Mark Dantonio

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CFT Previews: New Era Pinstripe Bowl

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WHO: Michigan State (6-6) vs. Wake Forest (8-4)
WHAT: The 10th New Era Pinstripe Bowl
WHEN: December 27th at 3:20 p.m. ET on ESPN
WHERE: Yankee Stadium in Bronx, New York
THE SKINNY: Michigan State and Wake Forest will meet for the first time when they step onto the field at Yankee Stadium, home to Major League Baseball’s New York Yankees and the New Era Pinstripe Bowl. The ACC-Big Ten matchup sees two programs that arrive in the postseason under much different circumstances. Wake Forest is looking to win nine games for the first time since 2007 as Dave Clawson has the Demon Deacons continuing to take steps forward as a program. Meanwhile, Mark Dantonio has Michigan State back in a bowl game for the 11th time in his 12-year run as head coach of the Spartans, although this year Michigan State slid their way to postseason eligibility by having to defeat Maryland at home in the final game of the season.

Michigan State quarterback Brian Lewerke hasn’t exactly had a banner season in East Lansing. He leads a struggling Michigan State offense with 16 touchdown passes to 12 interceptions, but hopes to end his collegiate career on a high note. Lewerke has been roughed up at times this season but will get to start the final game of his career. How long he remains the quarterback for Michigan State remains to be seen as Dantonio has said he will not shy away from playing sophomore Rocky Lombardi if a change of pace is necessary. A jolt on offense is always welcome for Michigan State as the Spartans rank 101st in the nation in total offense. Fortunately, the defense helps keep games from getting too out of hand most of the time, and that could be the case here.

Clawson is all about improving the offensive structure, and that is just what has been done with Wake Forest. The Demon Deacons come into the bowl season ranked 12th in the nation in total offense with 474.4 yards per game. But they will also be banged up for the game with leading wide receiver Sage Surratt out due to season-ending shoulder surgery. That will likely make Kendall Hinton a go-to option for Wake Forest. Hinton may be lacking in touchdowns (3) but he is certainly going to rack up yardage (70 receptions for 953 yards). Wake Forest’s quarterback situation will also be something to watch with starter Jamie Newman banged up and Sam Hartman preparing to go if needed.

Although Wake Forest’s offense will be tested physically by the Spartans, there may be enough scoring drives in them to edge Michigan State in the Bronx.

THE PICK: Wake Forest 20, Michigan State 17

No. 15 Michigan pounds Michigan State into submission, 44-10

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Shea Patterson threw for 384 yards and four touchdowns as No. 15 Michigan (8-2, 5-2 Big Ten) blew out in-state rival Michigan State (4-6, 2-5 Big Ten), 44-10. The Wolverines outscored the Spartans 44-3 after the first quarter to easily keep their momentum going at the end of the season. It is the first home win for Jim Harbaugh against rivals Michigan State and Ohio State. Will Harbaugh be able to complete the rial sweep at home in two weeks?

The way Michigan has been playing lately, it is a wonder how Michigan lost two games this season. While Michigan did complete well in a loss to Penn State a month ago, the game against Wisconsin is one Michigan would probably most like to get a do-over in. Instead, a blowout win over Michigan State keeps the program moving toward a possible spot in a New Years Six bowl game. On the other end of the spectrum, Michigan State’s season is continuing to spiral in the wrong direction, and a 34-point loss to its top rival won’t help matters in East Lansing for head coach Mark Dantonio.

Michigan out-gained the Spartans 467-220 despite nearly splitting the time of possession right down the middle (Michigan State had the football for 3:05). Neither team gave up much on the ground, so it was the play of the quarterbacks that would be a major difference. Advantage, Michigan. Patterson had one of his best performances in a Michigan uniform, while Brian Lewerke was intercepted twice and completed 17 of 30 passes for 166 yards and a touchdown. Patterson was without an interception. The player of the game for the Wolverines may have been receiver Ronnie Bell, who caught nine passes for 150 yards (although with none for a touchdown).

Bell has more than made up for his one glaring drop this season against Penn State. Coincidentally, Michigan has turned things on since that Penn State game. Since trailing Penn State 21-0 four games ago, Michigan has outscored its opponents 148-38.

Michigan will play on the road next week against Indiana. The Hoosiers lost in a tight battle at Penn State on Saturday as Michigan was playing Michigan State. Michigan’s regular-season finale at home against Ohio State is coming up on the horizon, but the Hoosiers always find ways to keep things interesting against the Wolverines too.

The Spartans will need to win their final two games in order to become bowl eligible. Michigan State will travel to Rutgers next week looking to keep the bowl hopes alive. Michigan State ends the regular season at home against Maryland. If nothing else, the schedule is about as favorable as it can get for Michigan State with bowl hopes on the line.

Mark Dantonio responds to accusation made by former staffer

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A day after an alarming story accused Michigan State head coach Mark Dantonio of recruiting a player he was warned could be a potential problem, Dantonio has responded alongside his lawyer. Dantonio defended himself against the claims of former assistant Curtis Blackwell and re-directed to previous comments Dantonio made regarding the player in question.

“The fact that Mr. Blackwell’s contract was not renewed has nothing to do with Auston Robertson,” Dantonio said in a statement on Friday. “Two years ago, I spoke at length about Auston Robertson when he was dismissed from the team in 2017. Rather than engage in a public argument with a former staffer, I refer you to those previous statements. Further, there have been multiple investigations into the program’s handling of sexual assaults, including Jones Day in 2017 and the NCAA in 2018, and they concluded that the program and myself committed no violations.”

Blackwell, a former Michigan State recruiting director, claimed he and multiple coaches asked Dantonio not to continue recruiting Robertson, who was guilty of misdemeanor battery in high school and later was arrested and charged with assault to his girlfriend just after his freshman season in East Lansing. Robertson was later removed from the program.

Dantonio concluded his statement by saying he will have no further comment due to ongoing litigation.

“Mr. Blackwell’s lawsuit concerns his allegations that his contract was not renewed because he refused to co-operate with investigations being conducted by the MSUPD and a law firm hired to evaluate the MSU football program’s compliance with sexual assault reporting policies,” Dantonio’s lawyer, Tom Kienbaum, said in a separate statement. “The lawsuit has nothing to do with the recruitment or actions of any student athletes, including Auston Robertson.”

Oregon adds another ugly win to the Pac-12 win column with Redbox Bowl victory over Michigan State

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On a day that saw Stanford win an absolutely ugly game to get the Pac-12 a second bowl victory, Oregon added one more. The Ducks (9-4) held on to win a scrappy and ugly Redbox Bowl against Michigan State (7-6) by scoring just one touchdown in a 7-6 win.

Oregon did not score until early in the fourth quarter with a Justin Herbert 28-yard pass to Dillon Mitchell. Michigan State had a 6-0 lead on the strength of a pair of field goals, both of which came in the third quarter following a scoreless first half.

Oregon nearly cost themselves a win in the fourth quarter with a bizarre fake punt, in which the punter never even got off a pass on the fourth down call aimed to catch Michigan State off guard. It failed miserably.

Although Oregon’s gamble did not pay off, it ended up not hurting them either. Michigan State put themselves in position for a potential go-ahead field goal on the ensuing possession, but a botched handle of the snap forced Lewerke to try picking the ball up and getting the ball to any open receiver on a whim, and Oregon stayed in good coverage to prevent any miracle play from developing.

Oregon’s offense could not slam the door shut on the game, however, which led to one last offensive opportunity for the Spartans. But the defense for the Ducks held strong one final time as Brian Lewerke had a fourth-down pass fall incomplete for a turnover on downs.

Lewerke completed 21 of 39 passes for 174 yards and an interception. Herbert completed 19 of 33 passes for 166 yards and the game’s only touchdown. Oregon never got going on the ground but was able to keep the Spartans from posing much of a threat. LJ Scott rushed for a game-high 84 yards on 24 rushing attempts for the Spartans, who combined for 157 rushing yards. Michiagn State out-gained Oregon 331-203 but was unable to win the game where it counts the most.

This is the first bowl victory for Cristobal since the 2010 season as head coach of FIU, when his Panthers won the Little Caesars Bowl. With a record of 9-4, this is now Cristobal’s most successful season in terms of win total, topping the eight wins he previously had at FIU in 2011. His counterpart, Mark Dantonio, suffered his first defeat in a non-College Football Playoff bowl game since the 2010 season. Michigan State had won five straight bowl games in years they played a non-playoff bowl game. The Spartans lost in the Cotton Bowl to Alabama in the College Football Playoff in 2015 and the Spartans did not meet bowl eligibility requirement in 2016.

Next year should be pretty interesting for Oregon. The Ducks, with Herbert coming back and a large number of starters projected to return on top of a solid recruiting class just signed, will likely be one of the top contenders in the Pac-12 next fall. A race between Oregon and Washington could be fun, but the Ducks will start the 2019 season in Arlington, Texas against Auburn, the team Washington’s 2018 started out against. Will Oregon be able to get a win against an SEC team on a neutral field to start the year, unlike Washington? Expect some good preseason hype for Oregon to build in the offseason and a win over Auburn could really raise the bar for the Ducks early on next season.

No. 10 Ohio State keeps Big Ten and playoff hopes alive with slugfest win at Michigan State

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It wasn’t pretty, but it didn’t have to be. No. 10 Ohio State (9-1, 6-1) leaving No. 18 Michigan State (6-4, 4-3 Big Ten) with a 26-6 win means the Buckeyes are still in position to make their own case not just for the Big Ten championship, but also for a spot in the College Football Playoff field. For either of those goals to be obtained, however, Ohio State still ha some work to do moving into the final few weeks.

Ohio State’s defense certainly looked improved in the road win in East Lansing. After being dominated by Purdue two games ago and then after a shaky performance after a bye week against Nebraska last week, Ohio State’s defense played much better on Saturday. Of course, the Spartans offense has been a bit damaged and may have served as the perfect recipe for an ailing Ohio State defense. The Spartans had just two third-down conversion in 15 tries and the running game never found a way to get going.

Things were so difficult for Michigan State, Mark Dantonio called for a signature trick play that seemingly worked for a go-ahead touchdown only to see a penalty bring the score off the board. The Spartans also took an intentional safety in a 7-6 game and the punter backed up at the back of the endzone. In a defensive battle like the one unfolding, that appeared to be a decent gamble in an attempt to flip the field. Ohio State punted after four plays, but the Spartans were still pinned deep in their end, and the Buckeyes recovered a fumble in the end zone on the first play run by the Michigan State offense. Suddenly, a one-point game had turned into a 16-6 lead for Ohio State.

Ohio State added a field goal to extend the lead to 19-6 after Michigan State fumbled on the first play of their next possession (for two fumbles in as many snaps by the Spartans, who had switched from quarterback Brian Lewerke to Rocky Lombardi). The teams then exchanged turnovers with Ohio State fumbling on the Michigan State four-yard line and Lewerke (who had returned to the game) being picked off by Shaun Wade.

Dwayne Haskins passed for 227 yards with a touchdown, and Urban Meyer found spots to get Tate Martell in the game as well. Although Michigan State’s Big Ten-leading rushing defense had contained Ohio State for much of the game, Mike Weber accounted for 104 yards and a touchdown in the game.

With the win, Ohio State continues to keep relative pace with Big Ten East-leading Michigan. The Buckeyes trail Michigan by one game in the loss column but will have a chance to win a head-to-head tiebreaker in the final game of the regular season as long as Ohio State does not lose next week. Ohio State will play at Maryland next week before returning home to host the Wolverines in two weeks, when a spot in the Big Ten championship game is expected to be on the line. And, of course, the game could carry some College Football Playoff implications.

Michigan State remains in third place in the Big Ten East, tied with Penn State but with a head-to-head tiebreaker with the Nittany Lions. A shot at the Big Ten East is now out of reach for Michigan State with head-to-head losses to Ohio State and Michigan. The Spartans now head to Lincoln, Nebraska next week to play a recently charged up Nebraska team. It could be a dangerous spot to be in for Michigan State.