EAST LANSING, Mich. — Michigan State coach Mark Dantonio doesn’t act all that surprised these days when the Spartans beat a big-name opponent on the road.
They’ve now done it three times in last 12 months — against rivals Michigan, Ohio State and Notre Dame.
“We’re not going to win every football game, but we’re competitive. I think we understand what we’re doing,” Dantonio said Tuesday. “We’re able to sort of lift ourselves up sometimes. Right now we’ve got a culture which expects success. When you have that culture that expects success, good things tend to happen.”
The eighth-ranked Spartans may expect to win games like these, but there are still plenty of doubters whenever Michigan State takes on some of the top opponents in its region. Michigan was favored by about a touchdown over the Spartans last year, and Ohio State was favored by around two TDs. Notre Dame was favored by about a touchdown Saturday night, but Michigan State won 36-28.
Last weekend’s victory may look like less of an upset as the season progresses, but the Spartans (2-0) went into the game against Notre Dame with some significant questions. Michigan State hadn’t been particularly impressive in its season-opening win over Furman.
By the third quarter against the Irish, though, the Spartans had served notice that they should not be overlooked as they try to defend their Big Ten title. Michigan State led 36-7 before a late rally by Notre Dame set up an exciting finish.
Next up for the Spartans is their conference opener Saturday, at home against No. 11 Wisconsin.
“Coach D said it I guess best in meetings: You don’t get a ring for beating Notre Dame,” quarterback Tyler O’Connor said. “Nonconference games are great, and obviously in a big atmosphere it’s great, but it really kicks off — our motto is ‘back to back’ and you can’t do that without starting out (Big Ten play) 1-0.”
This is O’Connor’s first season as Michigan State’s starter after he waited his turn behind Connor Cook. He threw an interception in the second quarter Saturday but finished 19 of 26 for 241 yards and two touchdowns.
Michigan State outrushed Notre Dame 260-57, and the receiving corps was solid after the Spartans entered the season with some uncertainty there. Freshman Donnie Corley caught four passes for 88 yards and a TD, and R.J. Shelton had eight catches for 80 yards and a score.
“He was a recruited tailback. We moved him to wide receiver after we saw him catching the football,” Dantonio said of Shelton. “He made himself a wide receiver over the course of time. You sort of blossom in that respect. We’ll continue to do that with all of our players as we go. We’re going to always test them and say, ‘Hey, let’s try this guy over here, this guy over there, let’s see if he can do this or that.'”
On the other side of the ball, linebacker Jon Reschke stood out with a forced fumble and an interception.
“Jon had a great game. I think he was the player of the game, no question,” Dantonio said. “Right now he’s hitting his stride. I think last year he played very well, as well. Based on this last game, he stepped up in a big game in a prime-time situation and played extremely well. So we’re looking for more good things from him.”
After Cook used up his final season of eligibility last season, the Spartans appeared to have a big challenge ahead if they wanted to repeat last season’s success.
Last weekend was their first big test, and they passed in impressive fashion.
“As far as where we’re at as a program, we took a big step I think this past weekend,” Dantonio said. “Now we need to get ourselves back locked in. I think I must say — how many hundreds of times? — I think we need to move forward. That’s the basis of who we are.”