EAST LANSING - The connections between sixth-year Michigan State coach Mark Dantonio and third year Central Michigan coach Dan Enos are undeniable.
Enos, a former MSU quarterback (1987-90) served as an assistant under Dantonio in East Lansing as running backs coach (2007-09) and at Cincinnati (2004-05) as quarterbacks coach.
But pleasantries - even for MSU wide receivers coach Terrence Samuel, who served in the same position at CMU in 2010, Enos' first season in Mount Pleasant - will have to be set aside for few hours as the sequel to the Dantonio-Enos Bowl takes center stage at 3:30 p.m. (ESPNU) on Saturday at Kelly/Shorts Stadium.
"I can sort of feel for the people that I have played against,'' Dantonio said. "You want Central Michigan to do well, but you have to take care of business on your side, so obviously you want to win. But when you get to games like this, you line up, you play, you get your football teams ready, and you respect who they are and you play on.''
In their inaugural meeting Dantonio's Spartans' took apart Enos' Chippewas 45-7 last season in Spartan Stadium.
Now comes rematch, with both teams coming off season-opening wins.
The Spartans, who have moved to No. 11 in both polls, came back to beat then-No 24/22 Boise State, while the Chips took care of Southeast Missouri State, recovering from a sluggish defensive first half to win 38-27.
Now comes the all-important second game for both teams. The one that really helps define a team's personality and character after what is usually a bumpy opening weekend of play.
For the Spartans, it will be about getting their offensive line to play better despite a 200-plus yards performance on the ground from junior Le'Veon Bell.
"We can play better,'' Dantonio said. "I think all of our offensive linemen realize they can play better. We have to play better.''
MSU will also be looking to gain some more continuity from new starting junior quarterback Andrew Maxwell and a crop of talented but young and inexperienced receivers.
In his debut, Maxwell threw for 248 yards but tossed three picks and had no touchdowns.
For the Chippewas, who gave up 24 first half points - in part because of three turnovers - to the Ohio Valley Conference's Redhawks in their opener before holding SEMS to just a field goal in the second half, it will to get off to a stronger start than it did last Thursday.
CMU ended up surrendering 308 yards of total offense, 188 of it on the ground.
So stopping Bell, who had 81 yards and three touchdowns in last season's game against CMU, will be tantamount to the Chippewas' success.
"It's got to be 11 guys to the ball (to stop him)," Enos said. "Nobody's stopped him for two years. They've got a good attack."
Both teams look as though they are going to be defined by their run games.
The Spartans watched Bell vault into the Heisman Trophy race after its opener when the junior running back ran for 210 yards.
But as much pub and hype as Bell got after Week 1, the Chippewas enjoyed a nice afternoon from their starting running back, junior Zurlon Tipton, who ran for a career-high 180 yards and scored three touchdowns.
CMU amassed 324 yards on the ground but also got a nice performance from senior starting QB Ryan Radcliff who finished with 171 yards, with 1 TD and 1 interception on 14-of-23 passing.
In Radcliff, the Spartan defense, which is led by junior linebacker Max Bullough - who made seven stops, including 1.5 tackles for loss last week - will be facing an experienced and savvy signal caller, who has averaged a little over seven yards a pass the last two seasons.
Radcliff's top targets after Week 1 were sophomore Titus Davis, who caught four balls for 51 yards last week and sophomore tight end Jarrett Fleming who caught just two passes for 36 yards in the Chips' opener but one was for a 20-yard score that gave CMU the lead for good last week.
The offensive line, which features three seniors, is led by right tackle Jake Olson, who has 25 career starts.
"They ran the ball effectively,'' Dantonio said. "They have a great quarterback. Radcliff is a guy that's closing in on a lot of records up there, so he's an experienced quarterback with two great tailbacks in Tipton and (Anthony) Garland, an established offensive line.''
As a matter of fact, this CMU team has a wealth of experience returning this season, with nine returning starters on offense and eight on defense. That may be why the Chips were the only FBS team that didn't take a penalty to start the season last week.
Defensively, Central is led by safeties, senior Jahleel Addae and junior Avery Cunningham, the team's top two tacklers in 2011. Entering Saturday's game though, sophomore middle linebacker Justin Cherocci tops the team in tackles after earning 15 stops last week, which included a half tackle for a loss.
CMU's defense will be facing an offense that will probably look familiar, considering Enos' coaching upbringing.
The Chippewas' tight end is an important part of the team's offense, and the same can definitely be said for MSU.
The Spartans leading receiver entering Saturday, will be junior Dion Sims, who looked unstoppable at times against Boise, finishing with a team-leading 7 catches for 65 yards.
If CMU decides to try and take away Sims as a weapon, MSU's receivers are going to up their games so the Spartans have more than just one down the field pass-catching threat.
"From my perspective, we probably have eight guys that have an opportunity to play at wide receiver,'' Dantonio said. "I think we've gotten it to that point that we have eight guys. They all have talent. They have to be consistent. That is the message now.''
Saturday's game, MSU's first at Mount Pleasant, in a series that the Spartans hold an all-time 5-3 lead is going to be a stiff challenge for MSU.
The Chippewas are in their third season under Enos so the growing pains have diminished and the program has stabilized in terms of what is expected from the players every week.
Couple that with the fact that Central has a history off knocking off the Spartans when they haven't played their best eventhough they were the best team, makes this an intriguing matchup.
Plus, expect the Chippewas to gain added motivation from not only trying to get their coach a victory in the Student vs. Mentor Bowl, Part II but by being able to host a ranked team in its building with a chance to make a good showing on a larger stage.
"Last year, we had opportunities to make plays," Enos said. "We had people open and couldn't give them the ball for one reason or another. We gave up too many negative yardage plays, too, and we got behind the chains too much. And you can't get yourself in third-and-long situations against these guys."
WHAT TO WATCH FOR:
ON MSU'S SIDE: The Spartans will have to make sure they withstand the high emotions Central Michigan will truly open the game with. MSU will need to make sure they don't allow big plays early that allow the Chippewas to build some early momentum they can carry late into the contest.
ON CMU'S SIDE: Like in any football game, Central is going to get its chances. The big thing for them will be capitalizing on those opportunities before the Spartans get settled in and turn the complexion of the game in the Spartans' favor.
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