Commentary: Big Win No Surprise

Michigan State checked off its sixth win of the season against Northwestern today and has its first 3-0 Big Ten start in five years. Focus has improved this program's consistency and depth.

Michigan State head coach Mark Dantonio often reminds the media that every win is difficult. They have guys on scholarship, he says of opponents, working every day and coaches who get paid good money to figure out how to win.

Doesn't matter who it is, always going to be a challenge. Ask Michigan.

But that doesn't mean we have to be surprised by MSU's 6-1 start. Any close observer will tell you (and could have told you for some time now) that there is a different feel to Dantonio's Spartans.

Coach-speak is emitted from every program in the land, but for Dantonio and his staff, the words have sunk into their players. It's apparent even in the losses and is one reason this regime has not lost a game by more than a touchdown. But learning from defeat is a phrase uttered less and less around East Lansing.

Chalk up the success thus far to focus. Play-by-play, game-by-game and in the offseason, coaches, staff and players operate with an understanding that their number one focus is to win a Big Ten championship.

Want evidence of focus? How about a 17-point lead after the first quarter against an undefeated Northwestern team coming off a bye-week and road victory over Iowa.

The offense has won games, the defense has won more; four of MSU's opponents have scored less than two touchdowns. Notre Dame was shutout for three quarters and Northwestern's high-octane offense was held to 20 points despite putting up over 450 yards of offense.

The focus has resulted in consistent play week-in and week-out, but more importantly its resulted in improved depth.

It's not just the starters who have a deep conviction to win; the two-deep in the offensive line (Bacon/Foreman), the wide receiver corps (White, Martin, Smith), the defensive line (Jordan, Neely, Holmes), the linebackers (Rolf, Denson, Allison) and the secondary have been tested without becoming a weak link.

The secondary has had to reach the deepest, with freshman and journeymen like Johnny Adams, Dan Fortener and Jeremy Ware refusing to be intimidated by playing time.

Even the return game has shown some depth with Glenn Winston putting on an impressive performance with two field position-changing returns against the Wildcats.

And the result? A game next Saturday against Ohio State with legitimate conference championship implications for both programs.

But it's no surprise. At the beginning of the season, I wrote MSU had a good chance to enter this game 6-1. Then, I speculated, MSU would run into the one-and-only, sure-bet loss on their schedule.

Now I'm not so sure.


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