Bob Wojnowski, John Niyo and Tony Paul preview MSU-Arizona State and review Michigan's double-OT win over Army and look ahead to the Wisconsin game in two weeks. The Detroit News


He’s fixing to do it again, isn’t he? This is the enduring mastery and mystery of Mark Dantonio — he listens to people say his offense stinks, his staff is archaic and his game plans have the creativity of oatmeal, without the raisins and walnuts. And then somehow he finds raisins and walnuts, and also receivers and runners.

After last season’s 7-6 record, Dantonio looked dour and miffed, as opposed to his normal upbeat countenance of dour and miffed. After this season’s sluggish opening victory, he looked like he’d washed down a bottle of Tums with pickle juice. Michigan State’s offense was so muddled, some dopey observers took away all the Os from D’antni.

Well, as of today, the O is back, after O’antonio’s Spartans put on an explosive show against one of the state’s various directional institutions. Apparently, it was only Western Michigan, but it was 51 points and it did feature nifty runs and multiple passes beyond six yards, all performed in neon lime outfits reportedly found in dumpsters outside Oregon’s football facility. The effort was so impressive, the Spartans are now two-touchdown favorites against Arizona State, which is coached by Herm Edwards, who once loudly proclaimed, “You play to win the game!”

That should be Dantonio’s motto, better than his recent offerings: “Chase the moment,” “Go catch that moment,” “Pause for just a moment, please,” and “Heave-ho.”

Football is funny, in an extremely non-funny way, although Dantonio can turn his subtle scowl into a subtle smile with an imperceptible twitch. One week ago, Michigan State was picked apart for refusing to thoroughly dismantle Tulsa. This week, the Wolverines are getting criticized for being overly respectful to Army, politely delivering a 7-0 lead while randomly dropping the ball and letting the Black Knights pick it up. Michigan escaped 24-21 in two unseemly overtimes, but it spawned unprecedented shrieking for an overtime non-defeat, until the next day when the Lions performed their magic in Arizona.

I’m not saying Jim Harbaugh overruled Josh Gattis’ new wide-open offense and ordered predictable runs directly into the line. I’m just saying there’s an unsubstantiated report Gattis arrived in his office one morning last week to find his files deleted and his password changed to “FullbackDive!?*1969!”

I don’t buy it, and not just because I question whether Harbaugh uses a computer. Sure, the offense was more “Stuck in Place” than “Speed in Space,” but I think Harbaugh just got nervous seeing all the fumbles and disconnected Gattis’ headset at halftime. The Wolverines have a bye week to get Gattis’ computer back online before they head to Wisconsin, where the burly Badgers still use their “Stuff your Face” philosophy.

But this is Dantonio’s week, and with a victory he’d surpass Duffy Daugherty as the program’s winningest coach, a remarkable run considering he replaced a guy with a 22-26 record and an L smack in the middle of his name. Per Michigan State tradition, Dantonio will become immediately eligible for his own iconic moniker, alongside legends Biggie (Munn), Muddy (Waters), Nicky (Saban), Bobby (Williams), John (L), and Duffy. Dantonio reportedly is choosing between “Gruffy” and “Mike.”

There have been many huge victories in Dantonio’s 13 seasons and a few bitterly tough defeats, including Army’s loss to Michigan. Dantonio has been especially successful in big games, where he has ordered up famous trick plays such as “Little Giants,” “Mousetrap,” “Trouble with the Snap” and “Wet Weather.” He doesn’t get nearly enough credit for his innovation and motivation and I mean that sincerely, no matter what you think.

It’ll be important for the Spartans to control their emotions Saturday, when they’ll seek revenge against the Sun Devils for last year’s sweaty loss. Arizona State also is considered one of America’s premier party schools, confirmed Thursday when the football equipment truck rolled into East Lansing escorted by three semis carrying cases of black cherry White Claws.

It should be quite festive, and not just because Michigan State’s dominant defense gets to introduce itself to a Fox national TV audience, as well as the Sun Devils’ true freshman quarterback. The Spartans had better be careful because Arizona State actually leads the nation in punting average and should get ample opportunity to show off. Michigan State must maintain composure, including in the student section, where the kids sometimes get their claws on a few too many and revert to single-syllable suggestions for what the visitors can do to themselves.

The victories record merely provides confirmation of Dantonio’s resiliency, following an amazing three-year run of 36-5. When others focus on the last gaffe, he usually gets the last laugh. A brutal Big Ten schedule beckons and things can change quickly, but this never does: Dantonio always is fixing to cook up something.

Pick: Michigan State 30-16

The picks

An Ohio squad at Indiana: The Buckeyes have beaten the Hoosiers 24 straight times, and a loss here would be their second crushing blow of the week. Earlier, the U.S. Patent office ruled the school could not trademark “the,” and in a stinging rebuke, also took away Ohio’s use of the letter “i.” I have no idea what Buckeye officials were drinking, or what they’re planning to dot at halftime now. Pick: Oho 45-21

Maryland at Temple: Apparently, Maryland swiped the offense Michigan had ordered off the Internet. The Terps are averaging 71 points and might not be frauds, although skepticism is mandatory. The Big Ten East already was plenty tough, so it’s unclear why Maryland messed around and decided to get competitive. Pick: Maryland 30-27

Iowa at Iowa State: This is one of the great rivalries in all of central Iowa, and ESPN’s "GameDay" is making its first appearance there. The key question: Who will be the guest picker? From what I understand, security will be ramped up to stop hundreds of pre-caucus presidential candidates from storming the stage. Pick: Iowa State 24-20

Northern Illinois at Nebraska: Another classic Huskies-Huskers matchup, and the last time Northern Illinois wandered into the corn, it beat Nebraska. Scott Frost is scuffling in his second season as Huskers coach and has yet to look anything like the guy who won a fake championship at UCF, and half a fake one as a player at Nebraska. Pick: Nebraska 34-24

Twitter: @bobwojnowski

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