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MSU coach Mark Dantonio on facing Ohio State The Detroit News

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East Lansing — Listen to Mark Dantonio and Brian Lewerke speak, as each did Tuesday in Spartan Stadium’s north-end media room, and Michigan State’s quarterback drama becomes a tale of irritants.

One is physical: Lewerke still is dealing with a shoulder issue that sabotaged his throwing arm against Michigan and led to an improved, but tepid, appearance during Saturday’s victory at Maryland.

The other is emotional: The Spartans are weary of discussing Lewerke and not happy with debate about his health, especially when Dantonio has decreed Lewerke is MSU’s starter heading into Saturday’s duel against Ohio State at Spartan Stadium.

“I think you guys push and point towards trying to get answers,” Dantonio said Tuesday, chafed at suggestions Rocky Lombardi should start as Lewerke allows his shoulder to fully heal.

“If he were hurt, he would not be playing.”

Dantonio doesn’t appreciate that his judgment has been questioned, competitively, as well as with respect to playing a QB who absolutely appears to be dealing with lingering soreness in his throwing shoulder.

Lewerke bit on his words when questioned Tuesday, taking the same approach as his head coach.

"If I can play, I will — if I can’t, I won’t,” he said, although Lewerke conceded the shoulder, which was hurt during MSU’s season-changing toppling of Penn State, has “been annoying,” as he also allowed “I can’t wait for it to heal.”

He also acknowledged, “It’s hard to play in the Big Ten even when healthy.”

Dantonio, though, has seen enough from his junior starter to believe what head coaches and staffers tend to say: That even if their QB isn't peak, they’re in better shape with a seasoned starter heading into a tough game than they might be with a redshirt freshman who already has steered his offense past Purdue and who in the process was more than impressive.

Dantonio wanted MSU’s football galaxy, much of which wants Lombardi to handle matters until Lewerke is 100 percent, to know Tuesday he isn’t dissing his back-up.

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MSU QB Brian Lewerke on facing Ohio State The Detroit News

“I’m not afraid to use Rocky,” Dantonio said, shifting toward a popular baseball metaphor he sees as a perfect label for Lombardi. “He’s our ace reliever.”

The Buckeyes arrive Saturday and figure to be a handful, no matter who’s starting at QB, which, Dantonio repeated, won’t change from Lewerke unless this week’s practices don’t go as planned.

If it appeared Saturday at Maryland that Lewerke’s passes still lacked zip, Dantonio was ready to counter.

“Thirty-mile-an-hour winds,” he said. “The other guy (Maryland QB Kasim Hill) wasn’t throwing well, either.”

The Spartans figure their chances Saturday to beat the Buckeyes will depend upon more positions than quarterback.

Urban Meyer’s team is a 3.5-point pick to handle MSU.

“They’re still 8-1,” Dantonio said of the Buckeyes, who lost big at Purdue and who had a tussle last week at Nebraska (36-31) during a season that has been uneven by OSU standards. “Everybody acts like ‘poor Ohio State.’

“They’re still 8-1.”

The Spartans during so many years have been to Ohio State a November patch of black ice. Michigan State loves ruining Buckeyes championship seasons, the last of which came in 2015 when the Spartans delivered a 10-7 knockout at Columbus.

But there was no drama last year when OSU eviscerated the Spartans, 48-3.  Saturday is expected to be much, much tighter. But that probably depends upon how quarterback Dwayne Haskins fares against MSU’s defense, which Meyer agrees is one of the land’s best 11-man gangs.

What the Spartans know also is that November tends to be their time. They are on a 23-7 run during their favorite month. They also have added bodies the past two weeks, with Cody White working again at receiver, and with Josiah Scott back at his cornerback post.

The Spartans no longer must worry about a bowl ticket that was tucked away Saturday with their sixth victory. Now they can concentrate on bowl-trip upgrades that could zoom with a surprise against OSU.

“This is a strange football season,” Dantonio said, acknowledging that a Sparatans team with three losses could still end up in a “Big Six bowl.”

“I think that’s what November is. When you get to that sixth win, there’s a lot of meaning to that. But then it’s, if you can win that one (sixth), what’s next?”

What’s next is a Saturday noon kickoff against the Buckeyes. What happens after that moment will be up to two teams, one of which believes its starting quarterback is healthy enough to again help make some visitors from Ohio more than miserable.

Lynn.henning@detroitnews.com

Twitter: @Lynn_Henning

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