Sept. 27, 2012
By Steve Grinczel, Online Columnist
EAST LANSING, Mich. - So many conversations about Michigan State football start with a player from Ohio.
Clinton Jones, a newly inducted member of the MSU Athletics Hall of Fame and star halfback of the great 1965 and '66 teams, is from Cleveland. All-American middle linebacker Percy Snow, of Canton, was the MVP of the '88 Rose Bowl and winner of the Butkus and Lombardi awards. Dayton's Javon Ringer holds the school record for rushing touchdowns.
Michigan State's rich punting heritage includes Ray Stachowicz, of Huber Heights and Brandon Fields, of Toledo. Current assistant coach and former defensive back Harlon Barnett, of Cincinnati, earned All-America honors in '89 as a member of the Big Ten's top defense, and two-time consensus All-American linebacker Greg Jones also hails from the Queen City. Defensive tackle and Huber Heights native Jerel Worthy helped lead MSU to the Legends Division title in 2011.
And also last season, Denicos Allen, the pride of Hamilton, added his name to the list of ice-breakers when he made a flying, headlong sack - a la Bobby Boucher, Adam Sandler's character in the movie, "The Waterboy" - of Ohio State quarterback Joe Bauserman.
The video clip of that play from the Spartans' momentum-generating 10-7 victory in Columbus was featured prominently in highlights packages throughout the rest of the season and earned Allen national acclaim.
Creative photo-manipulators have since depicted a diving Allen tackling an ancient Roman gladiator, stopping flying saucers in outer space, attacking scuba divers in shark cages, taking out the Flying Nun and even leading Santa's reindeer through the sky, among others.
"I've seen the pictures," Allen said. "I think they're pretty funny, actually. They don't really bother me. I don't take it as an insult or anything. A couple of them are pretty cool, actually. I like the one with the Spartan shield and a knife.
"It's definitely a change for me because I like being a low-key guy and I'm not used to the attention, but it gives me more motivation to go out and play harder for my teammates and be a better person.
"I know I've got a lot of eyes on me."
The stares aimed on MSU's 2011 sack, tackles-for-loss and production-points leader grew even more intense as he went through first three games of this season without a sack and his only tackle behind the line was an assist.
Allen finally broke through in the fourth quarter of last Saturday's 23-7 victory over Eastern Michigan. Trailing only by two points, the Eagles had driven from their own 25-yard line to the MSU 44. The drive stalled, however, after Allen dropped quarterback Tyler Benz for a 9-yard loss.
It was just the third sack of the season for the Spartans.
"It felt good," Allen said. "All year I've been close and not quite getting there. To finally get that first one is a big stress-reliever. Usually, after the first sack, they keep rolling in. That's how it was last year, and hopefully it's the same way this year."
An increase in sack production would be a huge lift for Michigan State with No. 14 and undefeated Ohio State visiting Spartan Stadium on Saturday. Allen had two of MSU's nine game-changing sacks against the Buckeyes a year ago.
"I haven't playing the way I should be in the first few games and the coaches addressed it with me," Allen said. "They told me I really wasn't playing up to my expectations and I really have to take that into consideration and play like I played (last season) - fast and hard."
If Ohio State doesn't bring the best out of MSU's 28 players from the Buckeye State in the Big Ten opener, nothing will.
In addition to Allen, other starters from Ohio poised to leave their marks on this rivalry include: Big Ten rushing leader Le'Veon Bell, of Columbus; center Travis Jackson, of New Albany, offensive tackles Dan France and Skyler Burland of North Royalton and Sunbury, respectively; Akron's Johnny Adams, a cornerback; safety Kurtis Drummond of Masury; and defensive end Marcus Rush, of Cincinnati.
"Our defense is definitely ready," said Allen. "We've been ready since Game 1. We're never going to back down from a challenge. We know we can't make the mistakes we did (against Eastern Michigan). All the dropped passes, missed tackles, all the little things need to be fixed."
The close ties between Michigan State and Ohio ramp up the stakes in what is seen as a fierce but respectful and history-laden rivalry between kindred spirits with a common major archrival - Michigan..
"I think it makes it an even more exciting atmosphere because when you are from that state or you are from this state, then you have your entire families," said MSU head coach Mark Dantonio, who grew up in Zanesville, Ohio. "There's a lot going on there in terms of a lot of people that you know and things of that nature.
"You sort of play for respect from those areas. I'm sure it will be exciting on both sides."
Some of the greatest moments in Spartan lore have come at Ohio State's expense, including the upset of the No. 1-ranked Buckeyes in 1974 and again in '98 when Dantonio was an MSU assistant.
Nine members of Dantonio's staff either grew up, played high school or college ball and/or coached in Ohio.
"Obviously we've always had a good relationship with many of the high school coaches in Ohio," Dantonio said. "We've got a lot of people from Ohio on this staff, and then also playing here. There's been a tradition of Ohio players coming here. In 1998 when we played down there, 29 players were from Ohio. So it's always been like that."