East Lansing — You don’t need to let Michigan State knows what it’s up against this week.
The Spartans are perfectly aware they’ll walk into a game that few people around college football will give them a chance to win.
But as No. 25 Michigan State prepares for Saturday night’s primetime matchup with No. 4 Ohio State in Columbus as nearly 20-point underdogs, it’s clear they have no plans of laying down.
“Nothing really makes me worried as a football player,” fifth-year senior safety David Dowell said. “They have elite players, pound for pound. So we’ll match up and play our physical brand of defense.”
Really, there’s no other way to approach it for Michigan State (4-1, 2-0 Big Ten). There’s not getting around the schedule and there’s no complaining that the next four weeks make up for a brutal stretch. After Saturday’s trip to Ohio State, the Spartans head to Wisconsin the following week, get a bye, then host Penn State.
All three of those teams have yet to lose a game and all are ranked among the top 15 teams in the nation. But it’s the Buckeyes (5-0, 2-0) who have people starting to talk about perhaps being a playoff team, especially after rolling over Nebraska on Saturday night.
Behind an offense that is averaging more than 52 points and 535 yards a game and a defense that is playing significantly better than last season, it appears first-year coach Ryan Day is doing just fine taking over for Urban Meyer. However, Day isn’t acting like anything is a given for his team.
“I don’t know, again, in terms of a benchmark, but anytime you go on the road and have to win a night game, we know it’s not easy in this conference,” Day said after the 48-7 win at Nebraska. “It’s just another game, we’re 1-0 on Saturday nights, and that’s the goal. We regroup and we’re off to Michigan State.”
They’re off to prepare for Michigan State, that is, considering this game will be played in the Horseshoe.
And while that has been an intimidating factor for most opponents, Michigan State has had some success playing in Columbus. The Spartans beat the Buckeyes on the road in 2011 and in 2015 with starting quarterback Connor Cook out with a shoulder injury. That game, won on a last-second field goal by Michael Geiger, ended Ohio State’s national-title hopes and helped send Michigan State to the playoffs.
The last meeting in Columbus in 2017 was a 48-3 Ohio State win, and it’s that sort of the game Michigan State is hoping to avoid. The Spartans aren’t just hoping to avoid a blowout, though. They intend to compete.
To do so, the offense will have to continue the progress it’s made the past two weeks. It’s progress that has been made despite some injuries along the offensive line that has a trio of true freshmen — Devontae Dobbs, J.D. Duplain and Nick Samac — on the verge of regular playing time.
Each has seen minimal action in the first five games, but that could change quickly with another injury, so the coaching staff continues to push for all three to be game ready.
“We’re very impressed with those guys, and they're going to have an opportunity to play,” Michigan State coach Mark Dantonio said. “I think the game experience does them a lot of service in terms of getting them ready for game time, and I think they're productive players. So they're going to play, they're going to have their opportunities.”
While the offense must push for consistency, the Michigan State defense finds itself in the rare position of being questioned after giving up 356 total yards last week to Indiana.
“I don't know about a reality check, but it was good to see us struggle a little bit, I guess, and our offense to pick us up,” senior linebacker Joe Bachie said. “The defense will be on our stuff next week; we are going to get this stuff figured out. You know it was great to see our offense (against Indiana). I can't say enough about that. They put up 34 points and they did a great job.”