EAST LANSING, Mich. — For years, Michigan State coach Mark Dantonio has told his team to “be the storm.” It’s high time to consider that the Spartans and the storm might be one and the same.
Ugly weather seems to follow the Spartans, whether at home or on the road for games against Michigan and Minnesota. And when it does, they win. It happened again on Saturday in a 17-7 home victory over Maryland, leading a cold, wet Dantonio to wear a big smile as he stepped to the podium afterward.
“I probably should’ve brought some hot chocolate in here with me, to be quite honest with you,” he quipped to open his press conference. “I think we had a little bit of everything out on that field [Saturday].”
The morning brought fog, followed by a frigid rain that seemed to fall more viciously by the moment. Early in the second quarter it began to snow, the wind swirling the large flakes around and around.
The Michigan State offense seemed to fall victim to the snowstorm. Quarterback Brian Lewerke and the Spartans accrued just 20 yards through the air, the lowest mark in 30 years for the program. Several runs that could have been taken to the house seemed to fall short because of the field’s muddiness.
But the Spartans defense, as usual, took full advantage.
“I love that kind of weather: the rain, the snow, the wind,” said defensive end Kenny Willekes, who finished with 2 sacks and 9 total tackles. “We call that Spartan Dawg defense. We love to play in that cold weather and continue to bring it no matter what the rain, snow and wind are gonna bring. Every game.”
While Lewerke had never played in the snow before, this wasn’t even the worst (or best, depending on perspective) football weather Willekes can remember. And most of the defense has dealt with similar conditions. All 11 starters hail from Michigan, Illinois or Ohio.
The Spartans recently added lightning bolt pins to their team jackets as a reminder to be the storm. The meeting rooms are adorned with posters about the metaphor. The players have no choice but to make the most of these ugly conditions.
“I like playing in them because I know it’s going to be a physical game,” linebacker Joe Bachie said. “They were trying to run the ball and see who the tougher team is. You’ve just got to embrace it. You can’t control the weather. Whatever happens, we just talk about embracing it and enjoying it.”
They sure seemed to be having fun. With 3 sacks and 6 pass breakups to Maryland’s 0 and 2, Michigan State took full advantage. It allowed 204 yards to the Terps, the fewest from a Big Ten opponent this year.
When Michigan State heads to Rutgers next week, it will hope to bring the storm there as well. And wherever the Spartans go for their bowl game, it couldn’t hurt for some precipitation to follow. But it will be tough to match the atmosphere on Saturday.
“It definitely was high up there on the poor weather list,” linebacker Chris Frey said with a smile.