East Lansing — Mark Dantonio has spent more time coaching at Michigan State than any other school.
In his 10th season, Dantonio also spent six years as an assistant at Michigan State — five under Nick Saban as the secondary coach and in his final season with Bobby Williams as secondary coach and assistant head coach.
But if there’s one other school out there Dantonio connects to, it might be Ohio State, this week’s opponent. He was a graduate assistant for Earle Bruce in 1983-84 and returned under Jim Tressel as defensive coordinator from 2001-03, winning a national championship in 2002.
“Most definitely there always will be,” Dantonio said when asked if he had an affection for the Buckeyes. “There’s the relationships with those people at that point in time in my life, which was in my 20s, mid to late 20s. Then there was the relationship when I went there as defensive coordinator with those coaches and those people at that time and all of the players then, so I know a lot of people down there.
“I’m from that state, and the respect that I have for that program, and the players who played in it, is there, and a lot of places, certainly here with our players and everything as well, but I have a deep respect for Ohio State and what they’ve been able to accomplish.”
Dantonio grew up in Zanesville, and when he began his coaching career after his playing days were done at South Carolina, he began as a graduate assistant at Ohio University. He spent a year at Purdue and one at Butler (Kan.) Junior College before ending up at Ohio State.
There also were stints at Akron and Youngstown State, so Dantonio is connected to the state. And whether it’s had anything to do with it or not, Dantonio has had more success against Ohio State coach Urban Meyer than anyone in the Big Ten.
Before Penn State defeated Ohio State this season, Michigan State was the only conference team to hand Meyer a loss, beating Ohio State in the 2013 Big Ten title game and last season in Columbus.
It’s all made Ohio State week a fairly significant one for Dantonio, who recalled the time he got an autograph from Woody Hayes during his days as a graduate assistant.
“I distinctly remember we won the championship in ’84, and they rushed the field and all that kind of stuff, so I was one of the last ones walking back up into the locker round and everybody was gone pretty much,” Dantonio recalled. “And there was just Coach Hayes sitting there on the bench, so I walked in and just sort of — ‘How you doing,’ you know? And I think I had a program in my hand, and just being a GA, I said, ‘Do you mind signing this?’ So I think I still have that program.
“He was quite the guy.”
Michigan State pitched its first shutout since 2013 last week — 49-0 over Rutgers.
A second straight this week against one of the top offenses in the Big Ten will be a challenge, but the Spartans hope their confidence carries over.
“It’s hard to get a shutout, goose eggs are hard to come by, I don’t care who you’re playing,” linebackers coach Mark Snyder said.
Ohio State at Michigan State
Kickoff: Noon Saturday, Spartan Stadium, East Lansing
Records: Ohio State 9-1 (6-1 Big Ten), Michigan State
Line: Ohio State by 22