EAST LANSING, Mich. — Sunday was going to be a hard day for Mark Dantonio and his Michigan State football team. It became even harder at 9 in the morning when he received a phone call telling him that Mylan Hicks, a safety for the Spartans from 2010 to 2014, had been killed overnight. Hicks was the victim of a shooting outside a nightclub in Calgary, where he was a member of the CFL’s Calgary Stampeders practice squad.
Going in to watch game film doesn’t hold the same importance when compared to the loss of a friend, a former teammate, a family member.
Getting back to work and fixing the problems that caused the staggering 30-6 loss to Wisconsin on Saturday is the kind of thing, Dantonio said, that Hicks would have been first in the door to start doing.
So that’s what the Spartans are tasked with doing as they get ready to play Indiana Saturday night in Bloomington. As poorly as they played against Wisconsin, they have to get past that game. It’s just what Hicks and Mike Sadler, another former teammate from the 2014 team who died in an auto accident in July and was honored with induction into the MSU Athletics Hall of Fame last week, would have done when they playing for the Spartans.
“There is no question it’s been a challenge,” said Dantonio. “I think there is no question that we get on with it, because that’s who (Hicks) was. That’s who Mike Sadler was. When you know those people and how committed they were to a football program, you don’t want to do anything to steer away from what you’re trying to accomplish.”
Saying you want to get to your goals is one thing. Going about and doing that is another. Losing to Wisconsin wasn’t a shock. The final score and how the Spartans lost was stunning.
There has to be something drastic in this week’s plan to counteract the loss, right?
“There’s really not too much of a change,” said sophomore running back L.J. Scott after Tuesday’s practice. “We try to come with the same mind-set. We’re going to work hard. We lost Saturday from our own mistakes.”
The most glaring mistakes were the four turnovers the offense committed. That included a fumble by Scott in the third quarter that was returned for a 66-yard touchdown and gave Wisconsin a 20-6 lead.
“It’s mental errors like that that’s going to hurt us,” said Scott.
Dantonio didn’t build Michigan State into a perennial Big Ten contender by panicking. Michigan State hasn’t lost two games in a row in four years. The last time the Spartans lost by as wide of a margin as they did to Wisconsin, they responded with three straight wins to earn a New Year’s Day bowl berth.
When Nebraska beat them last season on a last-minute touchdown, they won three straight to reach the Big Ten championship game, where they beat Iowa and earned a berth in the College Football Playoff semifinals.
All of those experiences tell Dantonio to stay the course. Yes, senior quarterback Tyler O’Connor had a bad game, but that doesn’t mean he gets benched in favor of junior Damion Terry or redshirt freshman Brian Lewerke. There will be tweaks to the game plan and in personnel, but there won’t be any panicking.
“I think when you win a football game, everything looks great but it’s not usually as great as you think it is,” Dantonio said. “There is always something that’s going to be there for you that you have to deal with. It’s more difficult when things aren’t going right, but I think that’s when — I’ve always said that — that’s when you’re defined. That’s when you’re defined as a senior; that’s when you’re defined as a leader, as a quarterback, whatever position you’re in.
“You’re hired to make things go well. You’re not hired because things are going well. That’s how I’ve always felt.”
Kevin Goheen covers Michigan State for Landof10.com. Follow him on Twitter at @CincyGoGo