No. 21 Mich State aims to bounce back after loss
Michigan State coach Mark Dantonio hopes his team bounces back from a lopsided loss to Notre Dame just as it did last season.
Notre Dame dominated the Spartans last week 20-3, sending them plummeting from No. 10 to No. 21 in The Associated Press poll.
The Fighting Irish handed Michigan State a 31-13 setback last year and it responded by winning four straight and eight of nine to earn a spot in the Big Ten's first championship game.
Dantonio would rather have his team learn lessons from wins, but said the loss doesn't have spoil a season that started with high expectations for the Spartans (2-1).
''I think we can still have a very good football team,'' Dantonio said. ''All of our goals are in front of us. That's what's important in this aspect here, everything is in front of us. We start the Big Ten season next week. The focus right now is at the task at hand, Eastern Michigan.''
Dantonio vows the Spartans will be ready to play the winless Eagles on Saturday at home.
Eastern Michigan (0-3) should give Michigan State a chance to boost its confidence before Big Ten play. The Mid-American Conference team lost at Ball State and to Illinois State by an average of two touchdowns to open the season and got routed 54-16 last week at Purdue.
Eagles coach Ron English said his players paid too much attention to people patting them on their backs after snapping the program's 15-year streak of having losing seasons with a 6-6 record last year.
''If you don't know success and they haven't here in a long time, then you don't know that .500 is mediocrity,'' English said. ''Everybody was telling them how they're going to be good and they believed they could just show up and win.
''They found out otherwise after we lacked energy and enthusiasm in the first two games. The score of the Purdue game got distorted after we trailed 13-9 with 5 minutes to go in the first half because we turned the ball over too much and gave up too many big plays.''
Eastern Michigan quarterback Alex Gillett threw three interceptions against the Boilermakers and was replaced by Tyler Benz. Even though Gillett will likely start the 31st game of his career at Spartan Stadium, he might not finish it if he struggles again.
''If you don't play well, you create more competition at your position,'' English said. ''You can't keep making turnovers and think you're going to keep playing.''
Michigan State quarterback Andrew Maxwell has a firm grip on his job, but he has taken some criticism for a shaky starting debut against Boise State and for an inconsistent performance against Notre Dame. Maxwell said he knows his role puts him in the position to be the face of the offense and one of the key voices on the team, saying the key is to not worry about how people talk about him.
''You have to have thick skin in the praise and you have to have thick skin in the criticism,'' he said. ''If you get caught up in either one, then when the other one comes you're kind of going to be thrown off-guard. I have to have thick skin as a quarterback and our team has to have thick skin and realize inside the walls of the building and inside the team is what truly matters to us.''
Eastern Michigan running backs coach Mike Hart will likely want to block out a lot of voices in East Lansing because of infamous remarks he made there in 2007. After helping Michigan overcome a 10-point deficit midway through the fourth quarter to beat Michigan State, Hart referred to the Spartans as a little brother.
Dantonio later lashed out at Hart, saying ''pride comes before the fall,'' and has gone on to beat Michigan four straight years.
English had no interest in allowing Hart to be interviewed this week because he didn't want to fire up Dantonio even more.
''If I was the coach there, I would use that as motivation so that they don't have a letdown,'' English said. ''Mike can't explain it away and I don't think he needs to address it anymore, so he won't. He was a player when he said it and he's a coach now.''
Follow Larry Lage on Twitter: http://twitter.com/larrylage