Spartans with room for improvement before Ohio St
Mark Dantonio approached the lectern and addressed reporters with a knowing smile.
''Great to see everybody here today,'' he said.
The Michigan State coach was in a better mood Tuesday than he was after a lackluster 23-7 win over Eastern Michigan over the weekend - but that doesn't mean his assessment of that game has changed. After Saturday's victory, he hurried through a terse news conference full of abrupt answers. Dantonio said ''next question'' seven times in under a minute and was clearly annoyed with the way his team played.
On Tuesday, he spoke for about a half-hour, but Michigan State isn't making any players or assistants available this week. The 20th-ranked Spartans host No. 14 Ohio State on Saturday in their Big Ten opener, and their coach is trying to send a clear message that it's time to get serious.
''I think everybody got the gist of how I was feeling on Saturday evening,'' Dantonio said. ''But I just really felt like the three staples, the three things that we really need to emphasize in our program - the toughness, effort, the knowledge of what to do - was inconsistent in the weekend, last weekend's game.''
Michigan State (3-1) won its first two games before a 20-3 home loss to Notre Dame and the victory over EMU. Le'Veon Bell ran for 253 yards on 36 carries on Saturday, but the Spartans may need a little more offensive balance during conference play.
''I know there's frustration out there,'' Dantonio said. ''We're certainly working at it. It's frustrating for all of us, as indicated by my press conference Saturday evening. Hope I still have a good relationship with the media.''
Andrew Maxwell, a new starting quarterback working with inexperienced receivers, went 16 of 29 for 159 yards Saturday. His main target was tight end Dion Sims, who caught six passes for 112 yards.
When asked after the game if his offense needed to be better against Ohio State, Dantonio's answer was a simple: ''Yes. Next question.''
He was a little less blunt Tuesday, at one point comparing his team to bamboo.
''That bamboo tree doesn't grow, and all of a sudden it may grow 40 feet in two months,'' Dantonio said. ''We have to wait for our young players to grow - can't give up on them. Have to nurture them and treat them with love. That's what we'll do. At times there needs to be tough love as well, and that's what we'll respond with.''
The Spartans certainly have their strengths. Michigan State is ranked sixth in the country in total defense. Bell is third in the country in rushing.
Notre Dame beat Michigan immediately after topping Michigan State, so there's not much reason yet to question the Spartans' ability to contend in the Big Ten. Of course, that outlook could change after this weekend, when the Buckeyes and new coach Urban Meyer pay a visit to Spartan Stadium.
ESPN College Gameday will broadcast from East Lansing for only the sixth time, but this will be the third big home game for Michigan State already this year. The Spartans hosted Boise State and Notre Dame.
''Another great environment here, great event. It will really be a great atmosphere. I guess I would say I can hardly contain myself,'' Dantonio deadpanned. ''I think the crowd's got to remain positive obviously through thick and thin, especially during the thin times. I think that's just the way you've got to go sometimes. If you're a Spartan, that's what you do.''