Oct. 19, 2013
By Steve Grinczel, MSUSpartans.com Online Columnist | @GrinzOnGreen
EAST LANSING, Mich. - Whatever anxiety Michigan State experiences the rest of the season, it won't be over becoming bowl-eligible.
The Spartans qualified for its seventh-straight postseason appearance under head coach Mark Dantonio with Saturday's 14-0 victory against Purdue. With a 6-1 record, MSU took care of the job in seven games, just one over the minimum.
Last season, the Spartans had to win their regular-season finale on the road for the 6-6 record necessary to receive a bid from the Buffalo Wild Wings Bowl.
"It was a big focus," MSU defensive end Shilique Calhoun said of becoming bowl-eligible against the Boilermakers "Last year, our sixth win was against Minnesota. It went down to the last game in 12-degree weather. We didn't want that to happen this year. We wanted to be able to win early, win big, keep moving forward because as you keep winning the bowls get better and better.
"When we got to the locker room (before the game), (Dantonio) definitely initiated that and let us know, `Hey listen, we're playing for a bowl game today, don't let this slip through your hands and play every play like it's your last.'"
The Spartans added to Dantonio's postseason run, which is unprecedented in MSU history, with its first shutout of a conference opponent since 1999. That goal achieved, the Spartans are aiming for their next objective.
"We built that foundation, but it's still a big deal," Dantonio said. "We waited until the last game of the season last year. Like it or not, that was real. We had to play at Minnesota to do it. We do it on the front end this time; that's more exciting to do it that way. So, we'll continue to climb and that's our message to our football team.
"So now we start climbing the ladder. We have the opportunity to go play at Illinois next week and to further that 3-0 (record) in the Big Ten conference. That's our main focus - to get to that championship game."
Because Nebraska (5-1, 2-0 Big Ten) had a bye, MSU is alone atop the Legends Division standings for the time being.
"I don't even think we think about our record like that," said offensive lineman Jack Allen. "Everyone's going to watch film on Monday, get ready for practice Tuesday, and we're 0-0 again. We're restarting.
"(But), it's definitely a relief knowing we're going to go somewhere (in the postseason) now. It's a lot better this way than it was last year when you had to win or you're done. So there is a little pressure off the shoulders, but not much."
Individuals goals are also still on the table. Tailback Jeremy Langford recorded his second-straight career-high with 131 yards on a career-most 24 rushes to bring his season total to 551 yards.
Consequently, what seemed so improbable earlier in the season when Michigan State was struggling to sort out its running-back situation, is now a distinct possibility. If Langford averages just 75 yards in the final six games, including the bowl, he'll reach the 1,000-yard mark.
"I think we can do it, definitely," Allen said. "Jeremy's a great running back and a tough guy, and we've got the O-line to do it."
Langford, who is starting to look more and more like a featured back, isn't worried about giving MSU back-to-back 1,000-yard rushing seasons - Le'Veon Bell had 1,793 last year - for the first time since Javon Ringer in 2007 and '08.
"Early in the season, I never thought about a 1,000-yard season," Langford said. "I just wanted to make it to the Big Ten championship game, and whatever I've got to do to do that, I'll do."