EAST LANSING, Mich. (AP) — Mark Dantonio has been down this road before at Michigan State.
In 2012, the Spartans needed to win their final regular-season game to become bowl eligible, and they beat Minnesota that day behind 266 yards rushing by Le’Veon Bell. This weekend, Michigan State is in the same spot, needing to beat Maryland on Saturday to reach six victories.
“When you win your sixth game, you sort of meet the minimum in terms of accomplishment,” Dantonio said. “You’re bowl eligible, you have a chance for a winning season and things of that nature.”
Dantonio has missed out on a bowl game only once since becoming Michigan State’s coach before the 2007 season, so that is indeed the minimum standard for a team like the Spartans. In truth, this year has been a disappointment even if Michigan State (5-6, 3-5 Big Ten) reaches a bowl.
The Spartans looked utterly inferior against the top teams on their schedule, and after a 44-10 loss to Michigan two weeks ago, they needed to win their next two games to salvage bowl eligibility. They had little trouble last weekend, blanking Rutgers 27-0.
“The only thing we can sort of change is the future,” Dantonio said. “While we are disappointed in where we are at, we still have an opportunity to play ourselves forward and that’s what we’ll do.”
Maryland won its first two games by a combined 142-20, but the Terps (3-8, 1-7) have scored only 145 points in the nine games since. Their only win in that span was against Rutgers.
“I think it's really important for our team to understand the importance of this one, finishing the season the right way for our seniors but also trying to utilize it as some momentum as we move forward into next season,” coach Michael Locksley said.
“Our players have continued to show up and practice. The expectation is for them to show up and play the way that they're capable of playing Saturday for our seniors.”
It will be the last home game for Michigan State’s Brian Lewerke, a fifth-year senior who became the first quarterback for the Spartans to surpass 7,000 yards passing and 1,000 yards rushing for his career.
Standout defensive linemen Raequan Williams and Kenny Willekes are fifth-year seniors as well.
“I feel like this whole senior class just taught me work ethic,” Williams said. “That’s going to stick out the most — that family and that hard work aspect.”
Michigan State senior linebacker Joe Bachie — who was declared ineligible after testing positive for a banned supplement — will be among the players recognized in the pregame ceremony for this final home game.
“If you know Joe Bachie and you know how hard he's worked and the leadership that he's shown on this football team over the course of time, I have to be respectful and honor that,” Dantonio said. “I want him to be a part of that day.”
The Terrapins have made just one field goal this season, on a mere four attempts. Joseph Petrino made a 31-yarder against Minnesota, but his other three tries went awry from a moderate distance. Still, Locksley hasn’t lost faith in the sophomore.
“Very confident in his leg strength,” the coach said. “His accuracy has not had the opportunities that you would typically see from a kicker this year.”
Petrino is 34 for 35 on conversions.
Javon Leake fumbled three times last week against Nebraska before making amends with a 58-yard touchdown run late in the game.
“He was really disappointed by putting the ball on the ground,” Locksley said. “But he bounced back and had the big long run there at the end to put points on the board and prevent us from being shut out.”
Leake has two kickoff returns for touchdowns this season and leads Maryland with 636 yards rushing, nine TDs and 1,450 all-purpose yards.
Michigan State’s Cody White is coming off a fine performance against Rutgers. He had 11 catches for 136 yards and three touchdowns.
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