November 7, 2009

Dantonio: 'We were ready to play'

EAST LANSING - Michigan State head coach Mark Dantonio and his football team re-shuffled their goals after a tough Halloween night loss at Minnesota last weekend.

With a Big Ten title out of reach and a New Year's Day bowl game an unrealistic possibility, the Spartans came into their non-conference game with a mission of winning their final three games in the month of November.

To win the month of November, the Spartans needed to get back in the win column against Western Michigan before closing out the season with a road game at Purdue before going back home to face Penn State.
Michigan State got back into the win column with a lopsided 49-14 victory over an overmatched Western Michigan football team.

The Broncos may have been at disadvantage in talent against Michigan State, but Western Michigan was not in awe of Michigan State. Since Bill Cubit has been head coach, Western Michigan has been a thorn for Big Ten teams. The Broncos upended Illinois last season and Iowa the year before. Western struggled against Michigan during the season opener, but bounced back with a strong performance against Indiana the next week.

"Western is a football team that has gotten it done the last two years - against Illinois last year, and Iowa the year before," explained Dantonio. "They also really got it done the year before that against Purdue. They play the role of spoiler and that really got the attention of our guys. The fact that they are also a Michigan football team gets our guys attention as well, and where we were at before the game because we really needed to win this game. We needed to be 5-5 in order to reach the next step in our goals. I think this win makes the statement that we were ready to play, and we played a lot of players."

A victory over WMU helped Michigan State overcome a number of mental hurdles. For the first time this season, Michigan State was able to rush for more than 200 yards in a game. The ground game was also effective on the goal line, thanks to the inspired running of 235-pound Ashton Leggett, who had been the scout team running back before Caulton Ray and Andre Anderson were dismissed from the football team two weeks ago.

"I am very happy for Ashton Leggett," Dantonio said. "He knew that he was going to have an opportunity to play with Larry Caper out with a head injury. That just speaks of the quality of the running backs that we have on this team, and I have said all along that the tailback has been a position of depth on this team and I think that you saw that today."

Leggett's biggest play might have been his first carry. After Edwin Baker was stuffed for no gain on second-and-1 from the 29-yard line, Leggett carried the ball for the first time since Michigan State's season opener against Montana State.

Leggett's 71-yard touchdown run was a spark that for the Spartan offense racked up 603 yards of total offense.

Caper could have played according to Dantonio, but the Spartans thought it more prudent to give Caper a week off to be on the safe side. Caper was not the only Spartan starter on the sidelines against the Broncos. Third-year starting nose tackle Oren Wilson was out of action and Jerel Worthy played a limited number of snaps at defensive tackle. Michigan State starters Marcus Hyde and Dan Fortener played on special teams, but not on defense for the Spartans.

Michigan State had solid production their replacements. Trenton Robinson played his best game of the season as a replacement for Fortener. Kevin Pickelman and Ishmyl Johnsonplayed well on the interior of the Spartan defensive line.

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