EAST LANSING, Mich. — Rejection can be a powerful motivator.
It’s something Michigan State outside linebacker Denicos Allen uses every time he faces Ohio State, which visits Spartan Stadium at 3:30 p.m. Saturday in the Big Ten opener.
“Obviously, I didn’t get offered there,” said Allen, who made 415 tackles at Hamilton (Ohio) High. “I took it personal then, but I just found a better place in Michigan State.”
He added that some of the 27 other Ohioan Spartans have similar no-thank-you stories. Buckeyes coach Jim Tressel, since dismissed and replaced by Urban Meyer, could afford to be quite choosy with a national field to pick from.
“It added fuel to our fire,” said Allen, who played a big role in last year’s 10-7 win over Ohio State in Columbus. “It puts a chip on your shoulder.”
Allen hadn’t been playing up to expectations this season until last Saturday, when he had the team’s only sack and forced an important fumble in a closer-than-expected victory over Eastern Michigan.
He said getting called out by his position coach got him going. The linebacker coach for the Spartans just happens to be Mike Tressel, nephew of the former Ohio State coach who turned him down.
“He was just honest with me and straightforward,” Allen said of his coach. “That’s great because I am a competitor. When a coach calls me out and challenges me, I am going to respond.”
Allen led MSU with 11 sacks and was second on the team with 83 tackles last season, but he had nary a sack and was tied for fifth with 11 tackles after three games before getting six against the Eagles.
“We’ve been waiting for him to get turned loose,” Spartans defensive coordinator Pat Narduzzi said. “But that’s what Denicos is supposed to do.
“Hopefully, that was a warm up for the Big Ten Conference. He is a great player and needs to make good plays all the time — not just part time.”
Allen, at 5-feet-11 and 225 pounds, was Sports Illustrated’s preseason defensive MVP pick in the Big Ten. He’s also a candidate for the Butkus Award, which is given to the nation’s top linebacker.
So his disappointing start was surprising — but not his impact against Eastern Michigan.
Allen teamed up with strong safety Isaiah Lewis to make a 4th-and-1 stop on EMU tailback Dominique Sherrer on the first drive of the game. Allen forced a fumble that linebacker Jairus Jones recovered at midfield in the third quarter, and Allen sacked quarterback Tyler Benz for a nine-yard loss to all but end a fourth-quarter drive.
“It felt good,” Allen said. “All year, I’ve been close and not quite getting it, and to finally get that first one, that’s a big stress reliever.
“And usually after you get the first one, they keep rolling in. That’s how it happened last year, and hopefully that’s how it is this year.”
Allen also got his first sack last year in the fourth game, against Central Michigan. Then he got a pair of sacks in the Big Ten opener in Columbus, and was “rolling” with a four-game sack streak that continued against Michigan and Wisconsin.
Allen had three sacks in the Big Ten championship game loss to the Badgers, and nine sacks in nine conference games last season.
“The Big Ten – that’s where it all matters,” Allen said. “We want to be the Big Ten champs this year.”
The No. 14 Buckeyes (4-0) and No. 20 Spartans (3-1) are the highest-ranked Big Ten teams headed into conference play. Quick hits
Coach Mark Dantonio got a playful dig in on ESPN analyst Desmond Howard by slipping this comment on the excitement of facing OSU into his press conference:
“I guess I would say, ‘I can hardly contain myself.’”
Howard, who won the Heisman Trophy for archrival Michigan, tweeted on being in East Lansing as part of the “GameDay” crew: “I can barely contain my excitement.”
… Dantonio said defensive end William Gholston is “full go” for the OSU game after missing the first half against Eastern Michigan because an unspecified injury curtailed his practice time last week.
… Player interviews have been curtailed this week. Dantonio said that the Spartans “need to come closer as a team” and that “media pressure has them thinking in another way.” … The Buckeyes-Spartan rivalry takes a two-year break after this game.
… Le’Veon Bell ranks second among major college backs with both 117 carries and 610 yards.
… Dantonio said that using All-Big Ten first team cornerback Johnny Adams as a receiver, as he did in the spring game, is a thought that has crossed his mind with the young receiving corps dropping several passes per game. Dantonio also compared the growth of his wideouts to that of a “bamboo tree,” adding that it can grow slow “and then 40 feet in two months.”