East Lansing — Nobody on the Michigan State roster is unclear of what this week means.
When Michigan is the next team up on the schedule, things change. Ordinary is hardly the overriding feeling.
“The energy out there feels a little different, because we know what it means,” linebacker Joe Bachie said. “The coaches know what it means. Coach (Mark Dantonio) is a little bit more on edge. We’re going to prepare the same way, but we know what it is in the back of our head. We know what game this is.”
What it is happens to be Michigan State’s biggest rivalry. Michigan fans will debate whether it’s theirs or not, but that doesn’t change things with the Spartans. And while every player in the locker room figures it out fairly quickly, for 48 players from the state of Michigan, it has even more meaning.
To them, there is nothing bigger.
“I know all the guys from Ohio and everyone else on our team feels it too,” junior tight end Matt Sokol said. “But being from Michigan and dealing with everything that comes with this rivalry and being a Michigan guy is something that just brings the excitement up that much more and makes it that much more of an intense game.”
Sokol went to high school at Rochester Adams and remembers fondly Michigan State’s victory in 2011 when a late interception return for a touchdown from Isaiah Lewis locked up the Spartans’ victory and catapulted them to a division title and a spot in the first conference championship game.
“Yeah, I watched this game as a kid, I remember the combat uniforms here, that one stuck out to me a lot,” Sokol said. “That was probably my favorite one watching growing up.”
By 2014 he was on the Michigan State roster and was there in 2015 when Michigan State won on the final play of the game.
“That was such an incredible experience for me being from Michigan and my first time being there,” Sokol said. “I just remember walking in there and fans yelling at you like no other stadium. At every other away game, fans don’t really yell at you on the field, calling you out by your name like they do there. That was a crazy experience. That entire atmosphere and experience was something I’ll never forget. Obviously, the outcome of the game was a dream come true.”
Sokol is one of seven Michigan State starters to hail from Michigan, including safety and Jackson native Khari Willis. His first career start came at Michigan in 2015 and after last season’s loss at home, he doesn’t want another one to slip away.
“We competed as well, but we just came up short,” Willis said of the loss at Spartan Stadium. “We did what we were supposed to do. We put ourselves in a position to win. This year I expect to be no different. Obviously, this year I’m a little older and it means a lot more.”
A prime time first
While Michigan State has played its share of night games over the years, the 7:30 p.m. kickoff will be the first time the rivalry game with Michigan has been played in prime time.
Dantonio doesn’t believe it has much of an effect on the players.
“Well, not really,” he said. “I mean, we've been playing some games at night in the past, but it's tough to wait around all day. But you know, just — they tell you where to show up, you show up and play. That's got to be our mo. I'm excited to watch our guys play this weekend.”
Depth chart unchanged
Michigan State’s depth chart didn’t change from last week, still listing junior David Beedle as the starter at right guard, as well as junior Matt Morrissey at safety and sophomore Josh Butler at cornerback.
Beedle did not play last week against Iowa because of an undisclosed injury and was replaced by freshman Kevin Jarvis. The only explanation Dantonio has given on Beedle’s status is that his injury is not long-term, meaning there’s a chance he could play this week.
Morrissey played last week but was replaced in the starting lineup by sophomore David Dowell. Butler also played but gave way to sophomore Justin Layne in the starting lineup.