EAST LANSING, Mich. Rejection can be a powerful motivator.
It is something Michigan State outside linebacker Denicos Allen uses every time he faces Ohio State, which visits Spartan Stadium at 3:30 p.m. Saturday in the Big Ten opener.
Obviously, I didnt get offered there, said Allen, who made 415 tackles at Hamilton (Ohio) High. I took it personal then, but I just found a better place in Michigan State.
He added that some of the 27 other Ohioan Spartans have similar no thank-you stories. Buckeyes coach Jim Tressel, since dismissed and replaced by Urban Meyer, could afford to be quite choosy with a national field to pick from.
It added fuel to our fire, said Allen, who played a big role in last years 10-7 win over Ohio State in Columbus. It puts a chip on your shoulder.
Allen had not been playing up to expectations this season until Saturday, when he had the teams only sack and forced an important fumble in a closer than expected win over Eastern Michigan.
He said getting called out by his position coach got him going. The linebacker coach for the Spartans just happens to be Mike Tressel, nephew of the former Ohio State coach who turned him down.
He was just honest with me and straight forward, Allen said of his coach. Thats great because I am a competitor. When a coach calls me out and challenges me, I am going to respond.
Allen led MSU with 11 sacks and was second on the team with 83 tackles last season, but he had nary a sack and was tied for fifth with 11 tackles after three games before getting six against the Eagles.
Weve been waiting for him to get turned loose, said Spartans defensive coordinator Pat Narduzzi. But thats what Denicos is supposed to do. Hopefully, that was a warm up for the Big Ten Conference. He is a great player and needs to make good plays all the time -- not just part time.
Allen, a 5-foot-11, 225-pounder, was Sports Illustrateds preseason defensive MVP pick in the Big Ten. Hes also a candidate for the Butkus Award given to the nations top linebacker. But he didnt make an impact until game four.
He also teamed up with strong safety Isaiah Lewis to make a fourth-and-one stop on EMU tailback Dominique Sherrer on the first drive of the game. Allen forced a fumble that linebacker Jairus Jones recovered at midfield in the third quarter, and Allen sacked quarterback Tyler Benz for a nine-yard loss to all but end a fourth-quarter drive.
It felt good, Allen said. All year, Ive been close and not quite getting it, and to finally get that first one, thats a big stress reliever. And usually after you get the first one, they keep rolling in. Thats how it happened last year, and hopefully thats how it is this year.
Allen also got his first sack last year in the fourth game against Central Michigan. Then he got a pair of sacks in the Big Ten opener in Columbus, and was rolling with a four-game sack streak that continued against Michigan and Wisconsin. Allen had three sacks in the Big Ten championship game loss to the Badgers, and nine sacks in nine conference games last season.
The Big Ten thats where it all matters, Allen said. We want to be the Big Ten champs this year.
The No. 14 Buckeyes (4-0) and No. 20 Spartans (3-1) are the highest-ranked Big Ten teams headed into conference play.
Coach Mark Dantonio got a playful dig in on ESPN analyst Desmond Howard by slipping this comment on the excitement of facing OSU into his press conference: I guess I would say, I can hardly contain myself. Howard, who won the Heisman Trophy for arch-rival Michigan, tweeted on being in East Lansing as part of the GameDay crew: I can barely contain my excitement.
Dantonio said defensive end William Gholston is full go for OSU after missing the first half against Eastern Michigan because an unspecified injury curtailed his practice time last week.
Player interviews have been curtailed this week because Dantonio said we need to come closer as a team and felt that media pressure has them thinking in another way.
The Buckeyes-Spartan rivalry takes a two-year break after this game.
LeVeon Bell ranks second among major college backs with both 117 carries and 610 yards.
The three touchdowns MSU has allowed on offense have come on drives of 23, 51 and 51 yards.
Dantonio said that using All-Big Ten first team cornerback Johnny Adams as a receiver, as he did in the spring game, is a thought that has crossed his mind with the young receiving corps dropping several passes per game. He also compared the growth of his wide-outs to that of a bamboo tree, adding that it can grow slow and then 40 feet in two months.