Going on the road in Big Ten play, members of the No. 14 MSU football team often know what to expect from fans.
Standing on the sideline or navigating the respective cities of the conference, players know they’re in hostile territory, expecting to hear jeers and witness barbaric behavior from nearly every fan base in the Big Ten. Earlier in the year, Iowa fans even booed senior cornerback Darqueze Dennard and senior safety Isaiah Lewis, who fell to the ground momentarily injured after colliding on a tackle.
And they’re far from the only fan base to behave that way.
However, for the players who remember MSU’s last trip to Lincoln, Neb. in 2011, the visit to Memorial Stadium was a surprisingly pleasant experience — of course, other than the 24-3 loss to the Huskers.
“That environment kind of throws you off for a second. You know, going into a hostile environment, you’re not expecting people to welcome you the way they did,” senior tackle Fou Fonoti said. “You walk in and people say, ‘Hey, welcome to Lincoln, pleasure having you here, we wish you all the best.’ We’re down at halftime and we’re walking in, and people are saying, ‘Hey, keep it up, keep it up.’
“As a player going there and knowing that, you don’t know how to really cope with that.”
As the Spartans (8-1 overall, 5-0) are in a near identical situation to the 2011 season, where they traveled to Nebraska with a 6-1 record with the team’s lone loss coming to Notre Dame, the program is looking to play to its strengths when it takes on the Huskers (7-2, 4-1) on Saturday (3:30 p.m., ABC).
With a victory, MSU could clinch a share of the Big Ten’s Legends Division, setting themselves up to make a run at the Big Ten Championship Game. However, a win doesn’t necessarily clinch an automatic spot in the Big Ten Championship Game, as Nebraska and Minnesota likely will be in the hunt down to the final weekend of the regular season.
But with goals in mind, senior cornerback Darqueze Dennard, who had a 96-yard interception return for a touchdown negated in a 28-24 loss to the Huskers last year, said the Spartans have been strong on the road this season and they have no intention of treating Nebraska any differently.
“We’re just going to go there and play our game, (we won’t) let that environment mess with us,” Dennard said. “We’ve been doing good this year on the road games and handling the environment. I don’t think we’re going to let that take a toll on us.”
The Spartans are the only Big Ten team never to beat Nebraska, as the Huskers are 7-0 all time and 2-0 since joining the conference in 2011. In addition, head coach Mark Dantonio has never beaten Nebraska dating back to his days as a defensive secondary coach at Kansas.
And although he admits the program is focused on winning the Legends Division and returning to the Rose Bowl for the first time since the 1987-88 season, Dantonio said beating Nebraska could be a benchmark for the remainder of the season.
“We’ve never run from facing Nebraska, but that is the one football team that we have not beaten since coming here, so that remains a goal of ours,” Dantonio said. “But I think there are bigger and more important things to worry about than just – we’ve got to beat Nebraska to accomplish our goals, and that’s why it’s such a big game. But that is a fact, as well.
“But they’re a good football team. They’ve got a great tradition. … It’s going to be exciting to go into that environment and play, and our players have to understand what that’s all about.”