AP Sports Writer
EAST LANSING, Mich. — Mark Dantonio responded with a quip and a smile when asked if Michigan State’s matchup against Ohio State feels similar to last season’s game.
“Well, I hope not,” the Michigan State coach said.
The second-ranked Buckeyes are favored by about two touchdowns in Saturday’s showdown with ninth-ranked Michigan State, and part of the reason the Spartans are such big underdogs on the road is because of what happened the last time the teams met. Ohio State went to East Lansing in 2014 and beat Michigan State 49-37, humbling the Spartans’ fine defense in a victory that was the first real sign that Ohio State might be a national title contender.
It was a startling performance by the Buckeyes, who ran for 268 yards and threw for 300 against the talented Spartans. Now Michigan State — which looks far more vulnerable now than it did then — will try again to slow down J.T. Barrett and Ohio State.
“We’ve got some different personnel in there, they’ve had some injuries that have created some different things that they have had to go through. We have had some injuries that we have had to deal with as well,” Dantonio said. “As far as who they are, in terms of what concepts they use, they do a great job in terms of keeping it fresh.”
Two seasons ago in the Big Ten championship game, Michigan State held Ohio State’s Braxton Miller to eight completions, but with Barrett at quarterback last season, the Buckeyes unleashed all of their speed and power. Barrett threw for three touchdowns and ran for two more, and Ezekiel Elliott ran for 154 yards and two TDs.
“It’s big time, both stopping Elliott and Barrett,” linebacker Darien Harris said. “We had them in a lot of third down and 2, third down and 3, third down and short yardage situations, and they were able to muscle it forward for the first down, whether it was with Barrett keeping the ball or handing it off to Ezekiel.”
Ohio State finished the game 10 of 14 on third down.
The Spartans could look back with regret on a huge penalty in the second quarter that negated a Michigan State touchdown. Had the play stood, the Spartans could have been up 28-14, but instead it was Ohio State that took a 28-21 lead into halftime after a couple long touchdown passes by Barrett.
The Buckeyes were able to play with the lead throughout the second half, seemingly doing whatever they wanted offensively.
“You’ve got to stop them on first down, first,” Dantonio said. “You’ve got to make them one dimensional if you’re going to do that, so you’ve got to control the line of scrimmage.”
Injuries have hurt Michigan State in the secondary this season — another factor that’s surely contributing to the sizable pointspread in Ohio State’s favor — but the Buckeyes haven’t looked quite as sharp as they did during their title run a year ago. Michigan State only lost two games during the 2014 season, to Oregon and Ohio State. The Spartans avenged one of those losses back in September when they beat the Ducks, and now they’ll have a chance to pay back the Buckeyes as well.
A lot of things went wrong against Ohio State last year, but Dantonio and the Spartans can take some solace in the fact that no two games are exactly the same.
“I don’t talk to our football team about redemption,” Dantonio said. “I talk to them about getting ready for this year. What’s happened in the past has happened in the past. We can’t change that, but I always want them looking forward.”