COLLEGE PARK, Md. — If Wolverines have lips, they’re licking them right now.
Michigan State’s worst losing streak in a quarter of a century figures to get worse next weekend as rival Michigan comes up to East Lansing with a perfect 7-0 record and likely No. 2 national ranking. Michigan State has won seven of the last eight games between the teams, including last season’s wildly miraculous 27-23 victory in Ann Arbor when Jalen Watts-Jackson returned a botched punt attempt by Michigan’s Blake O’Neill 38 yards for the game-winning touchdown with no time left on the clock.
The way things are going in opposite directions for both teams, a win for the Spartans next week would be even more improbable than their prospects looked with 10 seconds left to play last year.
“Michigan’s up. We know what that game is to this program, so we need to gear in,” Michigan State senior wide receiver R.J. Shelton said after Saturday night’s 28-17 loss at Maryland. “We need to come out this week very engaged in practice, and that starts on Sunday. We have to watch the film, swallow it and then throw it away. We have to be very engaged this week because we know that Michigan is going to come in in top gear and we need to match that intensity.”
Michigan State has lost five in a row since starting the season 2-0 and being ranked No. 8 in the country. The Spartans are 0-4 in the Big Ten for the first time since 1982. That’s also the last time a Michigan State team lost six games in a row.
“We’ve got Michigan coming in next weekend. Got to get ourselves ready to play an outstanding football game if we’re to have a chance,” Spartans coach Mark Dantonio said. “Our guys are motivated. They will be motivated, but you have to see results on the field.”
The only results Michigan State has been seeing recently have been negative. Maryland came into the game 4-2 but had lost its last two games to Penn State and Minnesota by a combined score of 69-24. The Terrapins had allowed 601 yards rushing in those two games.
That was the part of the formula Michigan State duplicated Saturday night. LJ Scott had his best game of the season, running for 128 yards, including a 48-yard touchdown. The Spartans rushed for a season-high 270 yards and averaged 6.1 yards per carry.
Anything good they do, however, is countered with two things bad. They commit penalties (seven for 84 yards against Maryland), lose the turnover battle (minus-1, including a lost fumble at the Maryland 4-yard line), and are suffering the growing pains of playing more freshmen and sophomores than any team in Dantonio’s 10 seasons.
All of which should have Michigan feeling more than confident next week. The early betting line favors Michigan State by 18.5 points. Don’t be surprised it if only goes higher.
Michigan hasn’t won in East Lansing since 2007, which was Dantonio’s first season at Michigan State and the last victory of a six-year win streak for the Wolverines.
“Clearly we’re not getting the job done as a team,” said junior linebacker Chris Frey. “Right now, we’re focusing on us. We need to regroup and regather and get ready for the next test. Obviously it’s Michigan, but before we focus on Michigan, we need to figure out what we’re doing wrong and what we can do to win games.
“We need to fix the small things that we’re messing up on. So, that’s what we’re going to do (Sunday). We’re going to sit in the film room and I really don’t care if we’re there for 10 hours. We need to figure out what’s going wrong and we need to fix it.”
Kevin Goheen covers Michigan State for Landof10.com. Follow him on Twitter at @CincyGoGo