By Ashley Dunkak
DETROIT (CBS DETROIT) – Nationally, there is rarely much to-do about Michigan State, even as the Spartans won 11 games for the third time in the last four seasons, as they crushed in-state rival Michigan and as they upset undefeated Ohio State for the Big Ten championship and a Rose Bowl berth.
When the Spartans take the field against the Stanford Cardinal on New Year’s Day, head coach Mark Dantonio wants to show that Michigan State is worthy of the position it has earned.
“We’re up there, and we want to show that we deserve to be up there,” Dantonio said. “You’re on a big stage. You get to the championship, and you’re on a big stage. While we took care of business there and we showed that we belonged on that stage, now it’s important to show that we belong on this national stage.
“It’s an opportunity to step up and show who we are,” Dantonio added. “It’s an opportunity to do our thing there. So we’re just excited about it. I think our players are. Again, it will be a great challenge versus Stanford, and they’re a proven football team. But we’ll bring our guys out and see what happens.”
While the Spartans have put together three 11-win seasons in the last four years, the Cardinals have enjoyed four straight 11-win seasons. Stanford won the Rose Bowl last year, 20-14, and in the previous season Stanford only lost the Fiesta Bowl in overtime. Between 2010 and 2013, the Cardinal’s record is 46-7.
As far as BCS bowl experience, Stanford has the advantage.
“They’ve been to that mountain a little bit,” Dantonio said. “They’ve been there. This is new for us.”
The defenses of both Stanford and Michigan State rank in the top 10 of the country in terms of scoring – Michigan State finishing fourth, allowing 12.7 points per game, and Stanford sitting at 10th, allowing 18.6 points per game. Dantonio sees other common elements as well.
“When you look at Stanford, they’re a football team that’s going to get it done fundamentally,” Dantonio said. “I think they play with a tough mindset. Their rosters are senior-dominated. We have quite a few seniors, especially on our defensive side of the field. Our offensive line, we have three seniors in there as well, and senior wideouts. But there are a lot of similarities in terms of how they play and how we play in terms of what’s going on.”
For the Spartans, one of the main challenges in the Rose Bowl will be containing the Cardinal’s run game. Stanford’s rushing offense ranks 23rd in the country, racking up 210.9 yards a game. Michigan State’s run defense is statistically the best in the nation, allowing an average of just 80.8 yards on the ground.
Michigan State defensive coordinator Pat Narduzzi said making adjustments during the game will be the biggest key to stopping Stanford’s run game.
“They’ve got a very good tailback, offensive line-wise they’re big and physical,” Narduzzi said. “They have a great scheme. The one thing I think that’s going to be huge is just how we adjust on the run.
“They’re going to have all kinds of differences when they get there,” Narduzzi added. “They’ll have different tweakings on how they’ll block different plays, and those are things that we’ll have to adjust to as the game goes on.”
For the program, of course, just getting to this point is a major accomplishment. Focus on winning the Big Ten has been constant, and with that accomplished, now the team is in position to realize its ultimate goal.
“Since my freshman year, even coming here getting recruited, they’ve been talking about Rose Bowl this, Rose Bowl that, that’s the ultimate goal and we need to get there,” safety Isaiah Lewis said. “To finally get there and do it, to finally win that Big Ten Championship game and go to that game, it’s like a dream come true.
“It’s crazy for me because you know I used to watch football as a little kid, and seeing teams go to the Rose Bowl, the Rose Bowl is almost a bigger game than the National Championship game,” Lewis added, “and everybody’s watching that game. So it’s a big stage and it’s a blessing to actually go to this game and get to experience this opportunity.”