Michigan State looks to avoid Michigan hangover against Wisconsin
The Spartans are determined not to let that happen this year.
Coach Mark Dantonio hopes his team simply focuses on what’s at stake.
“Our focus should be on doing what we can to win the Big Ten championship,” Dantonio said. “(Former Ohio State coach) Earle Bruce used to say November is for contenders.
“With three games left, we’re contending for an attainable goal.”
First, No. 22 Michigan State (7-1, 4-1 Big Ten) has to beat Wisconsin (4-4, 1-4) on Saturday at home.
“It’ll be interesting to see how we respond coming off a very emotional game,” Dantonio said.
The Spartans won last week at Michigan Stadium for the first time since 1990, setting themselves up to play for a piece of the Big Ten title if they beat the Badgers and Purdue at home before closing the season at Penn State.
Michigan State earned the right to house the Paul Bunyan Trophy — a 4-foot-high prize that goes to the winner of the intrastate rivalry — but it didn’t linger around the team for long.
“After our team meeting on Sunday night, they rolled it out of the room,” quarterback Brian Hoyer said. “The big part of our preparation this week is getting over that win.”
Wisconsin, meanwhile, is hoping to build some momentum after finally getting a victory.
The Badgers rallied last week to beat Illinois after losing four straight, a collapse at Michigan, a three-point loss to Ohio State and two losses by a combined score of 86-23 to Iowa and Penn State.
“It’s a lot easier watching film when you win,” quarterback Dustin Sherer said. “The morale is a lot better. Everybody is ready to roll now. For us, it’s a big deal because we are a good football team.
“We need something like that game to get our heads back into it.”
Wisconsin’s win did come at a cost, losing star tight end Travis Beckum to a season-ending knee injury. Beckum finishes third in Wisconsin’s record books with 159 receptions and 2,149 yards receiving.
“It’s a huge loss,” Sherer said.
Tight end Garrett Graham has been dependable, leading the team with 23 catches and 330 yards receiving, and wide receiver David Gilreath showed his potential with a career-high 71 yards and two touchdowns against the Illini.
With Beckum out for the second time this season with an injury, both players will be counted on to become go-to receivers.
“He wasn’t there the first two-and-a-half weeks, and we’ve tried to step it up then,” Gilreath said. “Now, we have no choice but to step it up.”
Sherer’s third start will be a little easier if running back P.J. Hill is back at full strength after being slowed by an ankle injury.
“We want to put them in situations where the young quarterback has to beat us,” Dantonio said.
Michigan State’s opponents usually try to do that, too, because running back Javon Ringer has proven he can beat teams with his legs while Hoyer’s been inconsistent.
Ringer has run the ball 300 times this season — 65 more attempts than any other major college player — and is second in the country with 153 yards rushing a game. He’s scored 16 TDs.
Hoyer played one of his best games of the season against Michigan. He was 17-of-29 for 282 yards and a season-high three TDs, earning Big Ten offensive player of the week honors.
“I should’ve played like that all year,” Hoyer said. “If I can keep playing like that in the next three games, I’m going to give us a much better chance to finish this season the way we’d like to.”
So far, it has been pretty good.
The Spartans are 7-2 for just the third time in four decades, and they’ve made Dantonio the first coach in school history to win at least seven games in each of his first two seasons.
Michigan State will play in a bowl game for the second straight year for the first time in a decade. A strong finish, including an upset at Penn State, would give the Spartans a share of the Big Ten title for the first time since 1990.
“The maturity of this team is the best it’s ever been, and that’s been obvious this week because no one has talked about our last win since Sunday night,” Hoyer said. “What makes it easier to move on is knowing we’re playing for the Big Ten championship.”