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Michigan State's Ohio natives rev up for OSU showdown

Matt Charboneau
The Detroit News

East Lansing — The stakes are already high for Michigan State this week.

Ranked ninth, Michigan State gets a chance to prove it belongs in the playoff discussion when it travels to No. 2 Ohio State on Saturday. It also provides the Spartans the opportunity to take control of the Big Ten East with a spot in the conference championship game within reach.

But for the 29 players on Michigan State's roster from Ohio, it's a little bit more.

Many believe they were overlooked by the hometown Buckeyes, and for them, this is the big game.

"It's just going to be that much more fun," said quarterback Connor Cook, a native of Hinckley, Ohio. "(It will) just provide that much more motivation for me to go out there and leave it all on the line."

Cook has played against Ohio State twice. In 2013, he led the Spartans to a victory on the Big Ten championship game and was named offensive MVP. In last season's 49-37 loss at home, Cook threw for 358 yards and two touchdowns.

After watching as the backup in 2012 when Ohio State came away with a one-point win and from home as a redshirt in 2011 when Michigan State won on the road, Cook is relishing his connection to the top college team from his home state.

"I have a lot of friends that I went to high school with that attended the university," he said. "Knowing guys from Ohio, playing with guys in All-Star games, guys that go to Ohio State, guys I've got a chance to know. Really it shows like how the Michigan people describe the Michigan game. This is kind of like that game for me."

Mark Dantonio has seen that from player after player since he took over at Michigan State in 2007.

"We got a lot of guys from Ohio on our football team, so that makes it a little bit personal," he said. "I just think they want to play well when they go down to Ohio State. It's not going down there in any kind of disrespect; they just want to play well. They want to measure up to their family and friends because that's where they're from."

It's also where Dantonio is from. He's from Zanesville, Ohio, and was defensive coordinator for Ohio State when it won the national championship in 2002. His staff has plenty of Ohio State connections, as well.

Co-offensive coordinator Jim Bollman was Ohio State's offensive coordinator from 2001-11 while co-defensive coordinator Mike Tressel is the nephew of former Ohio State coach Jim Tressel and was a graduate assistant for the Buckeyes from 2002-03. Offensive line coach Mark Staten was also a graduate assistant at Ohio State from 2002-03 and linebackers coach Mark Snyder coached linebackers at Ohio State from 2001-03 and was the defensive coordinator in 2004.

"There are some different dynamics there wrapped up that speaks to the amount of preparation that we're going to put forth in terms of offseason studies and things of that nature, in the hopes of playing well," Dantonio said.

Secondary steps up

Michigan State's defense is coming off one of its better performances in a victory over Maryland, and much of that was due to the secondary.

Darian Hicks was back at cornerback after missing three games with a concussion, allowing Demetrious Cox to move back to safety. This week he's joined on the depth chart by safety Montae Nicholson, who was out of the starting lineup three games before returning last seek, while Arjen Colquhoun holds down the other corner spot.

"I think we can go a number of different directions there," Dantonio said. "We will look and see how people practice throughout the week and make the determination on who's going where in the game. I also think that they're a no-huddle offense, so we're going to play our guys. So you're going to see different guys rolling in there."

Extra points

Dantonio said fifth-year senior Joel Heath (lower body) will be available after missing last week.

... ESPN's "College GameDay" makes its 13th appearance — third this season — at the site of a Michigan State game this weekend. The Spartans are 4-2 on "GameDay" appearances.