Following the most lopsided loss since he became Michigan State's head coach, Mark Dantonio expects his team to win the rest of its games.
The No. 17 Spartans were dismantled by Ohio State 48-3 on Saturday, a humbling experience for a team coming off an upset of Penn State the previous week. Michigan State has very little hope of reaching the Big Ten title game after falling behind the Buckeyes in the East Division standings but they stand a good chance of finishing strong.
The Spartans (7-3) play two conference teams with losing records -- Maryland and Rutgers -- to end the regular season. Then, they will play in a bowl after finishing 3-9 last season.
Their home finale is this Saturday afternoon against the Terrapins (4-6).
"Our goal is to finish out," said Dantonio, who took over Michigan State's program after the 2006 season. "Our goal is to win 10 football games this season. I think that would be a tremendous thing that we've done. We've competed for a championship. Now, let's not go backwards."
Dantonio doesn't seem particularly concerned about his team's ability to respond to a crushing defeat. The Spartans reeled off four consecutive conference victories after a 20-point loss to Notre Dame at home in September. The victory over the Nittany Lions came a week after a triple-overtime loss at Northwestern.
"Young people are resilient," he said. "They practiced yesterday and it was business as usual. Guys were dancing to some music and things of that nature. I feel a little bit ticked off still but they can let it go."
They can probably let go of any hope to win the division. They would need Ohio State to lose to both Illinois and Michigan along with winning their last two games.
Considering how thoroughly they were thrashed by the Buckeyes, they just need to worry about regaining their confidence before Saturday's kickoff. Ohio State racked up 524 offensive yards, including 335 on the ground. The Spartans averaged fewer than two yards a carry and sophomore quarterback Brian Lewerke completed fewer than half of his passes while getting picked off twice.
Lewerke had set a school record by passing for 400 yards in each of the team's two previous games.
"He's been solid. He's been 75 percent pretty consistent," Dantonio said. "I don't think he played his best game, certainly, last week. And we need to have our quarterback to play his best game. But there's a lot of things that enter into that, pressure and protection and being able to run the ball situationally, what the score is.
"I think Brian Lewerke has a chance to be an excellent quarterback, one of the better ones we've had here at Michigan State since I've been here, which is a big statement, because we've had some good ones."
Maryland's quarterback situation has been in a state of flux because of injuries. Coach D.J. Durkin is hopeful that sophomore Max Bortenschlager will return this week after missing a 35-10 loss to Michigan on Saturday with a shoulder injury. Bortenschlager has completed 51.2 percent of his passes, including 10 for touchdowns, while only getting intercepted five times.
Sophomore Ryan Brand started against the Wolverines and passed for just 136 yards with one touchdown while getting intercepted twice. Brand was the fourth Maryland quarterback to get a start.
"We don't have many more guys at the position. We've had to use them all," Durkin said. "That's what we've got. I think we'll be here, day-to-day, going through the week with Max. But I anticipate he'll be ready to go. Like I've said before, Max is a really tough kid, great competitor."
Durkin's team needs to beat the Spartans and Penn State in its last two games to become bowl eligible.
"We don't talk about it. Obviously our guys know it, but what are we going to do? We have to worry about Michigan State," he said. "We've got to worry about this game. No matter who you're playing that week, if your focus isn't on the team you're playing, you're going to have a problem. It's all about finding a way to go get a win on the road at Michigan State."
The Terrapins recorded a 28-17 home win over the Spartans last season.
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