Spartan Toughness - It's Rock Solid

Spartan Toughness - It's Rock Solid

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Spartan Toughness - It's Rock Solid

Michigan State responded to a week’s worth of rhetoric, foot-stomping, and babble from The Circus with a victory over a surging Purdue team that was filled with toughness, focus, and pride. The season, as a result, takes a meaningful and energetic turn.

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It came out a bit awkwardly and was sort of apropos of nothing in particular in the moment.

“We enlarged our territory today…”

After one of the more emotionally charged weeks of his twelve year tenure as the steward of Michigan State’s proud football program, Mark Dantonio was trying to instinctively assure Spartans of something.

His Spartans had just earned a hard-fought 23-13 victory over the Purdue Boilermakers who were streaking, had come off of a 49-20 dismantling of Ohio State, and were picked by everyone with a flapping mouth to kick Michigan State when it was down and send the Spartan program spiraling.

Dantonio’s words – “We enlarged our territory today…” were delivered towards the end of his post game press conference at Spartan Stadium and they represented his way of delivering this message:

The Circus down the street might be up to its old tricks again but this program right here – the one I’m responsible for driving – didn’t weaken this week like everyone thinks it did.

This program got stronger.

We might have taken a punch to the gut out on the field last week and in some ignorant corners of the town square – but if anyone thinks we’re gonna cower in the corner and let any narratives, any truly juvenile behavior, any ridiculous and fraudulent rhetoric, any whining, any insane bureaucratic nonsense, and The Circus push us around and keep us from doing what we do, think again.

The Circus clowns came in here last week and threw peanuts and left their clown shoe marks all over the place and when they left town they barreled out of here as if they’d just reinvented Vaudeville but we’re not gonna let anyone ever think they have any control over us or our territory.

“A lot of people took notice today. People took notice all over the country today that the Spartans got up and played.”

He was right.

As The Circus did its best all week to distract and keep the insanity aflame, all of The Experts considered this Spartan team, for all intents and purposes, dead.

This week’s conventional wisdom pointed to the decimated roster, the probability that the team would be without its starting quarterback, the beaten spirit, the probable reversion to Spartan days of old, and the idea that everything was, at long last, falling back into the order of The Circus.

Mark Dantonio and his Spartans, meanwhile, put their collective heads down and went right back to work.

Saturday’s victory over Purdue featured so many different important elements – highlighted, of course, by the fantastic performance of Rocky Lombardi.

But the victory did so much more than get the Spartans to 5-3 on the season (3-2 in the Big Ten) and reveal a potential superstar quarterback for the future.

Michigan State’s 23-13 victory over Purdue was about the football program – and, yes, the university – refusing to let other people drive the narrative as they believe they can do.

The Circus has a lot of muscle and P.T. Barnum over there has a huge and loud megaphone.

But as long as Mark Dantonio is around, Michigan State is only going to work to enlarge its territory.

On Saturday in East Lansing, after a gritty, tough victory that had to be achieved in order to right the ship, Dantonio assured everyone in Green and White that his program’s fire, determination, and belief system isn’t going to be bullied by anyone.

THE BELIEF SYSTEM IS INTACT

At one point during the post game press conference, Dantonio said, “The belief system is intact.”

That was crystal clear all afternoon as the Spartans executed and played with energy, discipline, and focus against a team that had won four straight, had just destroyed Ohio State, and was being feted by all of The Experts, locally and nationally.

Jeff Brohm’s Boilermakers entered Saturday’s game with the Big Ten’s #2 offense and 5th year senior quarterback David Blough had been torching opponents through the air.

Michigan State’s razor-sharp and tough-as-nails defense controlled Blough all afternoon, limiting him to 277 yards, pressuring and harassing him all game long, and picking off three of his passes – a week after he threw for 378 yards and three touchdowns against the Buckeyes.

Purdue’s powerful running back, D.J. Knox ran all over Ohio State last week, finishing that game with 128 yards and three touchdowns.

Michigan State limited Knox to 51 yards on seven carries and Knox didn’t get a sniff of the endzone.

Purdue’s freshman phenom, Rondale Moore, had 170 yards on 12 catches with two touchdowns against Ohio State a week ago as part of a season that may earn him Big Ten Freshman of the Year honors.

The Spartans stuffed Moore all afternoon in East Lansing – Moore finished with 74 yards on 11 catches and, most importantly, Michigan State never let Moore get loose for any big plays.

Blough found tight end Bryce Hopkins for a few long tosses over the middle and underneath the deep coverage but those plays wound up being largely inconsequential thanks to plays like Tyriq Thompson’s sensational hit and interception that thwarted and frustrated the Boiler offense all game.

Purdue scored one touchdown after averaging 41 points during it’s four-game winning streak and 35 points over the course of the full season.

The Michigan State defense delivered one of the more underrated and truly spectacular performances during the Dantonio Era – and the defense delivered that performance when it absolutely had to be delivered.

ROCKY LOMBARDI

While the defense played lights out, the performance of redshirt freshman quarterback Rocky Lombardi will be the lasting memory of this victory.

Lombardi’s numbers against Purdue were very good – he finished 26 of 46 with 318 yards, two touchdowns, and no interceptions.

But it really wasn’t the numbers on the stat sheet that made Lombardi’s performance so magical and important.

He played with a calm, cool confidence and he was in full control of the entire situation from the opening kickoff until the game was finally locked away.

Lombardi had a few tosses he’d sure like to have back that could have broken the game open – but he made the throws he had to make and he led the offense with a crisp precision and an energy that was absolutely needed.

The 9-play, 87-yard drive Lombardi engineered at the end of the first half might have been the best drive the Spartans have had all season.

The 11-yard touchdown pass that Lombardi fired to Darrell Stewart that gave Michigan State a 13-6 lead was a big-time throw and kept the energy and belief that Lombardi was igniting and supercharged it.

As Lombardi finally got to the Spartan locker room at Spartan Stadium after his post game interviews on the field had wrapped up, he was greeted by his teammates, coaches, and supporters with the chants.

“ROCKY! ROCKY! ROCKY!”

Everyone got to see what Rocky Lombardi is capable of on Saturday.

Now, there is even a potential challenge on the horizon as Brian Lewerke works to get back to 100% health.

Dantonio and the Spartans will welcome that type of “problem” during a season that has featured more injuries to more key players than anyone can recall.

Just to be clear – the injuries can’t ever be used as any sort of “excuse” for losses.

But the injuries have certainly been a factor throughout this 2018 season.

SPARTAN TOUGHNESS

And there the Spartans were all afternoon against Purdue – fighting through the personnel issues, the practical domino effects the injuries have had on the schemes and the weaponry.

Justin Layne continues to show he’s leader who is only going to do more through the remainder of this season and next.

Layne played brilliantly on defense and supplied a much-needed spark on offense, too, in giving Lombardi another option as a receiver.

Sophomore safety Tre Person was all over the field and finished with six solo tackles and provided key moments of tight coverage.

Joe Bachie, of course, was a menace and made several sensational and essential plays in coverage that thwarted the Boilers’ attempts to establish drives.

Raequan Williams was a monster and continues to evolve into an NFL-bound star.

Kenny Willekes harassed Blough and (as usual) was all over the place for Michigan State.

Khari Willis played sensational football, as usual.

Xavier Henderson, Antuan Simmons, Shakur Brown, Brandon Bouyer-Randle, Byron Bullough, Naquan Jones, Gerald Owens, Grayson Miller, Matt Morrissey – every one of these guys played great football for Michigan State, as they have all season long.

The Panasiuk brothers both deserve credit for Mike’s blocked field goal late in the game since the two guys are practically one, massive, committed, powerful Spartan on that defensive interior that played strong, tough defense all game long.

How about this guy?

Just about all of these guys are coming back next season, too.

But before anyone starts to think about how there is so much potential for a huge season in 2019, let’s recognize that Saturday’s win over Purdue, all of a sudden, gets this season back on a track that could lead to yet another fantastic season for the Spartans.

MAJOR GOALS STILL ATTAINABLE

At 5-3/3-2, the reality is that a Big Ten East title is probably out of reach.

But there are major goals that are very much back within reach.

Despite all sorts of their own adversity, the Maryland Terps are also 5-3 and are coming off of a 63-33 win over Illinois.

Maryland has played good football this season while dealing with a mess no team or fan base ever wants to have to face.

But this Michigan State team probably has as much confidence as its had all season right now, particularly when considering the way the team responded to the way The Circus dominated the scene over the last week.

A victory over the Terps would get Michigan State to 6-3, 4-2.

Then, the focus would turn to a visit from Ohio State.

Why can’t this Spartan team win out, finish 9-3, get to a good bowl game, and cap off the season with yet another 10-win season?

“This was maybe as rewarding of a win as we’ve had in our time here,” is what Dantonio said towards the end of his post game press conference.

On a piece of paper, a 23-13 win over Purdue to get to 5-3 in a season that had most people thinking of a Big Ten Championship and possible College Football Playoff appearance might not warrant that type of sentiment.

But the reality is that Dantonio’s quote there made perfect sense.

The Circus worked overtime all week to stick its thumb in the eye of the Spartan program.

Dantonio wasn’t having any of it.

Rocky Lombardi wasn’t having any of it.

The entire Michigan State defense wasn’t having any of it.

Michigan State wasn’t having any of it.

And the Spartans’ season has taken on a whole new sense of energy and optimism as a result.

Let The Circus have its fun.

The Spartans will, in the meantime, keep working hard to represent the program with focus, commitment, toughness – and class.

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