NOAH TRISTER,AP Sports Writer
MOUNT PLEASANT, Mich. (AP) — It was the type of game Michigan State could have easily overlooked — a short road trip to play an undermanned opponent, right in between the two biggest nonconference games of the season.
Instead, the Spartans won easily and gave coach Mark Dantonio a chance to use pretty much anyone he wanted.
“I was very impressed with my team’s performance, especially considering that we played 65 out of the 70 guys that traveled,” Dantonio said.
Michigan State beat Central Michigan 41-7 on Saturday, then moved up a spot to No. 10 in the AP poll a day later. That ranking will be tested right way when the Spartans host No. 20 Notre Dame next weekend. It will be the second big night game at Spartan Stadium in three weeks — the Spartans opened with a 17-13 victory over Boise State.
In between, they traveled about 70 miles to play at Central Michigan, part of a decade-long series of games against the Chippewas, Western Michigan and Eastern Michigan.
Andrew Maxwell threw for 275 yards and two touchdowns for Michigan State, a promising sign after he was intercepted three times by Boise State. The Spartans scored 10 points in the final minute of the first half to take a 24-0 lead.
After an early touchdown in the third quarter, Dantonio could substitute liberally.
Perhaps as important as who played was who didn’t. After 44 carries in the opener, Le’Veon Bell had only 18 for 70 yards against the Chippewas. There was more offensive balance this time.
“I think it was a great stride,” Bell said. “Now teams can’t just prep for me. This offense is going to be dynamic by the end of the season.”
But the question is how it will look this coming Saturday. Michigan State beat Notre Dame two years ago on a fake field goal in overtime, but the Irish avenged that with a 31-13 rout last season.
The Spartans are the highest-ranked team in the Big Ten, and their defense hasn’t allowed an offensive touchdown yet.
Maxwell, meanwhile, has another game under his belt after replacing Kirk Cousins during the offseason.
“Our goal was to get our first road win and eliminate some mistakes,” Dantonio said. “We also wanted to get our wideouts and our quarterback Maxwell going earlier in the game and I believe that we did that. … It was a very windy day that made throwing deep a challenge for our quarterback. Sometimes the only way that you can grow is by experiencing adversity and learning how to play through it.”
Maxwell threw touchdown passes of 20 yards to Dion Sims and 7 yards to Bennie Fowler.
“They threw some things at us that we had to make sideline adjustments for,” Maxwell said. “But we took a workmanlike attitude to this game and kept our nose to the grindstone.”
By the time it was over, five Michigan State players had carried the ball and 10 had at least one catch.
“Handling the wind shows how composed and resilient Maxwell is and definitely serves as a confidence booster for him in future games,” Dantonio said. “We ran the ball decently but somehow managed to throw the ball quite effectively. Our defense played very well and our special teams was solid.”
Backup quarterback Connor Cook also got to play. He went 5 for 6, although the one pass he missed on was an interception that was returned for a touchdown.
Mistakes like that nearly cost the Spartans against Boise State, and there probably won’t be much margin for error against Notre Dame either.
“I think we made a lot of progress,” Fowler said. “Maxwell hit the open receivers, and everyone got a chance to touch the ball early and often. He was the same guy in the huddle but we had better timing on the routes.”
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