Grinz on Green Blog: News and Notes from Friday's Press Conference
Dec. 2, 2011
By Steve Grinczel, Online Columnist
INDIANAPOLIS - Mark Dantonio saw Wisconsin's history and raised it with a bit of Michigan State karma.
Topics ranged from what Badgers coach Bret Bielema and running back Montee Ball talked about this week to the Spartans head man's heart health during Friday's free-form final press conference advancing the Big Ten championship game between MSU and Wisconsin in Lucas Oil Stadium on Saturday night.
Deciphering which team has the edge, based on things besides the players and how they're coached, is always a trivial pursuit during such events.
For example, Bielema pointed out that while MSU has won three of the last four meetings in the series, each of those Badger defeats came on the road at Spartan Stadium.
"I'm excited that this one's here in Indianapolis and on a neutral site," he said, ignoring the fact that Michigan State is technically the home team. "They have won the last two, so hopefully that momentum is about ready to swing."
With this being the first Big Ten championship game ever played, Wisconsin gets a slight edge in the tradition department because the Badgers won the inaugural Big Ten football title in 1896.
However, Michigan State won the Big Ten championship the first year it was eligible in 1953, so it has some historic mojo on its side as well.
Much has been made about how difficult it is to be a team twice in the same season - not that either team has ever even had a rematch in the same calendar year - but Dantonio wasn't fretting in the wake of the Spartans' 37-31 victory over Badgers on Oct. 22.
Earlier in the day, he met with MSU basketball coach Tom Izzo, who pointed out that during the 1999-2000 season the Spartans had to beat Wisconsin four times: twice during the regular season, once in the Big Ten Tournament and once in the NCAA Tournament.
The final victory over the Badgers came during the Final Four, just up the street at the site of what used to be the RCA Dome, en route to winning the national championship.
"He's a very good friend of mine and they've been down here so many times, and I've been here to watch them whether in the Big Ten Tournament or in the Final Fours," Dantonio said. "Coach Izzo reminded me they he had to play (the Badgers) four times in one year.
"So that's where we're at. We have to play them."
Here are some bullet-point highlights from the presser:
-- The Spartans have approached the situation just like it would any other road game.
"We've been able to keep this pretty much normal as a football program (this week)," Dantonio said. "We've had great practices and the players understand the challenge with the University of Wisconsin, but we've won (against Wisconsin) before and that brings a great deal of confidence to our program."
-- The Friday-night ritual in the team hotel is all about keeping the players from stressing out over the task at hand.
"It's one of the highlights for me of the entire week because we just sit there with our players and just basically talk," Dantonio said of the team meal. "We hang out and talk about all different types of things. It's been something we've done since 2007 and it's been very at-ease.
"We just sort of calm down a little bit, and deflate a little bit. I think it's good for our entire football team. After that, we go watch a movie together. I don't know if we're watching `Home Alone' or whatever, but it will be something that brings hopefully something back from their childhood."
The night is all about team bonding and fellowship.
"I constantly talk about pressure is good," Dantonio said. "You can succeed with pressure because it makes you have greater attention to detail and you're more focused. Stress is the enemy. We don't want to stress out about this."
-- Sophomore cornerback Darqueze Dennard, who missed the last two games, and two of the previous three, due to a leg injury, is expected to play against the Badgers, as is safety Kurtis Drummond, who will share time with Jairus Jones.
"Both of those guys have practiced the entire week," Dantonio said. "Darqueze will start, and he's full-go. Kurtis was held out last week because he had a head injury two weeks ago."
--It'll be homecoming for MSU sophomore strong safety Isaiah Lewis, who prepped at nearby Indianapolis Ben Davis High School.
"Isaiah Lewis is one of those guys who can take over a football game and be an impact player," Dantonio said. "He's an outstanding football player and person. He prepares very hard and you have to pull him back in practice because he's going to go 100 percent and go after somebody.
"He has great things in store for him as a player in this league and in the future beyond this league. He will make some big plays out there tomorrow night and I think it's tremendous that he's able to come back to Indianapolis to be a part of this."
A second-team All-Big Ten selection, Lewis is tied with teammate Trenton Robinson for the league lead in interceptions with four.
-- The winner of the game will advance to the Rose Bowl, which has been beyond MSU's reach since 1988. Dantonio had a rose put in each player's locker this week.
"We've always sent subliminal messages to our players, I guess," he said. "We've got Rose Bowl things up around our facility and we thought it was something we should do to continually remind them about what we're trying to accomplish."
Offensive line coach Mark Staten "was out there recruiting in the summer and he brought back a bunch of rocks from the Rose Bowl, so we broke them all up and gave everybody a little rock," Dantonio said. "We'll do whatever it takes to keep that focus in front of them, but ultimately, it's going to come down to how we perform on the field and how we're able to keep our emotions throughout the game."
-- Bielema said he's glad the game will be played inside as opposed to outdoors, say at Soldier Field near Big Ten headquarters in Chicago.
"I would much rather have the game be decided because of the two teams that are on the field in a neutral site and in a great environment for fans rather than trying to put together a gameplan that's heavily affected by weather," Bielema said. "I know my fiancee was all excited when she found out it was an indoor stadium because she didn't have to worry about how to dress for cold weather, so I think it's a good thing there."
-- Wisconsin running back Montee Ball has 34 touchdowns, just five shy of the NCAA single-season record set by Oklahoma State's Barry Sanders in 1988. However, Bielema said the Badgers won't go out of their way to get him closer to the mark.
"It's out there and we talk about it," Bielema said. "We're not going to ignore the elephant in the room. Everybody understands where it's at. But we've never played with a game in that way and we won't as time goes on. We won't set up a score on the 1-yard line and let him get it.
"We're just going to get things as they naturally come during the course of the game."
-- Bielema didn't think his players will be overwhelmed by scale of the event.
"They're excited to get on a plane and have a chicken sandwich," he said. "That's what this group is like. They don't need all the bells and whistles. They appreciate whatever's given to them."
-- What did Bielema talk to Ball about?
"Nothing out of the ordinary," Bielema said. "Just football stuff."
-- As for Dantonio's health 14 ½ months since suffering a heart attack after the dramatic 2010 overtime victory against Notre Dame, he said, "That's the first question I've got like that in awhile. I'm not worried at all about that. I exercise every day and do my deal. I believe pressure is good, stress is not, so I won't be stressin'.
"We'll be playing loose and we will be fresh, and so will their coach."
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