Spartans never lost faith despite late collapse

Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg

Even a day later, Michigan State linebacker Greg Jones didn't want to think about the alternative.

His team on Saturday found a way to beat archrival Michigan 26-20 in overtime, despite blowing a 14-point lead in the closing minutes. Everyone in Spartan Stadium had déjà vu after Michigan scored the tying touchdown with 2 seconds left in regulation, but Michigan State players remained steadfast that this time, things would end differently.

And if they didn't?

"I wouldn’t even want to imagine that," said Jones, who recorded eight tackles, an interception and half a sack in the victory. "I knew we had to get it done. Losing was not an option at that point.”

A fourth consecutive loss, especially in such crushing fashion against an archrival, could have doomed Michigan State's season.

The team infamously struggled with blown leads before head coach Mark Dantonio's arrival. In Dantonio's first season, all six of the Spartans' losses came by seven points or fewer. Last year, Michigan State went 2-1 in games decided by seven points or fewer, but it entered Saturday's game with three consecutive losses by a combined 13 points.

There they were again, in a position to drop another tight contest.

"Even though we let up a little bit in the fourth quarter, [Dantonio] said, ‘Stay confident, stay together, don’t point any fingers,'" Jones recalled. "Coach D always says, 'Remember all our games.'"

Spartans players won't soon forget Saturday's game, and Jones hopes there will be carryover effect for the rest of the season. Up next is a trip to Illinois, a 1-3 team that should have the same sense of urgency as Michigan State displayed against Michigan.

After getting lit up for three straight weeks, the Spartans' veteran-laden defense turned in its best performance against Michigan, limiting the Wolverines to 28 rush yards. They'll be without starting safety Roderick Jenrette (broken foot) for a while, but Jones thinks the unit has some momentum.

"You take from the [Michigan] game that we’re a battle-tested team," Jones said. "We’ve been through close games, we’ve lost close games and now we’ve won a close game. We’ve got to take that confidence into Illinois. We know it’s going to be a really wild environment.

“As I tell my guys, you’ve got to take the energy and you’ve got to build upon it. You can’t just rely on it. You’ve got to take it and built upon it, and know what you did."