Spartans back in top 10 as they head into week off

Few teams have experienced as eventful a season as Michigan

State, so it was with understandable relief that coach Mark

Dantonio and his players looked ahead to their open date after

routing Minnesota.

With two games remaining in the regular season, the Spartans are

right in the middle of the Big Ten race – a prospect that seemed

remote in September when Dantonio was hospitalized after a mild

heart attack. The Michigan State coach says his health is good now,

but after a 31-8 victory over the Golden Gophers, he figures his

team deserves a breather.

”It’s been a long 10 weeks, physically and emotionally,”

Dantonio said. ”When I talk about emotionally, they went all the

way through August to now, day in and day out. Obviously there were

some great wins and that tough loss last week. And there was me off

the field, I guess.

”I think from an emotional standpoint, we just need to get away

from football for a couple of days and just sort of be regular

human beings.”

The Spartans jumped six spots to No. 10 in Sunday’s AP poll, and

now they’ll sit back and watch other contenders in the Big Ten try

to avoid slipping up. The top teams in the conference – Michigan

State, Ohio State, Wisconsin and Iowa – each have one league

loss.

The Spartans’ defeat was a resounding one – a 37-6 loss at Iowa

on Oct. 30 – but it didn’t carry over. In fact, Michigan State

(9-1, 5-1 Big Ten) got off to a great start, rolling to a 21-0

halftime lead against Minnesota. The Golden Gophers lost their

ninth straight game.

Edwin Baker ran for 179 yards and four touchdowns, two of which

came on fourth down. At the end of the second quarter, the Spartans

let the clock run on fourth down before taking a timeout with 4

seconds left. Baker then scored from a yard out.

”(Coach) just told me to get the ball in the end zone, and I

took great pride in that,” Baker said. ”I just trusted my line

and fullback and lowered my pads to get across the end zone. It was

a really big touchdown, and a huge momentum boost for us going into

the half.”

Ohio State isn’t on Michigan State’s schedule this season. The

Spartans’ last two regular season games are home against Purdue and

at Penn State.

Dantonio has won 31 games in his first four seasons at Michigan

State, setting a school record, but the program hasn’t had a 10-win

season since 1999 under Nick Saban.

”We need to go 3-0 in the month of November. That’s our goal.

That’s our benchmark,” Dantonio said. ”We need to take the

opportunity to get refreshed a little bit, take this week off. When

I say off it means we will lift Monday, Wednesday, Friday, and we

will practice Tuesday and Thursday. But light. It is off. Our

players will get down time to rest.”

Michigan State is hopeful the open date will help some banged up

players. Dantonio said receiver Keshawn Martin, who hurt his knee

two weeks ago, could have played in an emergency against Minnesota

but didn’t need to.

After a difficult game at Iowa, quarterback Kirk Cousins went 9

of 20 for 131 yards with an interception against Minnesota – and he

sounded ready for some rest.

”It is huge. We probably could have gotten it two weeks earlier

which would have been best, but we will take it right now,”

Cousins said. ”A lot of guys have some injuries where really the

only cure is rest. To continue to go out there and practice is only

going to keep them lingering. So this week of rest will really

help.”