Dec. 29, 2013
By Steve Grinczel, MSUSpartans.com Online Columnist | @GrinzOnGreen
LOS ANGELES - The common theme generated by the Michigan State-Stanford matchup in Rose Bowl is that two, old-school teams are going to attack each other with plays drawn up in the 1950s.
Wednesday's game is indeed shaping up as a smash-mouth affair because the Spartans and the Cardinal play an extremely physical brand of football. However, at Rose Bowl Media Day Sunday morning, MSU coach Mark Dantonio dispelled the myth that Stanford is going to run power sweeps out of tight-T formations and that the Spartans will be looking for nothing more than having their plays end with a cloud of dust after 3 yards.
"They've had tremendous success the past number of years really, and I think a lot of that is due to how they run their program," Dantonio said. "They build it on toughness. They build it on what's perceived maybe as two-back offenses and things of that nature, old school, much like what we try to do. But at the same time there's a cutting edge to what they do, and that's the thing you don't really realize when you're looking at things."
A team doesn't make it to four straight BCS games, as the Cardinal have, by lacking a high level of sophistication.
"What they do with the different offensive line sets, the big tight ends, how they move their people, what they do when they run what we would term their `Mike' pull guy, things of that nature when they pull the guard and wrap them around," Dantonio explained. "There are different things that they do structurally that you don't see people do all the time. You see it sometimes but you don't see everybody do it all the time. I think that's what's interesting to me.
"They're going to always exploit what you do and try and attack that."
Defensively, Stanford is anything but straightforward.
"I think their defense as a whole unit is very, very stout," said MSU quarterback Connor Cook. "They have great defensive linemen, linebackers are big, strong, fast. They have a great secondary. But I think the biggest challenge that we're going to see is just the confusion. They're going to try to confuse us.
"They do a lot of movement (with a) variety of different fronts. So we just gotta find out where No. 93 (All-American outside linebacker Trent Murphy) is, because he lines up in multiple positions, and work around where he's lined up. I think we'll be good.
GoG Notes & Quotes: The Spartans made a national statement when they defeated No. 2 Ohio State in the Big Ten Championship Game to earn a bid to the Rose Bowl for the first time since 1988. Beating Stanford, however, would put MSU in another echelon all together.
"When we came here seven years ago, I think it was November 27, 2006, entering the 2007 season, we made a statement this is where we wanted to come," Dantonio said. "Throughout the time, I can't tell you how many times we stuck our hand in the middle of that (huddle) with 105 other hands or so and called it up on one,` Big Ten champs.' We're here now. We've accomplished that goal. Now we need to figure out, do we belong?
"And that's another opportunity, statement, challenge. One of our goals was to get here, the other is to win here. If you want to play at this level, if you want to compete at this level, then you need to be prepared to take those steps. I've always asked our players to dream big, think outside the box, and I think we've been able to do that, and we've accomplished some things, but this is the biggest check on the list in terms of our accomplishments thus far."
Cook said his life hasn't changed too dramatically since leading MSU to the Rose Bowl.
"Not much has changed for me really other than when I went to go return books after exams were over, some people want to get pictures and stuff like that," he said.
"Obviously, as a backup quarterback you don't have this whole media stuff, you don't talk to the media.
"I'm still the same old Connor."
Darqueze Dennard was MSU's first Thorpe Award winner, but that doesn't mean he has much in common with one former winner who was notorious for not wanting to tackle.
"I do (like to tackle)," he said. "That's actually fun, me coming out there and helping the front seven because they helped me out a lot this year. This is my opportunity to help them. It's going to be fun to be able to come up and stop the run. No DB on our staff just wants to cover, we want to be a complete player and do everything and it's an opportunity to show everybody we can do that."
One of the more compelling sights during the Spartans' visit to Disneyland had nothing to do with Tomorrowland - it was senior wide receiver Bennie Fowler pushing linebacker Jairus Jones, who's still recovering from a knee injury sustained after making his first career start in the fourth game of the season at Notre Dame, around the park in a wheelchair.
Dantonio revealed that Jones, a fifth-year senior who isn't eligible to return next season as a medical redshirt, never lost his roster spot, even on road games.
"I'll tell you what he means to us," Dantonio said. "We took him on every away game this year even though we knew he wasn't going to play because he's got a sense about him in terms of what type of person he is, and he impacts other individuals and other people. We carried him on our active travel-man roster even though he was not going to play."
If Dantonio can fit it into the schedule, he'd like to visit Venice Beach, which is famous for its eclectic array of personalities.
"I'm going to look for that guy that juggles the chain saws," he said.