MSU (5-5) has a chance to get bowl-eligible with a win on Saturday, but expects a superior effort from a team that doesn't have many wins, but has a signature win over Ohio State and knocked off Michigan last Saturday.
"When you look at their personnel, I think you have to look at their defensive side of the ball. Ryan Kerrigan is leading the conference in sacks, up there in tackles for loss as well. I believe they have 28 sacks. I think 28 sacks as a football team or the now I think is three shy maybe of what they have done all time or certainly in the last 10 years. So they pressure the quarterback," said Dantonio.
"[They're a] senior-driven defense, four seniors in the secondary. Up front, good defensive tackles. As I said, Kerrigan, good defensive end. Linebackers are solid. They run, play hard. Offensively when you look at them, two of the top 10 receivers in the conference, (junior Keith) Smith and (senior Aaron) Valentin, wide receivers for them, outstanding, as well as (sophomore running back Ralph) Bolden, who I believe has run for about 835 (855)yards, maybe number three in the conference in rushing.
You combine that with (quarterback Joey) Elliott, an experienced offensive front. Elliott is leading the conference in passing, in total offense. Has done a great job. Their Achilles heel has been their turnovers. That's what has hurt them. They moved the football. I think Coach Hope has done an outstanding job in his first year. These games always go down to the wire. It will be an exciting opportunity for us. We need to go to there and get a win, make it number six, get Bowl eligible. That will be our focus."
Dantonio said that the Spartans have had to reevaluate their goals as they found themselves with just a .500 record at this point in the season. "Our goals are to win our last football games. That's certainly always going to be a goal of ours. I guess you have to systematically reevaluate your goals as you go," he explained.
"Right now, the opportunity is to go to a football Bowl game, a Bowl game. So that opportunity's going to exist as long as we win six games. Do we take a step back from where we initially thought? I guess you'd say, yeah, we do. But, you know, you have to play the cards that you're dealt at some point in time and reevaluate your situation and move forward.
If we were an 8-5 football team at the end of the Bowl season, is it where we want to be? We want to win a Big Ten championship every year. I think that's everybody's goal. It's less than we thought, but it is moving forward. When you go to a Bowl game the third straight year in a row, I think it's moving forward based on the past."
Dantonio said MSU can take something away from the fact that they did have success against their traditional rivals Michigan and Notre Dame, beating Michigan and losing a close contest at Notre Dame.
"I think that anytime you win your rivalry games, you have to look at that as being somewhat successful. If we were 9-3, had lost to Notre Dame and Michigan, you'd have to look at that as we didn't get it all done.
We have a lot of goals that we try and set for ourselves every year. Certainly that is one of our goals. So I guess you could say we reached that goal. Does that make the season successful? I think it does hinge on Bowl games to some degree certainly. If we don't go to a Bowl game, you can't cash it out, we gained experience and those type of things.
You're constantly evaluating and trying to build your program. Whether you're going into your third year or going into your fifth year, I think there's still building to do.
College is different. There's a constant change in who's playing for you, some of those things." Dantonio said the bowl game is important for a number of reasons. "I think it's very important. We've had the opportunity the last two years to have an additional 15 plus practices. Usually we have 15. Gives the young players an opportunity to get better. Keeps them on the field a little bit longer. We have certain parts of practice when we do go to Bowl games that are dedicated really to the younger players. We actually factor that into our practices, you know, whether we have short scrimmages or teach times or different things, pass skills that just have the younger players who haven't been worked with as much. A guy like Andrew Maxwell will benefit. A guy like Jairus Jones would benefit greatly from that. All of our freshmen, especially the offensive linemen. I think our freshmen offensive line would benefit greatly."
"It's important we reach that goal. We'll certainly try and work towards it. "