Michigan State coach Mark Dantonio

Mike Carter/USA Today Sports

Chen: What To Watch For In Week 8 In Big Ten

Michigan State continues to be plagued by offensive woes.

Mike Chen
October 18, 2019 - 8:41 am

(670 The Score) Let's break down the most important Big Ten storylines of the week and what awaits this weekend.

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We aren’t Sparta

Mark Dantonio became the winningest coach in Michigan State history earlier this season, but a 4-3 start has many Spartans fans wondering if the program is still in good hands. After a 7-6 campaign in 2018, Dantonio chose to retain his offensive staff, shaking up their roles a year after Michigan State averaged just 18.9 points per game and ranked 117th nationally in total offense. The shakeup hasn’t worked for the Spartans, who are only marginally better in averaging 23.9 points and ranking 98th in total offense.

A rash of transfers since the end of September saw two running backs and a receiver look elsewhere to play, leaving the offense thin on skill players. Dantonio was asked after a 38-0 loss to Wisconsin last Saturday about not looking outside the program for help offensively, and he responded by saying it was "a dumbass question." Could Dantonio’s seat get hot in the coming week? 

Friday night lights

Friday nights are traditionally reserved for high school football, but the Big Ten has invaded that space this season. Ohio State visits Northwestern this Friday night. Penn State already beat Maryland on a Friday earlier in the season.

I don't like it. I hope the Big Ten stops playing on Friday nights, for numerous reasons. Recruiting is the lifeblood of all collegiate athletics and with many high schools playing their games on Fridays, it's more difficult for coaches to see the next wave of players.

The Big Ten also isn't the MAC, Mountain West or another low-rung conference that needs extra exposure. Beyond that, traveling to play a game on Friday means the visiting team's players have to miss at least two days of school, throwing off their regular schedule.

Here’s to hoping new commissioner Kevin Warren doesn’t follow Jim Delaney’s footsteps with Friday games in the future.

Grass rules

Northwestern been notorious for keeping its grass long to slow down opponents. With that in mind, the Wildcats' Twitter account trolled the Buckeyes ahead of their matchup Friday, posting a picture of their grass along with a measure to show them how tall it was. Ohio State coach Ryan Day was asked about the topic, and the Buckeyes plan to bring different cleat sizes for their trip to Evanston.

What Ohio State also doesn't know is who Northwestern's starting quarterback will be. Hunter Johnson is working his way back from an injury, and Aiden Smith ran the offense in a 13-10 loss to Nebraska last Saturday. The task will be much tougher against Ohio State, which is one of the most complete teams in the nation. It could get ugly for the Wildcats if they are unable to keep up with the high-octane Buckeyes offense led by quarterback Justin Fields.

It’s pretty nice

Illinois' best moment wasn’t on the football field last week, when it lost to Michigan at home. It was the honoring of legend Dick Butkus with a statue of him outside the football facilities.

"It’s a humbling deal ... what the hell can you say, it’s usually for some dead people, but it’s pretty nice," Butkus said.

The Illini did right by Butkus. Now if they could only do the same on the field, he would be much happier.

That probably won't be the case this Saturday, as Illinois has a tough matchup against unbeaten Wisconsin in Champaign. Matt Robinson is expected to get the call at quarterback until Brandon Peters is medically cleared for the Illini, whose defense will have to step up in a big way to slow Badgers running back Jonathan Taylor if the game is to be competitive.

Mike Chen is a producer at 670 The Score. Follow him on Twitter @mfc2123.