Spartans To Embrace Pressure

Michigan State enters Saturday's battle with Michigan looking for a fifth consecutive victory over their rival. If successful, it would mark the first time in program history in a battle that dates back to 1898 the Spartans pulled off the feat. Tuesday, Spartans head coach Mark Dantonio spoke with members of the media about the game and his team.

Mark Dantonio has never backed away from taking on a challenge since becoming Michigan State head coach. Saturday, Dantonio and his staff will look to change the fortunes of their up and down season with a fifth consecutive victory over rival Michigan, something that has never been done by the Spartans against their biggest rival. Dantonio knows rivalry aside this is a pivotal game.

"First of all, I think it's always a pivotal game regardless of what the records are and those types of things," explained Dantonio. "We've never backed away from the challenge since we've come here. We'll always maintain that approach.

"I think it's a great opportunity, a good rivalry game, good for the state of Michigan, good for college football in general from our perspective.

"So in terms of this time, this year, obviously a win's a win. They all count one. So it would be very big for us in that respect just in terms of where we're at. It's game eight. Game eight is two thirds of the season for us.

"As far as long term, you say it hasn't been done before so I guess that's something that you look at and you would savor later on in your life. As far as what does it mean in 2012, it means one win, where we're at in the Legends race, and obviously it's a rivalry game. You always point to those. You keep track of those for the rest of your life, you just do. I think you do that regardless of where I have been in rival games. Regardless of what college I've been at, that particular game, you've always kept track of them. So we'll keep track. "

Despite it being a rivalry game, the fact the game could determine how the Legends Division plays out has not been lost by the Spartans head coach.

"Obviously very critical," said Dantonio. "Very, very small margin of error and we need help as we move through this. Usually you get help. The conference itself is very competitive. There's a lot of parity. I think there's a lot of opportunity for players to play well and teams to rise up and win against anybody really.

"So we just got to play them one at a time and focus on the present. That's all I can tell you. I do think if we take care of our business, we've got opportunities ahead of us. But we need to take care of our business first."

One player the Spartans had hoped to see on the field Saturday is tight end Dion Sims. What is the Spartans leading receiver's status at this time?

"We'll know more about it this week," said Dantonio. "Basically really truly where it's at. We'll know more this week. Obviously he hasn't practiced yet this week. We'll find out more as the week continues.

"He's a big target for us. He was our starter, leading pass receiver for us. He's a firm blocker. So there's a lot to it, getting him back. With that, other people are growing and continue to get better. We need to continue to go in that mode as well. But I think obviously Dion is a very good player so hopefully we'll get him back, but we'll see."

One thing not lost on the Spartans head coach is the importance of the rivalry and the respect he has for Michigan head coach Brady Hoke.

"For me it's important because we've made it important," stressed Dantonio. "For me to say it's not important would be to disrespect those who have played in this football game before. It would be disrespect to the people who have been involved in this program when I was here before and the people prior to that.

"That's what I'm going to do. That means nothing to anybody else really. It's just what I'm going to do. I have a great deal of respect for Brady Hoke. To be honest with you, I think Brady Hoke handles himself at times much better than I do, okay?

"I have a great respect in how he handles his job, how he's gone about his business there. I just go about mine and hope that other guy doesn't come out in this press conference, so..."

One area of concern for the Spartans is how the offense has failed to live up to expectations. However, Dantonio knows better than to spilt his team against each other and to stay focused on the task at hand.

"We'd like to score more points," said Dantonio. :Been there before, understand that aspect of it. The reality of the situation, we have three players on offense that played last year on a constant basis for us, whether it be injuries, graduation, whatever it is. We have Dan France, Chris McDonald, Le'Veon Bell playing for us. The rest of our guys are new. They're gaining experience as we go. They've made some plays.

"The most important thing is we don't split this football team into offense and defense. Our offense had an opportunity to win a football game this past weekend, played well throughout the game, but we didn't win the football with the fourth quarter drive. The Ohio State game, we lost by one point. We had a chance to get the ball back, we needed to get the ball back.

"Games hinge on how they end. They get played out during the entire game. But winning and losing comes down to how you play at the end of the football game.

"We just got to continue to play together and pick up the pieces, get motivated and come back ready to go. That's always a challenge when you lose a football game. But I think our football team has always recovered from that. We've got good chemistry, good leadership on our football team, and we'll be ready to play.

"I understand how it goes. I've been involved in that before. But you cannot divide the football team and say this group is getting it done, this group is not.

"Statistically speaking, you can take all angles and look at those and say, if this were happening, these things would be better. You can always build another case around statistics."

One area the Spartans head man is excited about is the pressure involved in the game.

"I've always said that pressure is good," said Dantonio. "We've always talked to our football team about pressure being good and stress is bad. So the important thing that we have to do is not stress about what we're doing, don't stress out about this, and understand there's pressure.

"It's a TV game, another big game, all these type of things. There's things that go along with winning and losing this football game obviously.

"Pressure is good. It helps prepare you, keeps you on edge, keeps you mentally sharp. That's how we'll approach it.

"But we'll come ready to play, enthused. I'm sure they will, as well. The big thing is you have to be able to keep your momentum and keep your composure throughout. That's part of it. At the same time it's got to be played very physically and emotionally.

"That's why football continues to be such a great game, because you can take all different aspects of science and physics and the psyche as well, they're all intertwined."

Spartan Digest Top Stories