East Lansing — Bring up last season’s trip to Ohio State, and the mood quickly sours around Michigan State’s football facilities this week.
For a team that has had as much success as any in the Big Ten against the Urban Meyer-led Buckeyes, last year’s matchup was anything but for the Spartans. Before most could settle into their seats at Ohio Stadium, the Buckeyes already were beginning their onslaught as Mike Weber burst through for a 47-yard touchdown on Ohio State’s opening drive.
By the time things were all said and done, Weber, the former Detroit prep star, had added an 82-yard gallop and Ohio State finished with 335 yards rushing to go with 524 total yards as Ohio State cruised to a 48-3 victory. The final stat sheet was as one-sided as it’s ever been under Mark Dantonio as Weber and JK Dobbins each ran for more than 100 yards and Michigan State managed just 195 yards and was sacked six times.
It was total domination.
“That’s one I want to forget,” linebacker Joe Bachie said. “Probably the worst loss I ever had.”
It’s hard to find a game in recent years that went as bad, as quickly, as last year’s game at Ohio State did for Michigan State. Even the 33-point loss at Penn State in 2016 was a game at halftime.
Against the Buckeyes, that was never the case.
“It’s always a game in the fourth quarter,” senior linebacker Andrew Dowell said. “It’s always a football game. That wasn’t even a football game. We couldn’t even just do what we do.”
What Michigan State normally does is stop the run and get after the quarterback, making life miserable for its opponents. It’s done so in the past against Ohio State, beating the Buckeyes in 2013 and 2015 while pushing them to the limit in one-point losses in 2012 and 2016. Add in the shootout in 2014 and Michigan State-Ohio State has usually meant good football.
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Getting back to that point is the next step for Michigan State (6-3, 4-2 Big Ten) as it gets set to host No. 10 Ohio State at noon Saturday. The Spartans enter the game as the No. 1 defensive unit in the nation and are 16th in the country in scoring defense, allowing 19 points a game.
On the flip side, Ohio State (8-1, 5-1) is one of the top scoring offenses in the country at 42.2 points a game while piling up 547.2 yards a game. Trying to stop that and keep turning toward a top bowl game would be motivation enough most weeks. But the Spartans admit this one is a bit different.
“Especially after last year and how that went,” junior quarterback Brian Lewerke said. “Especially the way we lost. It’s not just losing but in the fashion we did. It was a blowout. Coach (Ken) Mannie harped on that yesterday just how it was kind of embarrassing for us, being in the position we were in with the chance to go to the Big Ten Championship and see it all fall apart like that.
“I definitely see more motivation from the other guys.”
A win this season would keep No. 18 Michigan State’s dimming hopes in the Big Ten East alive, but almost as importantly, it would help erase the feeling the Spartans had last season when they left Columbus. The Spartans didn’t let it linger and finished the season with 10 wins, but it was Ohio State that ended up going to Indianapolis and winning the Big Ten title.
And along the way, they wiped out the Spartans.
Michigan State is focused on righting that wrong this week.
“I think every game is sort of a new season,” Dantonio said. “And you can look at every single game and build on it from the past and look to the future. I expect our players to get ready every single game, regardless of who we play. Its too difficult in this league not to be prepared mentally and emotionally. You know, how high can you get?
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“I want our guys at peak performance at game time, whatever that is. Their peak performance, whoever that is, whether its quarterback, defensive back, backup, whatever it is, I want them to be at their peak performance.”
The Spartans believe the last couple of weeks have shown they are reaching their peak. They knocked off red-hot Purdue two weeks ago and allowed Maryland to gain only 100 total yards last week.
Still, they know, lingering below the surface, is the beating they took last season. They’re ready to put that in the past.
“I think that it’s a challenge,” senior safety Khari Willis said. “That’s we did. We have to own it. I feel like we did that, and we move forward from it. Same guys but a different team. I feel like we’re playing pretty good ball right now and we just want to continue to peak in November and what better challenge than Ohio State?”