Detroit News writers Matt Charboneau and John Niyo discuss Michigan State's win over Iowa. Matt Charboneau, The Detroit News
East Lansing – A week ago, Mark Dantonio said, to some extent, the Michigan game is always on the mind of those in the Michigan State program.
That can be during a winter workout or even in the spring. Maybe a time or two in preseason camp or random thoughts at other points in the season. But the focus through the first four weeks of the season hasn’t dialed in on Ann Arbor.
And even the day after Michigan State beat Iowa to open Big Ten play with a win, Dantonio wasn’t quite ready to dive into a breakdown of the rivalry. Instead, he wanted to point out how his young team has remained focused, taking each game as it comes.
“We’re just gonna focus on one week at a time and we’ll talk about this week on Tuesday,” Dantonio said during is Sunday teleconference. “But I thought our players did a really good job of that this week and I think we really need to continue to focus on the moment, really, and the present. I think young people tend to do that more often than focus on the past and the future anyway, so we’ll just stay in the moment and keep working.”
That’s not always easy to do in this rivalry, one Michigan State dominated up through last season, winning six of seven before loss at Spartan Stadium in 2016.
And on Saturday night in the wake of the victory over Iowa, the players did their best to stay in the moment, just as their coach has wanted them to do in an effort to put last year’s 3-9 mark deep into the rearview mirror.
“Obviously, we all know what next week is about and it's a big game,” left tackle Cole Chewins said. “But right now I think we're just focusing on the great team win that we had tonight and celebrating that.”
That doesn’t mean any of the players are naïve to what’s coming next.
“You kind of feel it going around,” freshman cornerback Josiah Scott said. “We really haven't talked about it yet. We focused on this game tonight. We came out there, and do what we have to do. Now we're going to get going tomorrow.”
Michigan State will get it going as it has all season with a young lineup. With junior David Beedle missing the Iowa game because of an undisclosed injury, the Spartans were forced to start true freshman Kevin Jarvis at right guard. He was next to redshirt freshman Luke Campbell at right tackle while Chewins and left guard Tyler Higby are sophomores. Only senior center Brian Allen has significant experience and it showed as Michigan State struggled to run the ball.
That young group will be put the test against a Michigan defense that is strong and athletic up front.
“You’re going to have growth, especially when you play against a good, quality opponent, which Iowa is,” Dantonio said. “You’re going to have growth, and you’re going to be able to get yourself ready for more success down the road. Same with the redshirt freshman. Certainly, Brian Allen has played at a high level. Tyler Higby had all of last year to experience as a redshirt freshman, and Cole Chewins, as well, really.
“So, we’re young across the front, but I think those guys are making obvious gains. But it’s tough up there.”
What Michigan State did do well against Iowa was protect the football. It was the first game this season the Spartans did not turn the ball over, something that will be critical when heading to Michigan Stadium on Saturday.
They’re also starting to get consistent pressure on the quarterback, stuffing the run and getting consistent play from a young secondary.
“Right now, we’re winning the majority of third-down conversions,” Dantonio said after Iowa was just 4-for-14. “We need to continue to do that and pressure the quarterback. But all this stuff is all-inclusive. If you’re putting the offense in long-yardage situations, usually good things can happen.”
The Spartans are hoping it’s all led to the right amount of momentum heading into rivalry week, something they start turning their attention to Monday morning.
“This is a huge win for us,” tight end Matt Sokol said after beating Iowa. “It’s a great feeling going 3-1 into the (Michigan) game. Obviously, everyone is very happy with this win against a great opponent and we’ll enjoy it for now, but we’re looking forward to the game next week.
“It all starts (Monday). It’s gonna be a great week. I’m really excited for this week every year. Words can’t describe it. When you’re in that game it’s just a very unique experience and I can’t wait to be a part of it.”
Michigan State at Michigan
Kickoff: 7:30 Saturday, Michigan Stadium, Ann Arbor
TV/radio: ABC/760, 950
Records: Michigan 4-0 (1-0 Big Ten), Michigan State 3-1 (1-0)
Line: Michigan by 12.5