Dantonio's heart attack offers perspective
Exaggerated metaphors suddenly became real in the early morning hours Sunday. Following his team's stunning 34-31 overtime win at home over Notre Dame Saturday night, Michigan State coach Mark Dantonio suffered a heart attack.
Soon after MSU's game-winning touchdown -- a nervy fake field goal on fourth-and-14 -- Dantonio experienced chest pains and checked himself into Sparrow Hospital in Lansing, where doctors successfully performed an angioplasty. He's expected to make a full recovery and offensive coordinator Don Treadwell will act as interim coach until Dantonio returns.
The scare offered perspective to Irish coach Brian Kelly, whose team slipped to 1-2.
"Let me begin by saying, on behalf of the Notre Dame family, we are in thoughts and prayers for coach Dantonio and wish him a speedy recovery," Kelly said during his Sunday teleconference. "Look forward to seeing him back on the sidelines."
Kelly was not made aware of the news until he arrived to campus earlier in the day.
"I did not know," he said. "Of course, we didn't get in until about a quarter to four this morning. I went home right away and when I came back in the office, Brian Hardin, our sports information director, gave me the news. Obviously, it hits you right away, not only for the individual and the person, Mark Dantonio, but as a coach and the profession.
"You go through the emotions of the game and obviously, you know, you think about your own self in terms of how you're taking care of yourself, are you getting the right checkups and those kinds of things. It hits you right away when you hear something like that."
The aching from such a defeat, Notre Dame's second in as many weeks, still permeated Kelly's wrap-up session with the media.
"Look, nobody's happy here," he said. "Nobody enjoys being where we are. But our players are playing as hard as they can on the defensive side of the ball. ... It stings, it hurts, there's not much you can say after a loss like that. There's nothing that's going to make anybody feel any better, other than do you want to come back and work on getting better? We'll know on Monday where that is. My guess is these guys got a lot of pride, just as our coaches do, and we're going to come back to work and continue to put ourselves in a position to close out and win games."
"We're man-to-man, Harrison and Carlo are man-to-man on the release and we have an edge player, Gary Gray, who has, in that instance, it was the kicker who ran a swing, so it's match man-to-man on the backside."
An ABC replay showed the play clock expired before MSU snapped the ball on the final play, something Kelly was unaware of following the contest. He was asked several times for his thoughts on the no-call Sunday.
"I just think they're excuses," he said. "We had a chance to defend the play and we didn't defend the play, regardless of what may or may not be the case. This is still about what happens on the field and we had our opportunity to defend the play and we didn't. They did, they executed and that's why we're on the short end. As it relates to the last play of the game, again, we're splitting hairs on what happened at the end of the game. Could there have been zero on it before it snapped, I mean, yeah, there's that possibility.
"I really haven't spent much time thinking or complaining about that as much as, you know, we've got to defend the play."
The end of Kelly's honeymoon
Kelly wasn't at all surprised by the vitriolic reaction by Irish fans after another demoralizing breakdown late.
"No, I think that comes with the territory," he said. "I don't think that you have any head coaching position, whether it's Notre Dame or anywhere else, and sit around worrying about what other people think. You're going to work every day trying to get your football team to be the best they can be. Am I surprised? No. It comes with the high profile of the Notre Dame job or any other high-profile job. There's obviously a lot of them out there. I don't spend much time thinking about that."
Notre Dame star receiver Michael Floyd is in a funk despite his six snags for 81 yards and two touchdowns against MSU. Floyd's fingers are failing him after the catch, losing one fumble nearing the red zone and nearly coughing up the ball on another reception that was ruled dead before the football came loose. He let one slip out of his hands near the goal line the previous week against the Wolverines.
"As to why he's put the ball on the ground, we just clearly have to take care of the football," Kelly said. "He's a big, strong kid. There's no excuse why the ball should be on the ground and that's something that he's got to do because we coach it every day. He's got to pick up his end and make sure he secures the football."
Allowing nearly 200 yards rushing per game so far, Kelly's more concerned about cutting down on the big gainers that have cut the Irish down. MSU tailback Edwin Baker torched ND for a 56-yard touchdown in the third quarter to give the Spartans a 14-7 lead. Leveon Bell had multiple runs over 15 yards.
"We just gap released a couple guys, didn't stay disciplined in our fix," Kelly said. "It's always one play; it's never been the cumulative as much as it's been a big play here or there. The Michigan game, we hold Michigan scoreless for 30-some-odd minutes and then obviously a couple big plays. For us it's been carrying that play after play after play and then having one breakdown here or there and that's how you get beat, quite frankly. All and all I'm not concerned about our rush defense as much as we've got to do a better job obviously of not giving up the one run, the one big play, that's what's really hurt our defense over the last couple of weeks."
Riddick breaks out at receiver
The ND coaching staff kept saying sophomore wideout Theo Riddick was close to coming alive after switching from rarely used tailback to starting slot receiver. Saturday, Riddick led the Irish with 10 catches for 128 yards and a touchdown.
Armando Allen dislocated a finger and was replaced on punt returns by John Goodman. The defensive secondary continues to struggle with safeties Jamoris Slaughter (ankle) and Dan McCarthy (soft tissue) slow to recover. Slaughter was used sparingly and McCarthy did not play against MSU.
"We'd like to get McCarthy in but we just can't seem to get over the hump where we feel he can play fast enough for us on the back end," Kelly said. "That's something that's just taking time, longer than we had hoped, but we're not going to put him out there if he can't run the alley and do the things that we ask the safety to do. We're a little thin on that back end. Slaughter went in emergency situations and gave us a couple snaps, but he's not ready either. Hopefully time is going to come out on our side and get some of those guys back."
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