Dantonio says MSU knows how to win at Ohio State
The Associated Press
EAST LANSING, Mich. — Michigan State coach Mark Dantonio knows how hard it is for opponents to win at Ohio State. He also knows that the Spartans can do it.
Before serving as Jim Tressel’s defensive coordinator from 2001-03 and helping the Buckeyes win the Big Ten’s last national championship, Dantonio spent six seasons at MSU. He helped Nick Saban’s 1998 Spartans travel to Columbus and stun the top-ranked Buckeyes.
Neither program is ranked this week, but both teams are 3-1 and both have Rose Bowl dreams as they prepare for their conference opener. Maybe it is because they shared the league title with Wisconsin last year. Or maybe it’s because 18-point losses at Notre Dame and Miami, respectively, on Sept. 17 now seem almost irrelevant.
“Our goals are all in front of us,” Dantonio said Tuesday. “I think we’ve got toughness, mental toughness and will play hard. But for this season to be a total success and be what everyone wants, we’ve got to be able to win on the road.”
Despite winning 14 of their last 17 games, the Spartans have been outscored 117-26 in losses away from home against Iowa, Alabama and Notre Dame. The opportunity to make amends in a state where every Michigan State coach but two has worked and 24 players have called home should make it a special week.
“Every game is personal,” Dantonio said. “I grew up down there (in Zanesville). That’s added incentive. I used to coach there. That’s added incentive. And I want to make a statement. This is about our football team.”
It’s also about people. And as tight as Dantonio was with Tressel, even after leaving to coach Cincinnati and the Spartans, he thinks just of highly of first-year Buckeyes leader Luke Fickell. When Dantonio ran the OSU defense, Fickell was his line coach.
“Luke is a very close friend of mine, and our families are close,” Dantonio said. “He has done a very good job in a tough situation he was thrown into. But he’s what Ohio State needs.”
In a departure from the usual routine, Dantonio was the only one talking Tuesday. No players were made available in hopes of helping them focus on practice and the Buckeyes.
“Sometimes when you get interviewed, you get compromised a little bit,” Dantonio said. “There’s a little anxiety, and we just need to be with each other. Our quarterback needs to relax. And a lot of people are going to get questions. I just feel the best thing is to step away from that.”
The Spartans have plenty of question marks, including an injury-riddled offensive line that must somehow open holes for runners Edwin Baker and Le’Veon Bell and allow time for passer Kirk Cousins to find B.J. Cunningham, the Spartans’ career receiving leader.
Michigan State is ranked No. 1 in total defense (172.2 yards per game) and in passing yards allowed (101), but can it contain Buckeyes quarterback Braxton Miller? And can special teams be a strength again instead of a sudden weakness?
“If we protect the quarterback, good things will happen,” Dantonio said. “It’s important that we go down there with the mindset that we can win. They’re the only team in the league that we haven’t beaten in the four years we’ve been back here. It’s the one thing we haven’t done yet. We want to say we can beat anyone in our conference and measure up and play competitively.”