Initially, the challenge Michigan State faced this season was finding a way to recover from a 3-9 season.
Heading into Saturday night’s game at Minnesota, the Spartans suddenly find themselves with a different challenge.
After opening the Big Ten with wins over Iowa and Michigan, its eighth victory in its last 10 games against the Wolverines, coach Mark Dantonio’s 4-1 team will see this week how it deals with success.
“As much as anything, that’s what we’ll learn about ourselves this week,’’ Dantonio said. “We’ve had two big wins the last two weeks. Now, what can we do with the position we find ourselves in.
“We’re going to be judged by our next thing. The next thing on our agenda is Minnesota.’’
Dantonio’s teams have traditionally played well after playing Michigan, going 8-2 the week after taking the field against the Wolverines. He places the task of getting prepared for the next opponent on his players.
“I’ve always believed what you do when you’re on an emotional high, what are you going to do next, should be defined by our players,’’ Dantonio said. “It’s a good measuring stick. It’s about what are you going to do next. If you don’t play your best, you play unemotional, then you are not handling success right.’’
The Spartans are a young football team in a number of areas including at quarterback, where the steady play of sophomore Brian Lewerke has Michigan State moving forward following a loss to Notre Dame on Sept. 23.
Dantonio needs just one word to describe what Lewerke has brought to the position — grit.
“He continues to play with grit, not getting overwhelmed by anything,’’ Dantonio said. “… That’s the way he’s built. He has a great toughness to him, which is a great value, and he believes he can make plays with his arm or his feet.’’
Hot times in Lincoln: With Ohio State coming to town this week after a 38-17 loss to Wisconsin, the heat under the seat of Nebraska coach Mike Riley is rising.
Riley understands that, saying he believes time and recruiting are the cures to what ails a 3-3 Cornhuskers program.
“Obviously, the resources and the passion is here for us to compete at a high level,’’ Riley said. “… It takes time to build a real foundation of what you want to do and grow it. Then, you have to recruit like crazy to keep the talent coming. That’s where you have to go if you want to get to that level.’’
Riley has grown to understand that Nebraska can count on its home state producing only two-to-three true Big Ten prospects annually.
“The rest we target from a 500-mile radius, and then we selectively recruit from across the nation,’’ Riley said. “That’s how you have to do it to make it work here.’’
Welcomed bye: Penn State joins Iowa in having a bye on its schedule this week, and given what comes next, Nittany Lions coach James Franklin couldn’t be happier.
Penn State’s 6-0 record will be challenged by its next stretch of games, facing Michigan at home on Oct. 21 before traveling to Ohio State and Michigan State the next two weekends.
“It’s a good time for a bye. We’ve done what we’ve needed to do to get to the bye week where we wanted to be. We’re playing with good confidence right now,’’ Franklin said. “Later this week, we’ll turn our thoughts to the tremendous challenge Michigan poses coming in here.’’
A must win: With losses in its last 16 Big Ten games, Saturday’s game at Illinois falls into the must-win category for Rutgers coach Chris Ash.
“They all are at this point,’’ Ash said. “Illinois is similar to us in that we are two programs trying to rebuild, and this is a game we both need to win to take a step forward. They’re playing a lot of young players, and they showed some progress last week at Iowa. It won’t be easy for us.’’
So sorry: Ohio State coach Urban Meyer said Big Ten officials admitted a mistake on a targeting call that led to the ejection of the Buckeyes’ Denzel Ward in last week’s 62-14 win over Maryland.
Ward was tossed following a video review of a play in the first half, negating a fumble recovery by the Buckeyes and a return for a touchdown.
“The calls on the field are snap judgments, I understand that, but that is why we have a replay official,’’ Meyer said, adding that Ward received team recognition for the play at practice Tuesday.
QB conundrum: Already playing with the third quarterback on its season-opening depth chart, Maryland starter Max Bortenshlager’s availability to start Saturday against Northwestern is listed as day-to-day because of a concussion.
Coach D.J. Durkin said Tuesday that his availability won’t likely be determined until later in the week. Knee injuries sidelined the Terrapins’ top two quarterbacks.
Maryland is one of five Big Ten teams that have started more than one quarterback through the first six weeks of the season.