B1G one in Michigan: Spartans, Wolverines dig in

The Sports Xchange

October 21, 2014 at 4:00 pm.


Head coach Mark Dantonio has his Spartans focusing on one game at a time. (Brian Spurlock-USA TODAY Sports)

EAST LANSING, Mich. — When Michigan State plays Michigan, the records rarely matter when it comes to intensity on the field.

As Michigan State offensive lineman Travis Jackson said, “It’s a slobber-knocker of a game, and that’s how it’s been for a long time and that’s the way we like it.”

There’s little doubt that will be the case again this week as No. 8 Michigan State faces Michigan at Spartan Stadium. The difference this season is there is little on the line nationally or in the Big Ten. The Spartans are fighting for another conference championship and potentially a spot on the College Football Playoff while the Wolverines have just one conference victory.

But that doesn’t mean it has lost any of its luster around the Great Lake state.

“Not for me,” Michigan State coach Mark Dantonio said. “Not for our players, and I’m sure not for them. I think it’s the same.”

Michigan head coach Brady Hoke said Tuesday that the intensity is ratcheted up in Ann Arbor, where seasons can be made or broken with the midseason rivalry and the regular-season finale with Ohio State.

“Any time you play a rivalry game, it’s always important,” the fourth-year Wolverines coach said. “Any time you play the next game it’s important. But this is a rivalry game we’re passionate about. About 6 o’clock, or 6:15 on Saturday, we’ll know who played well defensively and who didn’t.”

Dantonio takes his team into the game with plenty of confidence. The Spartans have won five of the last six and enter this week’s game as a heavy favorite.

And even with Michigan being down, this rivalry will still be important at Michigan State.

“From my perspective this is still the most important game on the schedule for me, personally and for our program,” Dantonio said. “I think when you compete day-in and day-out with them, and that’s what we do on recruits, day-in, day-out for fans, for everything. It carries over to basketball, it carries over to volleyball, it carries over to every sport here. That still is a game that we have to point to and say, ‘Hey, this goes beyond our schedule, this goes beyond the future. This is beyond what we’re doing right now.’ That’s the way it is for me, and I think that’s the way it is for a lot of our coaches at Michigan State as well.”

The game against Ohio State in two weeks will have far more riding on it, but it still won’t have the same feeling as this one.

Dantonio is in a unique position, having coached for both of Michigan’s biggest rivals. Before he began as the head coach at Michigan State, he was the defensive coordinator at Ohio State after spending six years as an assistant at Michigan State.

That’s where he adopted his approach to facing the Wolverines.

“Why is it so personal?” he asked. “It gets in your blood. There are just things that happen, things that happen over the course of time that just, you know, begin to set you on edge, I guess, one way or the other, either team. … I didn’t make these rules up, I’m just involved in it and I’m pretty involved in it, and I represent a lot of people. I think that’s what you have to understand, that the head football coach of Michigan State represents a lot of people on this edge of the spectrum. So on this edge of the spectrum I’m going to fulfill what everybody expects of me.”

SERIES HISTORY: Michigan leads 68-33-5. Michigan State won last season, 29-6, in East Lansing.

QUOTE TO NOTE: “I think Paul Bunyan’s a beautiful man.” – Michigan State offensive lineman Travis Jackson, talking about the trophy awarded to the winner of the instate rivalry game.

NOTES: Michigan State C Jack Allen is expected back this week after missing the Indiana game with an ankle injury. Defensive end Marcus Rush will start the 48th game of his career on Saturday. One more start and he will tie the Michigan State record for most starts. … Michigan RB Derrick Green will miss the remainder of the season after sustaining a broken collarbone against Rutgers. Green averaged 78.5 yards per game (82 for 471 rushing, three touchdowns). Green had 74 yards on 12 carries at Rutgers before the injury. … Michigan CB Jabrill Peppers is listed on the depth chart for Saturday’s game, and Hoke said Peppers has been practicing. Peppers has missed Michigan’s last three games because of an unspecified injury.