Michigan State’s Shilique Calhoun (89) and Damon Knox (93) sack CMU’s Cooper Rush (10) in the second quarter of play Saturday, September 26, 2015 at Spartan Stadium.
EAST LANSING – Mark Dantonio did the same thing many observers must have done when another Michigan State-Central Michigan game entered the fourth quarter with nothing decided.
“I said, ‘OK, here we go. Here we go. It’s gonna be real interesting now,’” Dantonio said of a game that was 17-10 Spartans at the time. “But we rallied up.”
Rather than fade late and let a lead shrink, as they did in the first three games, the No. 2 Spartans controlled the fourth quarter and won 30-10. And considering an injury situation that is bordering on crisis levels and the natural pressure their ranking creates, they’ll take that and a 4-0 start.
“I’m pretty sure Coach D. ain’t tripping, so we’re cool,” MSU sophomore defensive tackle Malik McDowell said of his coach, who was least pleased with his team’s third-down defense against CMU (1-3) and quarterback Cooper Rush, but glad to see his senior quarterback, Connor Cook, tie Kirk Cousins for most wins in program history (27).
“You take a bad day and you make it a good day by winning,” Dantonio said. “And my thought process is, it’s very difficult to win. We say that every week. … I still feel like we’ve not played our best football game. And part of that is everybody comes – we’re gonna get everybody’s best shot.”
The Spartans are getting used to that by now. They’re also used to seeing key players go down.
There’s no word yet on starting left tackle Jack Conklin, who hurt his left knee in the second quarter and wore a brace on it in the second half. But he could be the latest key player to miss significant time — joining linebacker Ed Davis (knee, out for season), cornerback Vayante Copeland (fractured vertebra, out for season) and right tackle Kodi Kieler (knee, out indefinitely).
MSU also played without defensive tackle Joel Heath (undisclosed) and lost safety RJ Williamson (lower body) and tight end Josiah Price (ankle), though not before Price set the MSU record for receiving touchdowns by a tight end with his 14th.
“Yeah, it’s tough – you never want guys to go down, especially some of the starters or great guys that have gone down,” MSU junior middle linebacker Riley Bullough said. “But like I said, there’s nothing really we can do about that. It’s football. We need to get the No. 2 guys ready to go in there and fill their spot, and match the intensity of the No. 1 guys.”
Sophomore Shane Jones did that, playing well in the place of Bullough, who had to sit out the first half after he was called for “targeting” late in last week’s win over Air Force. MSU stuffed the run and forced third-and-long all day, but Rush (285 yards) was 13-for-16 passing on third and fourth down.
The Spartans relied heavily on senior defensive end Shilique Calhoun, who had 2 ½ sacks and one of two blocked field goals for MSU. Sophomore defensive end Demetrius Cooper had the other blocked field goal and a sack of his own.
MSU ran it better, gaining 181 yards after picking up just 77 against Air Force, and No. 3 back Gerald Holmes had two touchdown runs in the fourth quarter. It was interesting. And then it wasn’t.
“That was very encouraging,” Cook said, “the way we handled our business in the fourth quarter and finished.”