This time, Mark Dantonio's ongoing health issues did not steal the headlines. The No. 24 Spartans' 34-24 victory over No. 11 Wisconsin on Saturday at Spartan Stadium was too big, pushing Michigan State to 5-0 for the first time since 1999 and proving that the Spartans can play power football with the best of them.
But make no mistake, Dantonio played a key role, even from his hospital bed.
"He's always with us," junior QB Kirk Cousins said, "if you know what I mean."
Dantonio announced Tuesday that he'd spend the Wisconsin game in the coaching box, after a mild heart attack and emergency angioplasty on Sept. 19. But on Wednesday at practice, he started feeling discomfort in his leg.
He went to the hospital for a routine check-up, and doctors discovered a blood clot. Dantonio was admitted to the hospital and told his prognosis for full recovery remains excellent, but he was still in the hospital Saturday for the game, with a release expected soon.
The players were told Friday night about Dantonio's condition, but offensive coordinator/acting head coach Don Treadwell and the rest of the staff made sure there was no emotional jolt that might affect the Spartans' performance.
"We knew he was healthy," senior LB Jon Misch said, "so we were able to move past it and stay focused."
And Dantonio was involved Saturday. Defensive coordinator Pat Narduzzi said he got a steady stream of calls and text messages from Dantonio during the game. After the game, Treadwell put Dantonio on his speaker phone so he could share some thoughts and hear the MSU fight song in the locker room.
"We know he's in there critiquing every single play," junior WR Keith Nichol said of Dantonio. "We're playing for him, and I can't tell you how good of a job coach Treadwell is doing. It's great, the way everyone has responded, but we want coach D. back."
--Don Treadwell is raising his profile as a head coaching candidate, and he impressed against Wisconsin with three gutsy decisions to go for it in fourth-and-1 situations. The Spartans converted two of them, with a 23-yard option pitch to Le'Veon Bell to set up a touchdown late in the first half, and a 1-yard pass from Kirk Cousins to B.J. Cunningham for the clinching score with 2:43 left. That made it 34-24 Spartans.
The Spartans also were stuffed on a fourth-and-goal from the Wisconsin 1-yard line in the third quarter, but the Michigan State defense got the ball right back and the Spartans scored on the next possession.
Defensive coordinator Pat Narduzzi said head coach Mark Dantonio was consulted on some coaching decisions in the game, but Treadwell made those calls.
"I can't tell you how great of a job coach Treadwell has been doing for us," junior OG Joel Foreman said.
--The Spartans wanted to prove that they could match Wisconsin physically, after the Badgers held a 474-115 rushing edge in the past two meetings. This time, Michigan State had a 175-165 rushing edge and got key runs and key stops at the biggest moments.
"We wanted to prove that," senior LB Greg Jones said, "and I think we did."
--It was a shaky start for junior QB Kirk Cousins, whose ill-advised pass in the first quarter was picked off. Later, he threw another pick on a ball tipped at the line. But Cousins rebounded and came alive with a huge second half. He ended up outplaying Wisconsin counterpart Scott Tolzien by a wide margin. Cousins completed 20 of 29 passes for 263 yards and three touchdowns in the game.
GAME BALL GOES TO: Greg Jones. The senior LB said this game would define him, and he stepped up with eight tackles, three for losses, and frequent pressure on Wisconsin QB Scott Tolzien. Twice Jones stuffed Wisconsin star RB John Clay on key plays, and the Spartans broke Clay's 10-game streak of 100-yard rushing games.
KEEP AN EYE ON: Sophomore LB Chris Norman. He's splitting time now with senior Jon Misch, but Norman did some good things against Wisconsin. His speed could be key against Michigan star QB Denard Robinson.
QUOTE TO NOTE: "It's not too dull around East Lansing these days, is it? My goodness." --Michigan State offensive coordinator and acting head coach Don Treadwell.
STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL
LOOKING GOOD: The Spartans still had to prove they could run against a powerful team like Wisconsin, and they proved it with 175 yards, including some key bursts in the fourth quarter to preserve the lead. Sophomore Larry Caper has fallen to third behind Edwin Baker and Le'Veon Bell, but Caper had two big runs and a 35-yard gain on a screen on the Spartans' drive for a touchdown to put the game away.
STILL NEEDS WORK: It's amazing to think the Badgers gained just 292 yards -- and just 127 through the air -- despite such a feeble pass rush from the Spartans. Michigan State got just one sack in the game and infrequent pressure, an area that continues to need improvement.
--Sophomore TE Dion Sims pleaded guilty on Wednesday to felony receiving and concealing stolen property, in a massive laptop theft ring in Detroit. Sims may qualify for a program that would expunge the felony from his record. He remains suspended indefinitely and Michigan State has made no decision on his long-term future with the program.
--Junior DT Kevin Pickelman missed the start against Wisconsin and did not dress because of a shoulder injury. Michigan State is not saying yet whether Pickelman's season may be in jeopardy.
--The Spartans also were missing senior DE Colin Neely against the Badgers, and Neely has been Michigan State's best defensive end. He injured a hand and his return is uncertain.
The TSX Files: Michigan State
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