They often say to keep your friends close and your enemies closer. With that being said, let's preview this week's opponent: the Michigan State Spartans.
In 480 B.C., Leonidas led 300 Spartans on a suicide mission against the largest army ever assembled. The men battled valiantly, fighting against all odds and a toughness that had never been seen before. Eventually, the last man fell, and the tiresome Persians declared victory.
This historic battle runs parallel to No. 18 Michigan State’s football program. The Spartans of Ancient Greece were positioned against a much larger enemy. Michigan State is in the same division as college football giants Ohio State and Michigan, often being taunted with the name “little brother” by the latter. Despite the cards being set against him, a man led the Ancient Spartans to unprecedented success. Mark Dantonio, head coach of the Michigan State Spartans, is the most successful coach in the history of the program and has turned the school into a perennial threat.
Dantonio owns the second highest winning percentage in school history and has won three conference titles. Like the Spartans of old, Dantonio and his Michigan State Spartans rely on being tougher than their opponent.
Before coming to East Lansing as a head coach, Mark Dantonio worked at a number of schools, including at Ohio State under head coaches Earle Bruce and Jim Tressel. He left Ohio State for Cincinnati in 2003 only to return to Michigan State in 2006, this time as a head coach.
Dantonio has helped the Spartans Reach New Heights
With its win over Maryland, Michigan State has eclipsed 700 wins in its history. The program has claimed six national championships in its history, though the last one came in 1967. In recent years, Michigan State has been an annual contender for the Big Ten title since Dantonio’s arrival, winning the conference in three of the past eight years.
Despite the school’s reputation as a defensive team, the Spartans have produced some incredible offensive talent in the past decade. Kirk Cousins, Le’Veon Bell, and Jeremy Langford rank as some of the best players to ever come out of the program.
Expect A Balanced Attack
In the past two years, Michigan State has been less running-back dependent than usual. Quarterback Brian Lewerke threw for 2,793 yards in 2017 and is up to 1,740 yards through eight games. Against Maryland, however, true sophomore Connor Heyward, brother of former Buckeye Cameron Heyward, had his first career 100-yard rushing game.
On Saturday, Michigan State will likely go with a balanced offense. Lewerke is a gunslinger and can make mistakes (See: his performance against Ohio State last year). The cold conditions may favor a power running game, resulting in Heyward to get plenty of touches between the tackles.
Michigan States's Defense is one of the Best in Michigan...and the Nation
The No. 1 rush defense in the country. How many times have you heard that this week?
Led by one of the best linebacker corps in the nation, the Spartans’ defense is one of the most aggressive the Buckeyes will see this season. Junior Joe Bachie leads the team in tackles for the second year in a row and, needless to say, he is a beast.
On the perimeter, the Spartans are not much worse. Michigan State is No. 16 in the nation for interceptions per game (1.3) and allows 250 yards through the air each game. For the Buckeyes to win, the offense must win in the trenches and limit their mistakes through the air.
Ohio State and Michigan State have some History Too
No one will ever forget 2015.
One of the most talented college football teams ever assembled was not given a chance to win the national title because of a close loss to Michigan State. The Spartans were sure to make the most of their opportunity in the playoff, of course, losing 38-0 to Alabama while J.T. Barrett, Ezekiel Elliot, and Joey Bosa sat at home.
In the Meyer-Dantonio Chronicles, Ohio State is 4-2 against the Spartans. The Buckeyes came out last year with a 48-3 statement win, the largest ever margin of victory between the two schools. While the Big Ten title is likely out of reach for Michigan State, it would make their season to effectively end Ohio State’s chances at the Big Ten title and college football playoff.