EAST LANSING, Mich. (AP) Michigan State coach Mark Dantonio seems acutely aware of what is probably the biggest obstacle facing the Spartans this weekend.
”We need to come ready to play,” Dantonio said. ”We need to be able to perform, and every time you step on that field, you’re competing against not just the opposing team, but you’re competing against yourself, your attention to detail, your excellence, your ability to go take the next step as a player.”
The 11th-ranked Spartans are favored by more than 40 points against Eastern Michigan on Saturday, so complacency is certainly a possibility. Dantonio will do his best to prevent any of that, but there isn’t much buzz surrounding this game, even though the two schools are only about 60 miles from each other.
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Michigan State is coming off a 46-27 loss at Oregon on Sept. 6. The Spartans (1-1) had a weekend off after that, so they’ll be fighting both rust and the risk of an emotional letdown.
Eastern Michigan (1-2) is in its first season under coach Chris Creighton. The Eagles won their opener against Morgan State, then lost 65-0 to Florida and 17-3 to Old Dominion. Eastern Michigan has a tough challenge against the Spartans.
”They’re confident, they’re well coached, they’re disciplined. They have an aura about them,” Creighton said. ”You respect that, because that’s the kind of program that you want to build.”
Here are a few things to watch when the Spartans host the Eagles:
STYLE POINTS: Michigan State put forth a credible performance in the loss to Oregon, but the Big Ten in general is not off to a good start this season. That means even if the Spartans win the rest of their games, it’s hard to say whether they’d be awarded a spot in college football’s new four-team playoff.
Dantonio said emphatically this week he will not run up the score on teams just to impress the playoff committee, but Michigan State does not need this game to be unnecessarily close.
LAST TIME: Dantonio has one fairly recent game he can point to if he’s worried his team will be overconfident. In 2012, the Spartans hosted Eastern Michigan and did not play well at all.
”In 2012, we were down 7-6 at the half,” he said. ”We were I think 30-point favorites. Our guys need to come ready to play.”
It was actually 7-3 at halftime of that game. Michigan State went on to win 23-7.
SHUT DOWN: Eastern Michigan’s Tyreese Russell has been named to the watch list for the Mackey Award, which goes to the nation’s top tight end, but although Russell is a threat, the Eagles have managed only 216 yards passing through three games.
DEPTH: Dantonio said there was no reason for the Spartans to play their starters any more than they did in their season-opening victory over Jacksonville State – although there may have been value in keeping players sharp before the Oregon game. The Spartans led Jacksonville State 38-0 at halftime and won 45-7.
If Michigan State has another big lead Saturday, expect younger players to get some opportunities.
”I think it’s critical for young players to get confidence, and the only way you give them confidence is by good things happening on game day,” Dantonio said. ”You can get X amount of confidence in practice, but that has to transfer to the game field.”
RECORD PACE: EMU’s Tyler Allen needs 297 yards to break the school’s career mark for kickoff return yardage. Allen should reach that record at some point, although if he starts seriously approaching it against Michigan State, that probably means the game is out of hand.