EAST LANSING, Mich. — After a tough loss to Ohio State to open the Big Ten season, Michigan State coach Mark Dantonio braced himself a bit for the usual alarmist reaction from fans and media.
"You're never quite as good as you think you are or people think you are, and you're never quite as bad as people think you are either," Dantonio said Tuesday. "We're not in panic mode."
The Spartans lost a conference game in each of the last two seasons, but they were still able to share the Big Ten title in 2010 and reach the league championship game last year. The difference this time is that Saturday's 17-16 loss to the Buckeyes came so early in the season, and there may not be any room for error the rest of the way.
Michigan State (3-2) plays at Indiana this weekend before a four-week stretch that includes games against Iowa, Michigan, Wisconsin and Nebraska.
"I just think that we need to move on and get on with our business," Dantonio said. "We played well in the past, we'll continue to play well, we need to continue to grow."
Quarterback Andrew Maxwell, who is in his first season as the starter, showed some signs of progress against Ohio State, but the Spartans are still struggling to replace some of the playmakers they lost from last year's team, such as receivers Keshawn Martin and B.J. Cunningham.
The leading receiver this season is tight end Dion Sims, who has 24 catches. Keith Mumphery scored the team's only touchdown last weekend on a terrific catch-and-run, but there's room for improvement.
On the depth chart Tuesday, Aaron Burbridge topped one of the wide receiver spots. He has two catches so far this season, but Dantonio says it's time to give the freshman more of a look.
"He'll start as the third wide receiver for us this week. I think he needs an opportunity," Dantonio said. "He catches the ball well — still learning some things, has big-play potential. We're going to give him that opportunity. Doesn't mean it will stick, but that's going to happen at the beginning of the game, not at the end."
Burbridge's promotion came as a bit of a surprise to Maxwell, too.
"This is the first I've actually heard of it, officially, so it's kind of new to me, too, so I'm trying to figure it out," he said.
Burbridge was doing his best to take his chance in stride.
"The receivers as a group, we've all been working hard, just trying to push each other to get better," he said. "My opportunity came. I'm getting a chance to prove myself this weekend."
The Spartans have leaned heavily on running back Le'Veon Bell, and the two teams that contained their running game — Notre Dame and Ohio State — were able to beat them. Michigan State did not make a single first down by rushing against the Buckeyes, and the Spartans were unable to make the defense pay for keying on the run with big plays deep down the field.
"To have a complete game, you've got to stay balanced," Dantonio said. "It's always frustrating when you don't meet your goals or win a football game. It eats at you and is frustrating. You recognize the problem and go to work on the problem."
The Spartans will be without center Travis Jackson for the foreseeable future after he broke his leg in last weekend's game.
"It's a broken fibula. He's got to have surgery to put a couple screws in as well," Dantonio said. "So it's a three-month rehab. He'll be back for the spring. He's a tough guy."
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