Michigan St.-Rutgers Preview

(AP) – Coach Mark Dantonio is well aware of the numbers, especially Michigan State’s record: 5-0.

The fourth-ranked Spartans have been outscored 73-50 in the second half, after owning the first half 107-31. That and a 24-21 scare from one-win Purdue in their Big Ten opener last Saturday prompted a drop from No. 2 in the rankings this week, drawing skepticism about the team’s ability to ”Reach Higher” after No. 3 and No. 5 national finishes.

Heading into Saturday night’s game at Rutgers (2-2, 0-1), Dantonio would rather look at the positives. That includes his injury-plagued team’s ability to finish games, reflected in a 31-3 record since late in the 2012 season.

”The bottom line is you need to win,” he said Tuesday. ”I don’t feel frustration. There was no frustration in that locker room after the game. Guys were excited to play.”

Michigan State looked excited again at the outset, racing to a 21-0 halftime lead in miserable weather. When a dropped punt snap and a blown assignment gave Purdue considerable momentum, the Spartans did what they do so well. They finished the job, with or without style points.

Michigan State will make its first appearance on the road, a change Dantonio welcomes. He said a retooled secondary will have to play well against a potent Scarlet Knights passing attack.

”It is tough to win games,” Dantonio said. ”I don’t care who you play. People spend 80-plus hours as coaches every week to develop a plan with what they have. Players spend 20 hours mandated and countless hours by themselves, trying to figure out how to do things to the best of their ability.”

The Spartans have shown an ability to score. Their streak of 20 straight games with 24 or more points is tied for the longest in FBS play with Baylor.

Michigan State also has shown it can move the football with balance. Connor Cook, the winningest quarterback in school history, has 10 touchdown passes, while freshmen L.J. Scott and Madre London have combined to rush for 149.6 yards per week.

To do that when three offensive tackles – Kodi Kieler, Jack Conklin and Dennis Finley – have been sidelined with injuries shows the depth the program has built in Dantonio’s nine seasons. It demonstrates the importance of having that talent pool, even when All-America center Jack Allen has to swing out to play left tackle.

The Spartans lost a series of close games in 2012, a 7-6 season capped by a bowl win over TCU. That reinforced the belief that stats don’t tell the story. Only the scoreboard does.

”Every time you line up to play, you’re trying to win that particular play or situation, but at the end of the game, did you win?” Dantonio said. ”That’s how you’re ultimately measured. There have been a lot of close games here in the past.

”Quite honestly in 2013, there was a lot of doubt created early in the season. That doubt changed as the season went forward. Nobody predicted that we’d be 13-1.”

The embattled Scarlet Knights had a bye last week after defeating Kansas 27-14. Rutgers snapped a two-game skid with its first win since coach Kyle Flood was suspended three games Sept. 16 for contacting a faculty member about a player’s grade. Running backs coach Norries Wilson has run the team the last two games.

In addition, six players have been kicked off the team because of arrests. However, top receiver Leonte Carroo was reinstated Wednesday, a day after criminal charges against him were dropped.

Flood said Carroo agreed to some undisclosed conditions and ”accepted the responsibility” that comes with his return to the team.

Also, captain Darius Hamilton announced before last week’s game that he would not play again this season because of a lower body injury.

Then-No. 10 Michigan State routed Rutgers 45-3 at home Nov. 22 in the teams’ first meeting in 10 years, evening the series at 3-3.