EAST LANSING, MICH. (AP) - Kirk Cousins was heading to church Sunday, less than 12 hours after his team's thrilling overtime win over Notre Dame, when he received a puzzling text message about a team meeting at noon.
"That never happens," the Michigan State quarterback said. "I thought, 'What can't wait until 4 o'clock?' We have to show up at 4 o'clock anyway. I knew it was something serious."
The news was that coach Mark Dantonio had suffered a mild heart attack and had been taken to a hospital not long after Saturday night's game. The excitement over the Spartans' big victory largely vanished around East Lansing, replaced by concerns for the health of the 54-year-old Dantonio.
The coach had surgery to put a stent in a blocked blood vessel leading to his heart. He has been released from the hospital, but when he might return to coaching is unknown.
His 25th-ranked team, led by offensive coordinator Don Treadwell, has spent the week trying to focus on football again with Northern Colorado coming to town Saturday.
"The nice thing is, along with the leadership and things that coach Dantonio has already put in place, we have a lot of veterans that are on this football team," Treadwell said. "So certainly, our seniors, we're relying on them to really step forward."
Dantonio's absence comes as Michigan State is starting to earn national attention for its play.
The Spartans (3-0) have run the ball with ease this season, with both Le'Veon Bell and Edwin Baker averaging more than eight yards per carry. And that finish against Notre Dame is already one of the signature moments of the season: Trailing by three in overtime, Dantonio ordered a fake field goal that worked for a touchdown and gave the Spartans a 34-31 victory.
It might have been Dantonio's biggest win at Michigan State because of the opponent and the way it unfolded.
"I thought we had a good chance of running it because Coach D was so high on it," said Aaron Bates, who was the holder and threw a touchdown pass on the play. "Obviously, I didn't think we'd be using it in overtime on fourth-and-13."
Northern Colorado (2-1) is hoping to build on its own encouraging start to the season. The Bears, who play in the Football Championship Subdivision, won only three games last season and are already on the verge of matching that total.
Quarterback Dylan Orms has thrown for six touchdowns and only one interception this season, and Northern Colorado is hoping for an upset similar to the one James Madison of the FCS pulled off against Virginia Tech earlier this month. This is a game Orms has been looking forward to for a while.
"I saw a challenge," he said. "I saw a chance to showcase ourselves and to play in a stadium I've seen a lot on TV."
For Michigan State, this isn't exactly a game to circle on the calendar, but the Spartans have had to work hard this week to avoid a letdown after the Notre Dame victory _ especially with everything that's happened off the field.
Besides the indefinite loss of Dantonio, the team this week suspended tight end Dion Sims, who was among 10 men charged in the theft of Detroit Public Schools laptop computers. Sims hadn't played this season.
There is plenty at stake for Michigan State. Avoid an upset here, and the Spartans would finish September unbeaten and set up huge games against Wisconsin and Michigan to start next month.
And then there's the matter of their coach. Dantonio has been in the players' thoughts, and they expect to be motivated when the game starts.
"We know with coach, he'll be back soon. We know he's doing all right," Bates said. "The best way to show our appreciation is just to do well on Saturday."
"We hope to make him proud, wherever he's watching the game," the quarterback said. "You face adversity in life, you face adversity in football, and we've just got to keep moving forward."