Mark Dantonio knows fully well you don’t take games against service academies lightly and addressed that during his weekly press conference.
“Highly motivated people,” stressed Dantonio. “When you read their personal backgrounds, on quite a few, especially guys that are juniors and seniors, it says, Completed survival training July of 2013 or June of 2013. When you're doing things like that, you're used to being in situations that are highly competitive.
“That's what you see. I think they're athletic on defense. I think they're quick-bodied on defense. I see skill on the defensive side of the ball. I see it on the offensive side of the ball. Same type of skill level in terms of cutting people. You got to stay up on your feet. They present a lot of problems in terms of, I guess, discipline, who has who on the options, things of that nature, all these types of things.
“You have to break them down and divide them. A whole different way of practicing against them. Really we started practicing against them last spring. It's a tough game, a tough draw for Michigan State. This is something we've not experienced here. We've played option football here before, but not to this level. They present other problems with the no-huddle offense. Also using different normal power and things of that nature, combining those aspects as well.
"Difficult team to prepare for. Very well-coached. @Ron Burton comes from there, our defensive line coach, for 10 years. Richard Bell who was my defensive coordinator at South Carolina when I played there. A long time defensive coordinator there, retired. You can see his footprint on their defense as well. An impressive program. Won a lot of football game. I think they play at a very high level."
Unlike some weeks, Michigan State has worked prior to game week on facing what the Falcons bring to the field. Especially the way they go about blocking using cut blocks.
“You're always concerned, but that's football,” explained Dantonio. “That's why we've worked on these things every other day in summer practice. This past summer, summer camp here, we've had Air Force periods or individual periods dedicated to cut blocking. I don't think there's any question you need to stay on your feet and get off blocks.
“They're going to work off back cuts and in-line cutting, which everybody does, even zone teams, et cetera. They do it at a little bit higher level. They'll split you out with their offensive line splits. A whole different dynamic relative to offensive football.”
Unlike other opponents the Spartans might face occasionally, Dantonio feels he’s got a secret weapon with Coach Burton’s recent background at Air Force.
“Huge advantage. Coach Burton,” he said. “First of all, he gives us an accurate scouting report on each and every player really if they're juniors or seniors. He was either recruiting guys and had a feel for them or they were playing on the football team when they were younger. That's a tremendous advantage.
“Secondly, he's been in that culture. He understands the culture, how they practice, the drills they work on, what has to happen for us to be successful on the defensive side of the ball.
“He was there for 10 years. I think he understands the mindset, the tempo that goes with playing there and goes with actually attending there.”