Michigan State happily accommodated its recuperating head coach with a stress-free afternoon.
“We wanted Coach D to have as peaceful of a day as possible,” quarterback Kirk Cousins said Saturday.
A 35-0 halftime lead becomes a very effective tranquilizer.
As much as everyone wanted to maintain a business-as-usual approach in Mark Dantonio’s absence, it’s obvious that the last seven days in East Lansing were anything but usual. College students are easily distracted under the most serene of circumstances, but the suddenness of Dantonio’s heart attack and the uncertainty of when he might return created honest concerns about the Spartans’ ability to compartmentalize their emotions following such a weeklong rollercoaster.
Dantonio should be proud of them.
Northern Colorado was a patsy worthy of creme filling and the Spartans did what ranked, unbeaten teams are supposed to do to a patsy. Step on its throat early.
Nobody on the team knew how much Dantonio saw of the Spartans’ 45-7 yawner from the comfort of his home, but he should be most pleased that maintaining focus wasn’t a problem. How a team handles adversity is a direct reflection of the foundation of a program — and Michigan State executed its game plan as if nothing out of ordinary had occurred.
Dantonio surprised his players when he stopped by Friday’s practice. They were told there was a specials team meeting and when they saw him they applauded.
“It meant a lot,” said running back Edwin Baker, who scored 98 seconds into the game. “It was great to see the life in his eyes, knowing that he’s doing well. I think it was a big part of our win. I know it made us feel good when we went up, 21-0, to know that he’s at home watching and not having to worry about us.”
MSU wore a D on the back of its helmets.
“He told us to keep playing how we knew he wanted us to play,” said freshman running back Le’Veon Bell, who scored three times. “We went out there and tried to play for him.”
Dantonio called offensive coordinator and fill-in head coach Don Treadwell before the game, wishing him luck and telling him to relax. Shouldn’t it have been the other way around? “It was good to hear from him,” Treadwell said. “He just has that reassuring voice when you talk to him.”
Treadwell admitted to a little preliminary nervousness as the acting coach, but he credited the strong support his staff received from everyone within the university hierarchy the past week.
There remains no specific timetable for Dantonio’s return. He is scheduled for a check-up with his cardiologist Monday, which will be eight days after he suffered a mild heart attack soon after MSU’s thrilling prime-time, overtime victory against Notre Dame. Dantonio, 54, underwent an emergency angioplasty to open a blocked artery and insert a stent.
There’s speculation he might watch next weekend’s Big Ten opener against Wisconsin from the coach’s box, but that’s a decision only the coach, his family and his doctors can make.
As Cousins put it: You only have one heart, and that takes priority over a football game.