EAST LANSING - The day Mark Dantonio was hired as head coach at Michigan State, he promised Spartans fans, among other things, that his teams would "measure up" in its annual rivalry game against Michigan.
Seven years later, Dantonio is 4-2 against Michigan, including a four-game win streak from 2008 to 2011, and a pair of squandered leads in the final minutes in 2007 and the final seconds in 2011.
Charlie Bachman, from 1933-38, is the only other Spartan head coach to win four of his first six games against Michigan.
Duffy Daugherty was 3-2-1 in his first six games against Michigan, headed toward 6-2-2 before experiencing a third loss to Michigan.
Legendary names Biggie Munn (3-3) and Nick Saban (2-3) weren't as successful through five or six years against Michigan as Mr. Dantonio.
Dantonio will try to move to 5-2 all-time against Michigan and, more importantly, 8-1 overall and 5-0 in the Legends Division when the Spartans play host to 7-1 Michigan at 3:30 p.m. on Saturday at Spartan Stadium.
Dantonio never guaranteed victories against Michigan. After losing his first game against the Wolverines in 2007, the only promise he made was that "it'll never be over."
Dantonio has contributed iconic sound bites to the rivalry's history, and made enemies in Ann Arbor - all of which is fine with Spartan fans. He has done it while embracing the Michigan-Michigan State feud, and adding to it.
"You know who your rivals are," Dantonio said during his weekly teleconference on Sunday evening. "I've always chosen to embrace it. It's there. It's important. Why ignore it?
"We've done that here and other places that I've been, not just necessarily with U of M, but with other football teams, as well, regardless of where I have been. I think I've basically gotten that from the people I worked for. Jim Young, when I was a graduate assistant at Purdue, did an outstanding job in that. Obviously I lived it here before when I was at Michigan State. I also experienced it when I was at Ohio State. When I was playing, (it was) the Clemson/South Carolina game.
"I've just been involved with them. I think most people approach it the way we do. Maybe not as much publicly. I think times have changed. Everything is so media frenzied more so, it just gets more ink. I've always just believed as a coach that you embrace your rivalries."
Following Saturday's 42-3 victory at Illinois, Dantonio was brief with his words about the coming game against Michigan. "It's going to be fun," Dantonio told the ABC viewing audience with a smile when asked about the coming week. "Yeah, it's always fun."
A few minutes later, when asked at the post-game press conference about the impending meeting with Michigan, Dantonio said: "I'm not worried about them right now. So we'll worry about those things tomorrow (Sunday). I'm sure they'll come."
Sunday came and went with Dantonio remaining economical with his words about Michigan and the rivalry. He didn't speak at length about the Wolverines - he will do that during his weekly press conference on Tuesday. But he did reiterate the game's significance.
"It's important to your program and everybody surrounding your program," Dantonio said. "I've always embraced it and I've always challenged our players to do the same. We've done that."
QB Dress Rehearsal?
Prior to Saturday's game at Illinois, the Spartans' No. 1-ranked defense hadn't faced a quarterback with exceptional mobility. The Spartans finally saw that kind of player when they hand-cuffed Illinois dual-threat QB Nathan Scheelhaase.
Michigan State will see a fleet-footed opposing QB for the second time this year on Saturday when facing Michigan's Devin Gardner.
"We'll look at that aspect of it," Dantonio said. "Scheelhaase is a guy that can make things happen, just as much as when we see the next opponent here. Certainly Gardner has shown the ability to take it upon himself to win a football game. He's an outstanding player."
Scheelhaase had brief moments of success in the first quarter, but finished just 13-of-21 for 103 yards, more than 150 yards below his per-game average.
Scheelhaase ran the ball six times for 11 yards, as the Illini altered their base offense a bit for the Spartans.
"They were in a lot of empty sets the week," Dantonio said. "They hadn't been in as many of those empty sets prior to this game. They were no-huddle in those situations. They converted on some third downs early in the game and I think the biggest thing was their quarterback scrambling against us. We played much better at that in the second half and good things followed."
Scheelhaase has rushed for more than 1,900 yards in his career. However, new offensive coordinator Bill Cubit has put a lid on the number of designed runs that Scheelhaase administers this year. He has rushed for only 147 yards thus far in 2013.
Gardner has rushed for 520 yards this year. As Michigan's downhill run game has struggled in recent weeks, more has fallen on Gardner to create with his legs. He is capable of doing damage with the QB power on designed keepers, as well as QB power option, zone read, and QB draws, although Michigan tries to limit his carries and exposure to defensive hits.
Scheelhaase was averaging 257 yards passing per game with 12 TDs and four interceptions prior to Saturday's meeting with the Spartans.
Gardner heads into Saturday's meeting averaging 253 yards passing with 13 TDs and 10 interceptions.
The game at Illinois marked the first of four straight opponents who will challenge the Spartans with mobility and speed at the QB position. After Scheelhaase and Gardner, the Spartans will have a bye week and then take on Nebraska's Taylor Martinez and Northwestern's Kain Colter.
Working The Plan
Dantonio said game prep began this weekend the same as it always does, even with the intensity of Michigan week under way.
"Like it always is, we've done things pretty much the same," Dantonio said of Sunday's schedule. "We have had our players in. We've met with them, watched the game film and graded it. We've worked out, lifted, et cetera.
"We'll have a team meeting here at 8:00 (Sunday night) and review the special teams film, then move to the next opponent, which is Michigan. It's pretty much the way it is at all times.
"Obviously we're going to get more involved here as the day goes on today, then beginning tomorrow (Monday). But there's no question it's a different type of week. We're going to try to keep it as normal as we can at this point."
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