Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg
Kirk Cousins knows how Michigan State fans feel right now. The Spartans sophomore quarterback used to be exactly like them.
"I remember being a fan watching Michigan State growing up, too, and [seeing] those kinds of losses happening," Cousins said. "Obviously, it’s frustrating."
Anxiety is high among Spartans fans after the team's 29-27 loss to Central Michigan last Saturday. The loss was bad enough, but the way it went down, with Michigan State blowing a late lead and showing a lack of discipline, seemed all too familiar.
Michigan State fans have seen this movie before, and it doesn't end well. But this time, Cousins and his teammates are determined to rewrite the script.
"We need to respond and not react," said Cousins, a co-captain. "We need to move forward. We had a players-only meeting on Sunday and made sure those guys understood it’s not a time to panic. It’s just a time to refocus and get serious about what we’re trying to do. We’ve done that.”
Head coach Mark Dantonio is confident his team's psyche will be in the right place when it takes the field Saturday against Notre Dame. The Irish also come off a disappointing loss to Michigan, setting up a rivalry game in which both sides are desperate for a victory.
Dantonio always acknowledges Michigan State's recent history, the good and the bad, and both really apply to the team's current situation. Michigan State has owned Notre Dame on the road as of late, claiming six consecutive games in South Bend, the longest win streak for any Fighting Irish opponent at Notre Dame Stadium.
On the flip side, the Spartans have been a team prone to season-killing slumps, which usually begin with games like last Saturday's. It happened in 2006, 2005, 2004 and 2000. Dantonio has been very candid about the fact that Michigan State hasn't always handled high expectations, like the ones placed on the team before this season.
"When you care about our players, like we do here, you’re going to bounce back," Dantonio said. "We’re going to find out about ourselves. You’re constantly trying to put people’s backs to the walls in spring practice and winter workouts and summer camp and give them adversity. You’re trying to simulate that adversity.
"But when you have it first hand and it’s real, you find out a little bit more about yourself. This is a life lesson for us and a learning experience and we’ll take it.”
No unit on the team needs to bounce back quicker than the secondary, which Central Michigan's Dan LeFevour shredded for 352 yards last week. The secondary has been touted as the Spartans' deepest group, and the defensive backs have to show up in force to stop Notre Dame's standout wide receivers Golden Tate and Michael Floyd, as well as tight end Kyle Rudolph.
Michigan State stifled Jimmy Clausen and the Irish air show last year in East Lansing, picking off two passes and allowing just one touchdown.
"We need to play better," Dantonio said. "We need to play more confident."
Dantonio didn't name a starting quarterback for Saturday, though it would be hard to imagine Cousins not getting the nod over Keith Nichol. Quarterback play didn't lose the Central Michigan game, Dantonio said, but it will loom large in South Bend.
"The first two games the coaches said they were looking for separation, and I don’t know if they’ve really seen enough yet," said Cousins, who has completed 65.7 percent of his passes for 347 yards with four touchdowns and no interceptions in two starts. "A quarterback's measured on wins and losses, and we’re 1-1, so obviously I’m not satisfied with that, but I feel like I played pretty well."
Cousins has never been to Notre Dame Stadium -- he redshirted in 2007 and didn't travel when Michigan State won there -- but he understands the approach the Spartans must take to South Bend.
"Just watching on TV as a fan growing up, I could see those teams and how inspired they were in that stadium and how inspired the coaching staff was," he said. "If we can take that type of emotion into that game, then we definitely have a chance. If we don’t come in inspired, we’ll be in trouble, but I don’t think that’s going to happen.”