When Ohio State football fans, players and coaches look across the field Saturday night, there will be more than one familiar face staring back at them.
With four straight years of matchups, there was bound to be some familiarity between the two teams as the co-leaders of the Big Ten East Division are scheduled to square off again.
Michigan State coach Mark Dantonio spent three seasons in Columbus as the Buckeyes’ defense coordinator (2001-03), helping OSU win a national championship in 2002, before taking his first head coaching job less than two hours from OSU at Cincinnati.
During his time with the Bearcats, Dantonio coached with current OSU tight ends and fullbacks coach Tim Hinton.
When Dantonio accepted the head coaching job at Michigan State in 2007, Hinton said he was on his way to join him, but changed his mind on the way to East Lansing, Mich.
“In reality, I was in a car with suitcases in a car driving towards an airport, and I called Mark and I said ‘I can’t go, I’m going to stay at Cincinnati,’” Hinton said Monday. “I was supposed to have gone with him.”
Hinton stayed at Cincinnati for two more seasons before following Brian Kelly to Notre Dame for another two years.
Now in his third year at OSU, Hinton said he expects Dantonio to use anything he can to motivate the Spartans for Saturday’s matchup.
“I do know Mark very well. The thing that’s really interesting about Mark and that group, they are they have a unique way of saying, ‘OK, I’m going to put the chip on my shoulder somewhat,’” Hinton said. “There’s going to be something that comes out of this press conference, I’m going to guarantee you they’re going to put on a bulletin board somehow, some way, the world’s against them.”
Dantonio acknowledged his relationship with Hinton during his weekly press conference Tuesday and said he believes a motivated team is key to winning a big game.
“Sometimes I do think you have to play with an edge,” Dantonio said. “I think this is a physical type — I’m talking football in general is a very physical game and it’s a very emotional game and you have to have your tank full, emotionally full to be able to play through the ups and downs of a football game.”
Dantonio isn’t the only former Buckeye assistant wearing green and white nowadays as longtime OSU offensive coordinator and offensive line coach Jim Bollman (2001-11) is in his second season as the Spartans co-offensive coordinator and tight ends coach.
Current OSU co-defensive coordinator and linebackers coach Luke Fickell, who has been a Buckeye assistant since 2002, said Monday that he considers his peers in East Lansing more of acquaintances than friends.
“Friends would probably be someone you talk to on a weekly basis or maybe monthly basis. If that’s the case, I don’t think I have a whole lot of friends,” Fickell said. “The reality is there is a lot of people over there (Michigan State) that I have known, I have worked with and have some long-standing relationships with.”
From a game plan standpoint, OSU coach Urban Meyer said he doesn’t expect a big change from the Spartan staff.
“The one thing about their coach and coaching staff, they’re pretty set in what they do. They’re really good at it,” Meyer said Monday. “But they’ll have a little wrinkle here and there that we have to be ready for. That’s why we’re watching what we did against them last year. And how do you prepare for it? We anticipate and you give them that rep in practice. That’s the only way to do it.”
Friends or not, the Buckeyes and Spartans are scheduled to kick off from Spartan Stadium at 8 p.m. Saturday.