Dantonio Ready For Anything Against UM: "Don't Like Confrontation, Best Stay At Home"

Look no further than last year for evidence.

97.1 The Ticket
November 13, 2019 - 6:41 pm

Leon Halip / Stringer


Emotions always run hot when Michigan and Michigan State meet on the football field. 

As Michigan's Ambry Thomas said Monday, “It’s about who’s the big brother and who’s the little sister in this state. That’s what it’s really about." 

In the lead-up to the game, comments like those get magnified. Every little word can become bulletin-board material. So Mark Dantonio was asked on Tuesday if he tells his players to be careful what they say to the media during Michigan week. 

"I really haven't," he said. "I've chosen to try to be respectful towards the rivalry and sort of take the high road. I think our players have tried to do that as well. I'm sure there's something going on, always. But that's the nature of this game a little bit, too. Like I said earlier, you don't like confrontation, best stay at home.

"You need to get yourself ready for it. It's coming." 

Confrontation swirled during last year's game, starting a couple hours before kickoff when Dantonio and Michigan State took what Jim Harbaugh deemed an "orchestrated storm-trooper march" through a trio of Michigan players warming up on the field. 

"Bush league," Harbaugh called it. 

You know what ensued. 

With Michigan State traveling to Ann Arbor this year, Dantonio was asked what he tells his players when they walk into a rival's house. 

"First thing you need to tell them is, 'Don't walk. Run,'" he said. "So that's what we'll focus on."

As for the incident that came after Michigan State's pregame march last year, when Devin Bush stomped on the Spartans logo at midfield, Dantonio said "it's in the past." That doesn't mean Saturday will be a quiet affair. The memory likely still simmers in the minds of many Michigan State players. 

When these two teams meet, Dantonio said, confrontation is "just natural." 

"You have guys that have played against each other in high school. You have guys that have played already in this football game, so it's a competitive environment," he said. "The biggest thing that we need to do is have total focus on what we need to do at the right time, not make mistakes and just play hard. Play harder than hard. 

"And as we've gone down there in the past, there's been great sportsmanship, so I look towards that. I don't look away from that. I look towards that." 

Of course, Dantonio applauded Michigan's sportsmanship before last year's game, too. So who knows how things might turn this year. Whether tempers flare or not, it's a huge game for the Spartans. Michigan State has lost four straight, and Dantonio is losing support as head coach. 

A win, unlikely as it is, would help redeem a spoiled season. That said, Dantonio isn't feeling extra pressure. 

"I think there's always pressure in this game, because as I said earlier, you're always trying to measure up. So I don't feel any added pressure," he said. "It's a big game. It's always been a national TV game, pretty much. It's always been a game that's had everybody looking at it. It's always been one of those type of situations." 

For Dantonio, the rivalry returns at the right time. He's 8-4 against Michigan during his tenure at Michigan State, and 4-1 at the Big House. His only loss there came in 2012. 

"It's a tremendous, challenging environment down there," he said. "They are a very good football team and a well-coached football team. They are going to play aggressively and we need to match that. When I say measure up, we need to match their aggression, their intensity, all of that." 

Against Jim Harbaugh, Dantonio is 2-2. The two have alternated wins since Harbaugh arrived in 2015. 

"He's done a great job," Dantonio said. "He's recruited extremely well. Michigan has always had great players. I think they are doing a great job defensively, offensively and he's a good football coach. The guy is a Hall of Fame football coach, whether it's the NFL or it's in college, so you can expect them to play well." 

On Monday, Harbaugh called Dantonio a "master motivator." In light of this, Dantonio was asked which two words he would use to describe Harbaugh. 

"Intense, and I would say, intense," he said with a laugh. "I think he does a great job. I think he's truly committed to every single play on the football field. He's going to think outside the box. He's going to do different things. You have seen him in the past do things that create adjustments for you, and then you're going to have to adjust within that football game.

"He's extremely competitive, intense, but I think most coaches are."