Michigan State welcomes a Saturday off, amid a four-game stretch of Ohio State, Michigan, Wisconsin and Nebraska. But with the rival Wolverines next on the schedule, it's not like the Spartans will be sitting idle.
"We're gonna be ready," MSU senior FS Trenton Robinson said. "You know, we're gonna know everything that they're gonna do. We're gonna watch film and we'll be ready."
Michigan State will get to watch Saturday as Michigan plays at Northwestern, then the Spartans will prepare in earnest for what they hope will be their fourth straight win over the Wolverines. That hasn't happened since Duffy Daugherty's Spartans did it from 1959-62.
This time off is much more welcome in light of Saturday's 10-7 win at Ohio State -- a game the Spartans dominated in every aspect but on the scoreboard. A loss in the Big Ten opener would have made for a long two weeks of waiting for redemption.
This is still a long time to be emotionally stoked for a big game, but the Spartans will take the extra rest and preparation.
"I think it's good," sophomore LB Max Bullough said. "You know, we've had a tough five games and it's gonna be good to kind of get guys healed up. We had a bye late in the season (Nov. 13) last year and I think guys were a little bit tired, but now that we've got one early, we'll kind of get a chance to refocus ourselves, get healthy again and get ready for another huge game."
--Michigan State defensive coordinator Pat Narduzzi is well-known for saying "stats are for losers," but the stats are smiling on his defense. For the second straight week, the Spartans sit at No. 1 in the FBS in total defense (173.4 yards per game) -- and even if Narduzzi isn't talking about those numbers, his players have noticed and want to stay on the top of that list.
"You've got to take pride in that," MSU sophomore LB Denicos Allen said. "Once you establish that kind of defense, if you want to maintain the No. 1 defense in the country, pride is a big factor in that."
--Mark Dantonio took some time early in the week to go recruiting, after a win that should help in that regard. Dantonio is an Ohio guy who has always stressed Ohio in his recruiting efforts, and he got big performances from several Ohioans in a win at Ohio Stadium. The Spartans already beat the Buckeyes for coveted DE Se'Von Pittman in the 2012 class.
"I think this will be a big help in recruiting," sophomore RB and Reynoldsburg native Le'Veon Bell said. "This is the type of thing that will make people notice Michigan State."
BYE WEEK MISSION: The Spartans' biggest concern with Michigan is QB Denard Robinson, so this extra time will allow extra preparation for the challenges he presents. MSU took three days off after the win at Ohio State, with full practices set for Wednesday and Thursday. Backup WR Tony Lippett emulated Robinson with high praise a year ago, and he likely will do the same while getting some reps at WR and CB against the scout team.
LOOKING AHEAD: Michigan's visit to Spartan Stadium will be a key showdown between two teams in the Big Ten's new Legends Division. The Wolverines and Spartans are the only teams in the division to win in the first week of Big Ten play. The Spartans host Wisconsin and must travel to Nebraska after that, so a win over Michigan is essential to stay in contention.
QUOTE TO NOTE: "We wanted to make a statement. We wanted to come out and dominate the game."-- MSU FS Trenton Robinson on the Ohio State victory.
STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL
SCOUTING THE OFFENSE: The Spartans got improved pass protection at Ohio State, allowing no sacks, but the running game continues to be a source of meager production. The off week could be helpful as a jelling offensive line continues to work on timing. Michigan State did whatever it wanted to do offensively against Michigan a year ago, but the Wolverines appear to be improved.
SCOUTING THE DEFENSE: There's no obvious weakness now for the Spartans, not after they got nine sacks and 13 tackles for loss at Ohio State. The pass rush was a bit slow to come around but is now in full gear. The Spartans are faster at LB this season and that could help against Michigan and Denard Robinson.
--Sophomore LT Micajah Reynolds saw some action at LT at Ohio State and looks good there. Still, a future move to defense is not out of the question. The Spartans will lose Kevin Pickelman and Johnathan Strayhorn at DT, and Jerel Worthy may make it three if he enters the draft a year early. That could push Reynolds back to the other side of the ball in 2012.
--Junior DE Tyler Hoover should be back for the Michigan game from his rib/back injury. Hoover will have a tough time passing Will Gholston or Marcus Rush in the starting lineup, but he can aid the Spartans' depth.
--The Spartans continue to search for another downfield threat to aid B.J. Cunningham, and Bennie Fowler is the obvious answer, but he hasn't played yet because of a foot injury. Fowler has practiced some, so the hope is that he'll be able to actually play against Michigan.