East Lansing — Coming off two straight top-five seasons and entering this year in the top 10, Michigan State has grown accustomed to getting everyone’s best shot.
Now that Michigan State has moved to No. 2 behind Ohio State, that will get ramped up on a weekly basis. And as it prepares to close out the nonconference portion of its schedule Saturday against Central Michigan, it is facing a team that knows a little something about knocking off a Big Ten team.
The Chippewas have defeated the Spartans three times, including a last-minute victory in 2009, the only season Michigan State coach Mark Dantonio finished below .500 (6-7).
And they’ll relish another shot to derail the Spartans season.
“I think all of us in the MAC get geared up to play the Power Five conferences,” Central Michigan coach John Bonamego said. “In terms of our preparation, we believe in the process and embracing the grind.
“We’ll prepare for this game like every other game. We look at our opponents as faceless opponents.”
Challenges are nothing new to Bonamego. He was hired in February to replace Dan Enos, who left to become offensive coordinator at Arkansas. By the spring, Bonamego was diagnosed with cancer in his tonsil.
Chemotherapy and radiation treatments followed, including daily trips to the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor.
Bonamego, however, never stopped coaching, and is happy to be heading into Week 4 of his first season.
“Most of my symptoms have gone by the wayside,” said Bonamego, whose cancer started in his tonsil and spread to a lymph node. “I’m still feeding myself primarily through a feeding tube, but I’m getting to the point now where I’m able to tolerate some solid (food), and I’m hoping that continues. I’ve lost over 50 pounds, which in my case, wasn’t necessarily a terrible thing. But it’s not the kind of diet you want to be on.”
Bonamego’s recovery hasn’t kept him from keeping Central Michigan (1-2) competitive. It stuck with Oklahoma State before losing 24-13 in the opener, and lost in overtime last week at Syracuse, 30-27. In between Central Michigan defeated Monmouth, 31-10.
To pull off another upset, he’ll have to have the Chippewas overcome a Spartans offense that has scored 30 or more in 11 straight games, the longest active streak in the FBS.
Everything, though, hasn’t been perfect for the offense. It had 77 rushing yards last week against Air Force, the lowest total since it had 65 in the 2014 Rose Bowl against Stanford.
Air Force stacked its defense to stop the run, but coach Mark Dantonio is looking for a more consistent effort in the running game before heading into Big Ten play next week.
“It goes beyond the offensive line,” Dantonio said. “It goes to the backs. It goes to the play selection and structure of it and it goes to the tight ends and fullbacks. Everybody is involved in making a running play work. I don’t think the consistency was there (against Air Force) in terms of what we wanted.
“So you look and say is that mental errors by our players? Some. Is it physical errors by players? Some. Is it structural? Meaning they had the right play called or we don’t have the right play called? … There is some of that, too.”
Dantonio expects better results against Central Michigan.
“We’ve always been a balanced offense,” he said. “We need to continue to be that. We need to be able to run the football, regardless of the situation, regardless of the score.”
Central Michigan at Michigan State
Kickoff: Noon Saturday, Spartan Stadium, East Lansing
Records: Central Michigan 1-2, No. 2 Michigan State 3-0
Line: Michigan State by 281/2
Series: Michigan State leads 6-3 (Michigan State 41-7, Sept. 8, 2012)
Did you know? The last time Central Michigan beat Michigan State was in 2009, a 29-27 decision at Spartan Stadium.