EAST LANSING — No sooner than Michigan State University had outlasted visiting Northwestern, 24-14, the team’s thoughts focused directly on Saturday’s upcoming battle with No. 6 ranked Iowa (7-0, 3-0 Big Ten).
“We were not looking past Northwestern,” said MSU’s starting defensive end Trevor Anderson, “but who could have imagined we would be playing Iowa for a chance to get into a least a tie for the Big Ten lead.”
Not after the Spartans produced three consecutive losses and saw their overall record fall to a disappointing 1-3. It appeared at the time the season was lost.
In spite of many saying, “Here we go again. Sounds just like MSU, when they are expected to do well they fold.” It appears under the tutorship of head coach Mark Dantonio those losing days may be over in East Lansing. He has done a masterful job of rallying the troops, getting the team back on track.
Former Crockett High star Anderson, a fifth-year senior, said he is not surprised the Spartans have turned their season around.
“I must admit it was painful seeing how we started the season,” Anderson said, “but coach (Dantonio) kept us up and never lost faith in us. A lesser team may have tanked it.
“We may have put a big blemish on our record starting 1-3, but we had not been blown out of any game and we looked at ourselves and said we should have been 3-0. Instead of crying about it, we practiced harder, regained our focus and decided we needed to gut it out, get on the field and makes some plays.”
The Spartans have implemented Anderson’s interjections. After the victory over Northwestern, MSU’s record improved to 4-3 (3-1 in Big Ten).
With Ohio State’s surprising lost to Purdue, the only team in the Big Ten without a conference loss is the Spartans opponent this weekend – Iowa.
I think it is safe to say the Iowa contest could be the defining moment for the Spartans 2009 season. A win over the Hawkeyes would put MSU in position to fulfill Anderson’s preseason hopes and wishes.
“At the start of the season I told myself a successful year would be for us to contend for or win the Big Ten title,” Anderson recalled, “and then play in a New Year’s bowl game.”
The Spartans have their own destiny right where any team would want it, in their own hands. With four Big Ten games left, against Iowa, Minnesota, Purdue and Penn State, a run of the table would give the Spartans at least a share of the conference title.
If the MSU does indeed produce one of the school’s more noteworthy turnarounds, the 6-foot-2, 260 pound, Anderson will be firmly in the middle of resurgence.
Ranked among the Big Ten’s top 30 players by ESPN.com and tabbed as a preseason selection for the Hendricks Award Watch List (nation’s top defensive end), Anderson’s steadiness and leadership over the last five games are a key for this team.
“Trevor has been with me from the beginning (at Cincinnati),” Dantonio said, “and I’m so glad things have worked out for him at State. He is one of our leaders on defense and he is a player everyone on the team respects and appreciates.”
Added cornerback Chris L. Rucker: “Trevor means a lot to this team. He has a lot of knowledge, shows leadership and helps motivate the team. Hey, he’s just a great person, period!”
MSU defensive coordinator Pat Narduzzi told me that Anderson implements everything he teaches in practice.
“We want to play with speed and Trevor gives us that on the end,” he said.
Anderson leads all Spartan defensive linemen with 25 tackles, including five for loss, and has four quarterback hurries. Over his varsity career he has amassed 20.5 sacks and has produced 37 tackles for losses.
“I’m not worried about any awards or stats,” Anderson said. “I just want this team to play out the season to its potential. I really believe that we can still be a very good football team. However, I know it means nothing to say it, we have to finish out the season showing it, and, it starts this weekend against Iowa.”
Anderson is very proud to have played in the Detroit Public School League (PSL) for Crockett, where he made All-State and was on the Dream Team. He’s also pleased with the fact the small technical school has produced players like Ed Johnson (Penn State, Indianapolis Colts) and UM players John Thompson, Brandon Graham and Floyd Simmons.
“Man, Crockett lost to King (in PSL Playoffs) and I’m heartbroken,” Anderson said. “I stay in touch with the coaches and that will always be a special place for me.”