Spartans' rebound starts on the ground

Mark Dantonio's theme this week is: "The sky is not falling here."

Dantonio is right. Despite what Dantonio called "an embarrassing performance" in Iowa City, Michigan State remains 8-1 and tied for first place in the Big Ten. If the 14th-ranked Spartans win their remaining games, they have an excellent shot at reaching a BCS bowl game, perhaps even the Rose Bowl for the first time in 23 seasons.

But to keep the Chicken Little talk away, the Spartans must get back to what got them to 8-0.

Their rebound from the Iowa loss must begin on the ground.

Michigan State's rushing attack surged in its first six games, but the ground game has stalled the last three weeks.

First six games

  • 234 rushing attempts (39 apg)

  • 1,350 rush yards (225 ypg)

  • 15 rush touchdowns (2.5 tpg)

  • Five individual 100-yard rushing performances

  • Eight rushes of 20 yards or more, including runs of 80, 75, 61 and 56 yards

Last three games

  • 77 attempts (25.7 apg)

  • 229 rush yards (76.3 ypg)

  • 3 rush touchdowns (1 tpg)

  • No 100-yard rushing performances

  • Two rushes of 20 yards or more and no rush of more than 25 yards

Michigan State's recent opponents have contributed to the downturn. Iowa ranks fifth nationally in rushing defense (84.5 ypg), while Illinois ranks 26th (117.5 ypg) and Northwestern ranks 35th (126.6 ypg).

"Iowa was very, very good, they're probably the best defensive line that we've played against this year," Dantonio said. "When you look at Northwestern, they had a lot of people up there and it opened up the airways for us, and Illinois is a good football team defensively. ... When you play better people, your expectations are going to be still high, but the reality is there is a little give and take."

The good news is Michigan State on Saturday hosts a Minnesota team that ranks last in the Big Ten and 107th nationally against the run, allowing 201.8 yards per game. The game provides a good opportunity to get Edwin Baker, Le'Veon Bell and Larry Caper going again before an open week.

"We became a one-dimensional football team last year in some respects because of that inability [to run]," Dantonio said. "It's extremely critical that we be balanced. We've got good tailbacks, we've got guys that can break it. We've proven that with guys that can get out, get in the second level and we've got guys that can go. We've got to get our best players the football.

"There's no doubt in my mind we need to be able to run the football and be committed to that."