The Buckeye Times/Darla Dunkle-Hudnell
Spartans mentor Mark Dantonio and Buckeyes interim coach Luke Fickell are too close of friends to be pointing fingers and crying about a lack of sportsmanship. In fact, Saturday's showdown can be looked at as the teacher versus the pupil.
Prior to becoming the head coach in East Lansing — and before his three-year stint at Cincinnati — Dantonio was the defensive coordinator at Ohio State from 2001 to 2003, helping guide the Buckeyes to a national championship season and two BCS bowl victories. Fickell joined the Buckeyes staff in 2002 as a special teams coach, and helped assist with the linebackers under Dantonio for two years.
Fickell stated this week that Dantonio has been as instrumental to his coaching development as anyone. He said that he and the Spartans' coach are very close away from the field, as well.
"What I learned from him — obviously I was with Coach (Jim) Tressel for nine years as well — just the three years Coach Dantonio was here (was instrumental)," Fickell said. "He's probably the one guy that I stay most in contact with since he's been gone. Just probably because we're more similar people in general, family oriented guys, a lot of those things ...
"We have a good relationship."
Of course, not to be one-upped, Dantonio returned the sentiment and even gave a public endorsement for Ohio State to remove the interim tag from Fickell's title.
"Luke Fickell is a very close friend of mine and our families," Dantonio said. "I think he's doing an outstanding job. He was thrown into a very tough situation I feel, and he's responded. He's an alum there, he's played there, he's coached there.
"I think he's what Ohio State needs, and I just want to publicly say that right now."
And that's coming from a self-proclaimed "Ohio guy."
Although Fickell certainly won't avoid expressing his warm feelings for Dantonio, the Buckeyes' coach does want to make it quite clear to everyone that he's not going to shy away from putting it to his good buddy if he gets a chance come Saturday.
"I've said it before, if I was playing my brother, I'd want to beat him as bad as I would want to beat anybody," Fickell said. "I don't think that changes or factors into it."
Dantonio agrees. In fact, he said he has even more incentive than just besting his former assistant/colleague.
"I think every game is personal, but you know, I grew up down there, so it's got a little added incentive," Dantonio said. "I used to be there, so it's got added incentive. You want to go back, you want to play well, you want to do the things that have to be done to try and make a statement."
Dantonio added that he has quite a few players on his team who are thinking the same way.
"This is about our football team," Dantonio said. "But I think if you're from Ohio, and we have 24 players who are from Ohio on our roster, it's a little extra going back home to play."
SILENCE IS GOLDEN ... Dantonio has banned his players from speaking to the media this week prior to the Ohio State game.
Many have wondered whether the ban has anything to do with the fact that there are so many Ohio kids on the Michigan State roster and that a slip of the tongue could give the Buckeyes a little added motivation.
The Spartans coach addressed the media as to why the ban has been placed for this week.
"I just think that sometimes when players get interviewed they get compromised a little bit, and maybe they say something that they maybe shouldn't say, and then they get a little anxiety," Dantonio said. "I just felt like this week, at this time, our football team needs to be with each other, they need to focus on what they have to do, and they need to step away from that aspect of it.
"I just feel like they have to do that this week."
BRYANT BRINGS FIRE TO DEFENSE ... Buckeyes sophomore Christian Bryant has been known to sacrifice his 5-foot-10, 190-pound frame for the good of the defense in his time at Ohio State.
Since arriving on campus last fall, the native of Cleveland has worked his up the depth chart from backup cornerback to nickelback to now the starting strong safety, opposite C.J. Barnett.
Bryant, in his first start last Saturday at the strong spot, recorded a team-high six tackles and a pass break-up in the 37-17 win over Colorado.
Fickell said Bryant brings a fiery passion that his defense needs.
"Christian, a lot like (former Buckeyes safety) Jermale Hines, is a guy that's very confident," Fickell said. "He's got a little bit more of a natural fire to him. To me, he's one of those guys that's a natural leader. He doesn't get rattled. He doesn't get frustrated. Big play, something happens, he's on to the next one. He doesn't have that conscience that weighs over him.
"Some of the guys, it's hard to get on to the next play at times. He brings that to our defense, a little bit of a different emotion, a little bit of a different attitude at times."