EAST LANSING, Mich. — What are the chances that Michigan State can get its act together in time for next Saturday’s game at Michigan?
The 19-16, double-overtime loss to Iowa on Saturday made “gut check” the catch phrase after a game in which the Spartans could not catch a break or the ball when it counted most.
There wasn’t a Spartans player who expressed anything but confidence in regard to playing the Wolverines in the annual intrastate hate game.
That was to be expected. History is a better indicator, and the scores of Paul Bunyan Trophy games past indicate the Spartans will be all right.
During the current four-game winning streak over Michigan, State won twice coming off a bad skid or a decisive loss.
In 2008, the Spartans had just been destroyed, 45-7, by Ohio State the week before going to Ann Arbor. And that Michigan team brought a six-game winning streak into the game, with its most recent victory coming in the “Little Brother” game.
The Spartans gave “Big Brother” his comeuppance that year with a 35-21 victory dedicated to Wolverines tailback Mike Hart, who must have squirmed a little over belittling his Big Ten brethren after their 2007 victory.
In 2009, State was 1-3 and coming off three consecutive losses, but beat Michigan, 26-20, in overtime.
So the Wolverines, 45-0 winners over Illinois on Saturday, have proven to be just the right antidote for the Spartans when they are feeling sick about the way they’ve been playing.
“With this next week being Michigan, we don’t need to have a pep talk or anything like that,” State offensive guard Chris McDonald said. “We are all going to be pumped, and we’re all going to have a chip on our shoulders.”
The Spartans could win 10 in a row against the Wolverines and have a chip on their shoulders. It will always be that way.
Outside linebacker Denicos Allen played a whale of a game on a rainy Saturday, leading his team with 13 tackles and picking off a pass. He said it was “really disappointing” and “frustrating” to lose to the Hawkeyes, but wanted to make one thing clear:
“Next week is Michigan, a big rivalry game, in their house,” Allen said. “It’s time to see what we’re all about. It’s time to see if we can respond to a loss like this and keep our hopes up for the Big Ten championship.”
The Spartans are 4-3 overall and 1-2 in the conference. Hopes of finishing first are dim but still possible. Losing next week ends any chance that isn’t linked to mathematics.
What’s the key to bouncing back?
“It’s not feeling sorry for ourselves,” quarterback Andrew Maxwell said. “We’ve got to play for next week, and the Michigan game is the biggest game of the season for us.
“We can’t look at this season as a loss. We can’t look at this as seeing ourselves behind the eight ball.”
The Spartans did put themselves in a position to lose to Iowa, though.
Cornerback Darqueze Dennard couldn’t come down with an end-zone interception before what ended up being the game-winning Iowa field goal. Then Maxwell’s high throw to Keith Mumphery tipped off his fingers and into the hands of Hawkeyes cornerback Greg Castillo to end the game and Maxwell’s streak of 233 throws without an interception.
“You go from having an opportunity to win at the end of the football game to losing it in a split second,” State coach Mark Dantonio said. “It’s tough to deal with and tough for our players and coaches.
“The message to our football team is to look forward and not backwards. It can always get worse.
“We’ve got Michigan next week. We need to make sure we are ready to play next week after we deal with this today.”
Defensive end William Gholston, who was suspended for one game after punching Wolverines offensive tackle Taylor Lewan in last year’s game and also twisted quarterback Denard Robinson’s face mask after a late hit, was asked about the mindset in playing Michigan.
“Be prepared to do whatever you have to do,” Gholston said. “They always come out hard.
“We can’t let down. We’ve got Michigan next week.”