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Sunday, September 4, 2011

"We'll address our issues," Dantonio said. "I can promise you that."

From Drew Sharp at

EAST LANSING -- There was some blunt, colorful halftime commentary within the Michigan State locker room. The Spartans looked sluggish, leading lower division cousin Youngstown State by only eight points. The assessment was deservingly harsh, but anyone thinking the coaches chipped the paint off the walls with their blistering verbiage or sent chairs flying in rage should understand something.
There's no need for such histrionics now.
When you've had the same system in place for what's now five years, everybody already knows what needs to be done to turn what went wrong into what should be right.
"Everyone was mad," said wide receiver B.J. Cunningham. "The coaches were upset. The players were
upset. We knew that we were capable of playing better. But there's not a doubt in our minds that we'll correct the mistakes. We know it's fixable."
Mark Dantonio smiled and assured all that "we'll work on things, don't worry."
Kirk Cousins thought the Spartans' rather unimpressive 28-6 win over the Penguins accomplished two important goals. First, MSU won. Second, it left them with lots of room for improvement.
Coaches always are seeking teachable moments.
The lesson the Spartans can learn is that they aren't as good as some of the August press clippings suggested. A little season-opening rust wasn't unexpected, and Dantonio acknowledged there was a fog around the team. The emotions tugging at the coach this past week could've contributed to that. Just 24 hours before taking the field for the opener, Dantonio buried his 86-year-old father in Zanesville, Ohio, following a heart attack.
But if there's an advantage for the Spartans as this season progresses and, with it, the expectations that they've now become a model of coaching stability.
Who would have ever imagined that?
Big names Florida, Ohio State and Michigan introduced new coaches Saturday. Notre Dame's Brian Kelly and USC's Lane Kiffin began their second seasons.
Continuity is vital, particularly at the collegiate level when you're dealing with 19-year-olds with already challenged attention spans.
Defensive coordinator Pat Narduzzi has been at MSU since Dantonio arrived five years ago. Let's just say, the guy developed the reputation of occasionally being an explosive screamer when trying to raise a point to his players. But that's because those first three to four years, you're constantly driving home what you're looking for in executing every minute detail of your system.
When you get to Year 5, there's no longer mystery or confusion as to what each player should be doing in your designated system. The players know what they did wrong. They didn't tackle well and took some bad penalties. Sophomore defensive end William Gholston's offside penalty kept alive a Youngstown State drive deep in MSU territory. On the next play, the Penguins scored their only touchdown.
Narduzzi was low key afterward, grading the overall defensive performance as "average."
For the Spartans' sake, this had better have been the exception. They'll get another tune-up next week before the season's first potential test -- at Notre Dame -- to clear the fog out of their heads.
"We'll address our issues," Dantonio said. "I can promise you that. This is our first game, so maybe it's good we don't feel too good about ourselves. People have been saying a lot of nice things about us in August."
It's now September. It's time to get to work.
Contact Drew Sharp: 313-223-4055 or .

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