October 30, 2012

Next Up: Huskers

EAST LANSING - Michigan State coach Mark Dantonio has beaten every team in the Big Ten except Nebraska during Dantonio's six seasons as head coach.

The Spartans have faced the Cornhuskers just one time under Dantonio. But that meeting was a source of consternation. Michigan State's 24-3 loss in Lincoln did not match the level of play the Spartans had reached in the rest of their 13 games in 2011.

Dantonio's history with Nebraska dates back to the early 1990s when he was as a rising defensive backs coach on Glen Mason's staff at Kansas. After leaving Kansas to take the same position at Michigan State, Dantonio got another taste of the Big Red Machine during the first game of Nick Saban's tenure as Spartan football coach.

"I've always been impressed with Nebraska and their following and their tradition with coach (Tom) Osborne and everything they had experienced at that point in time." said Dantonio. "I was at Kansas when he was there and then also came here in '95 for coach Saban's first game. I saw all the red in the stadium. Hopefully that doesn't happen this week.

The Nebraska defense dominated Michigan State in Lincoln in 2011. The Spartans were held to 187 yards in total offense. Star quarterback Kirk Cousins (Washington Redskins) completed just 11 passes for 86 yards against the Huskers.

"I thought they played very, very well against us and I thought they did take things away from us," Danotnio said. "We will have to work that out."

Last year's loss will be motivation for the Spartans in 2012.

"That was probably the one game, especially in the Big Ten Conference, that we didn't come and play as well as we had previously," Dantonio said. I think our players want to atone for that a little bit. They look back at that game and say, We can do better. That's the main thing, the main focus. As far as where we would be collectively as a team, I guess it's something we could point to."

Dantonio has been impressed with the play of Nebraska linebacker Will Compton and the performance of the Cornhusker defense overall during Big Ten play.

"They are a disciplined football team, very good on the defensive side of the ball," said Dantonio. "Compton, No. 51, is an outstanding football player. I have been very impressed with their secondary, their corners, their defensive front as well. They lead the Big Ten sacks right now, basically a Top 20 defense."

Dantonio had strong praise for the play of Nebraska quarterback Taylor Martinez. The Spartan coach is also impressed with what he has seen from the tailback trio of Rex Burkhead, Ameer Abdullah, and Braylon Heard. Dantonio also singled out tight ends Ben Cotton, Kyler Reed, and wideout Kenny Bell as players who will test the Spartan defense.

Michigan State is playing in its 10th consecutive game without a break. Injuries have piled up over the course of the year, but Dantonio said he expects his team to be as healthy for Nebraska as it has been during the past three weeks.

Dion Sims played at 80 percent against Wisconsin after taking a limited number of snaps during practice last week. Dantonio expects his star tight end to practice more this week and to play more snaps against the Cornhuskers. Sims made a huge catch on third down to move the chains on Michigan State's 75-yard scoring drive that forced overtime.

Dan France will be back in the starting lineup as starting left tackle. France replaced Donavon Clark at left tackle midway through the game at Wisconsin.

Michigan State's overtime win over Wisconsin snapped a 21-game home winning streak for the Badgers. It also gave a beleaguered Spartan offense a much-needed dose of confidence.

"We came focused as a football team, which is always going to help," Dantonio said. "We just kept playing, never lost our composure through the game. Ended up finishing, continued to play with a lot of energy and won a close football game, which is important for this football team at this point in time."

Maxwell completed all but one of his pass attempts during the final drive.

"I think it's every quarterback's dream to take you down the field at the end of the game and score and then win it in overtime," Dantonio said. "I was really happy to see that our wide receivers, (Bennie) Fowler, (Keith) Mumphery, (Tony) Lippett, all made plays in this football game and that was great to see them do that."



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