevented the Wolverines from moving the ball much. Michigan State benefited from five Michigan turnovers - three interceptions and two fumbles - and the Spartans mostly avoided big mistakes on a rainy night.

"Certainly some of the picks, we pressured the guy, at least got him a little edgy in the pocket because a couple of them were overthrown. Weather probably had something to do with some of them," Dantonio said. "Then we stripped the ball off the two fumbles, we created those."

National relevance again?

So now Michigan State has put itself in a position to be nationally relevant again - sooner than many thought possible. That brings a lot of excitement back to East Lansing, but also a decent amount of pressure when the team heads off for another road game this week.

"The message to our football team right now is, 'What are you going to do now?'" Dantonio said. "We're going to be judged by our next thing. The next thing on our agenda is Minnesota."

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