September 26, 2014

Wyoming coach Craig Bohl already watched his team try to match up with Oregon in a blowout loss two weekends ago.

Now the Cowboys will test themselves against Michigan State - and Bohl doesn't expect his players to back down from the challenge.

''They embrace competition,'' he said. ''It's another opportunity for us to go out and make steps forward.''

It's hard to take many steps forward against Michigan State's defense, which has been among the nation's best over the last couple years. The ninth-ranked Spartans are favored by around four touchdowns in Saturday's game against Wyoming - after they routed Eastern Michigan 73-14 last weekend.

Michigan State (2-1) and Wyoming (3-1) do have one thing in common: They both lost to Oregon. The Cowboys, however, were somewhat fortunate to have won their other three games. They pulled out last week's victory over Florida Atlantic on a last-minute field goal, and their first two victories were each by less than a touchdown.

That's not a resume that should strike too much fear in the defending Big Ten champions, but Michigan State coach Mark Dantonio wants his team to be sharp this weekend. The Spartans didn't get caught looking past Eastern Michigan - that game was every bit as one-sided as expected.

''Our focus needs to be on getting better,'' Dantonio said. ''We compete against ourselves as well as the opponent. Every time you step on that field, you're being critiqued. We're trying to become better and better and better as we move through the process. We were able to do that last year. We were a much better football team at the end of the year than we were at the beginning.''

Here are a few things to watch when Michigan State hosts Wyoming:

CAN THEY RUN IT?: Michigan State had one of the nation's top run defenses last season, but Wyoming has had some success on the ground this year. Shaun Wick and D.J. May have combined for 625 yards rushing in four games, and it will be interesting to see what kind of production they can provide against the Spartans.

COMMON OPPONENT: Oregon beat Wyoming 48-14 and beat Michigan State 46-27, but there weren't many similarities between those games. The Spartans actually led the Ducks in the second half, while Wyoming trailed Oregon 41-7 after three quarters.

DEPTH: Michigan State sophomore Delton Williams ran 10 times against EMU for 103 yards and three touchdowns. That doesn't mean he'll be challenging Jeremy Langford's status as the team's top option in the backfield, but the extra experience can probably help a player like Williams. Dantonio is also happy with senior RB Nick Hill's progress.

''Nick had the opportunity, if he wanted to, to go in a different direction and play immediately at any other college in this country. Could have gone anywhere and been the featured back. Decided to stay,'' Dantonio said. ''He's a guy that, he's got a very workmanlike attitude. Tough, catches the ball very well. He'll block. He'll do all the necessary things he has to do.''

TUNEUP: Michigan State may be able to beat Wyoming even with a subpar performance, but the Spartans don't want to regress at all this week. Their Big Ten schedule starts after this game - and the conference opener is at home against Nebraska.

STREAK: Michigan State's secondary was a big part of last season's Big Ten title run, and the Spartans will be tested a bit by Wyoming's Dominic Rufran. The senior WR has a catch in 41 consecutive games, the second-longest streak in the nation by an active player. Only Matt Miller of Boise State (43) has a longer run.

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