Michigan State hopes to get Delton Williams a piece of the action against Illinois. (Associated Press)
Champaign, Ill. — There might not be a hard and fast definition of what a “trap” game is, but if Michigan State is facing one, today’s likely would fit the bill.
Michigan State (6-1, 3-0 Big Ten) is in first place in the Legends Division and a double-digit favorite today against an Illinois team that has shown some flashes offensively but is a long way from contending.
And next weekend, Michigan visits Spartan Stadium.
So if there was ever a week a team could be caught looking ahead, this would be it.
“I can tell you that our football team will be motivated,” Spartans coach Mark Dantonio said. “Now, does that mean we’re going to play well? It doesn’t guarantee it, but we’ll be motivated.”
If every player takes the same approach as linebacker Max Bullough, it sounds like Dantonio’s message is sinking in.
“We’re focused on winning the Big Ten, going to Indianapolis and going to the Rose Bowl,” the senior captain said. “Every game counts from where we’re standing.”
Today’s game also counts just once, but leading into the Michigan game, Dantonio’s teams haven’t fared well the past six years. Michigan State is 2-4 the week before the rivalry game, beating Wisconsin (2010) and Ohio State (2011).
But it’s not as if the losses were an indicator the Spartans were looking ahead.
■In 2007, Michigan State lost to Iowa by a touchdown.
■In 2008, Michigan State lost to Ohio State by 38.
■In 2009, Michigan State lost to Wisconsin by eight.
■In 2012, Michigan State lost to Iowa in double overtime.
There’s also the possibility Michigan State had its letdown last week in the 14-0 victory over Purdue. Yes, it was a win, but the offense struggled, scoring once against one of the worst defenses in the Big Ten.
“You have got to be able to handle success,” Dantonio said. “You’ve got to get yourself ready to play the very next game. …
“I think it’s good for us at this point in the season to go away and play because of the focus that will be gathered.”
Showing up focused will be one thing, getting it done will be another.
While Michigan State didn’t throw the ball well last week, it did run effectively a third straight game and expects to follow the same formula today — Illinois is allowing 211 yards rushing.
“I feel like we’ve got to take it just like it’s any other team,” sophomore center Jack Allen said. “It’s a Big Ten team so you can’t look past them and say you’ll run all over them cause you won’t. We’ve got to be able to focus this week and worry about our assignments.”
The offensive line has been the most consistent aspect of the offense this season and junior running back Jeremy Langford has been the beneficiary. He’s run for more than 100 yards in each of the last two games and had a career-high 131 last week.
While Langford has carried the bulk of the load the past two games, that doesn’t mean freshman Delton Williams and junior Nick Hill won’t continue to be involved.
“We’re really going to ride the hot back, I don’t care who it is,” Dantonio said. “The week before Delton Williams was running the ball pretty effectively. We went with him, gave him a large majority of carries. Then Langford popped a couple. I think if he can stay fresh and healthy, you’re going to have a great opportunity to have big plays.
“Nick Hill still enters into this. He just hasn’t had the opportunity to show his stuff lately. (Last week) I felt like Jeremy Langford was hot. I felt he would bust one. I felt we needed that.”