By Adam Hoge-
INDIANAPOLIS (CBS) Mark Dantonio knows what the Spartans have to do to beat the Badgers Saturday in the Big Ten Championship Game.
“Contain Montee Ball. Key to victory,” the Michigan State head coach said Friday at Lucas Oil Stadium
It’s hard to argue with that gameplan, as Ball is arguably the best running back in the country and the Spartans are one of only two teams this season that have had any success slowing down the Wisconsin running back, and even then, Ball racked up 115 yards.
Saturday’s game will be played between two schools that love to run the football. It’s a game that will be decided in the trenches. It’s Big Ten football at its best.
“You know it’s going to be a physical game,” Wisconsin head coach Bret Bielema said.
Here are some of the other highlights from Friday’s media session with both head coaches:
It appears less and less likely that Wisconsin center Peter Konz (dislocated ankle) will play Saturday. He hasn’t practiced all week and Bielema said the lack of reps are a factor.
“It’s kind of at a place for us, do we want Pete who hasn’t been repping, or Ryan (Groy) and Travis (Frederick) who have done an outstanding job in the last two weeks,” Bielema said. “So we’ll favor more on that than somebody that hasn’t been in there a lot.”
Dennard To Return
MSU cornerback Darqueze Dennard will start Saturday after missing last week’s game with a head injury. Dantonio said he was cleared Tuesday and has practiced all week.
With all 12 Big Ten teams playing their home games outdoors, Saturday’s game is the only conference game being played inside all season. Because of the change, both coaches sought out advice about playing at Lucas Oil Stadium.
Bielema talked to former Badger quarterback Jim Sorgi who spent many years backing up Peyton Manning on the Indianapolis Colts. Meanwhile, Dantonio went a different route, talking to Michigan State basketball coach Tom Izzo whose team played at Lucas Oil Stadium in the Final Four.
As for the game being played indoors, Bielema is happy about it.
“My fiance was excited it was an indoor stadium and she didn’t have to worry about her dress for cold weather, so that’s a good thing there,” he said.
Bielema also said he likes the Pac-12 format where the game is played at the home stadium of the team with the better record.
Another QB Transfer?
Rumors have been swirling this week that Notre Dame quarterback Dayne Crist is planning on transferring to Wisconsin. Like Russell Wilson, Crist would be able to play immediately after graduating from Notre Dame and enrolling in graduate school at Wisconsin.
Bielema won’t comment on specific players, but I asked him if he would consider adding another quarterback transfer after seeing how successful Wilson has been.
“Because of the success of Russell Wilson, I actually believe I have been contacted for almost up to 10 players now that would love or want to talk about the opportunity to transfer into the University of Wisconsin,” Bielema said.
It’s unclear whether Crist is one of those players, but if he did transfer to Wisconsin, he would immediately become the most experienced and talented quarterback on the UW roster. Of course, he’s no Russell Wilson.
Roses At Stake
While the Stagg Championship Trophy will be awarded to the winner of Saturday’s game, the real prize is a trip to the Rose Bowl.
While the Badgers went to Pasadena last season, the Spartans haven’t gone to the Rose Bowl since 1988, the same year most of MSU’s seniors were born.
As a reminder of what’s at stake, Dantonio had a rose placed in every player’s locker this week.
“We’ve always had subliminal messages to our players, I guess, in our football program,” Dantonio said. “We’ve got Rose Bowl things up around our facility. Felt something we should do this week is to put a rose in everybody’s locker to just continually remind them about what we’re trying to accomplish.”
Ball Chasing Down Barry Sanders
With 34 touchdowns this season, Ball has a realistic shot at breaking Barry Sanders’ NCAA touchdown record. Sanders scored 39 touchdowns in 1988.
Bielema said he has addressed the record with the team, but added that he won’t change anything in the offense to help Ball get there.
“You’re not going to ignore the elephant in the room,” he said. “Everybody understands where it’s at. I think our kids took a lot of pride in getting the touchdown record in the Big Ten.
I know he gave many thanks to his offensive line and all the people that helped him get to where he is. But we’ve never played the game that way, and we won’t. As time goes on, we’re not going to set up a score on the 1-yard line to let him get it. We’re going to get things as they naturally come during the course of the game.”
Wilson’s NFL Stock
Listed at only 5’11, Russell Wilson’s NFL prospects are questionable despite possessing a strong arm and great athleticism. Still, Bielema insists NFL scouts have raved about his quarterback.
“He truly has embraced every minute of this year, and is going to be rewarded very much for it, because I know the NFL thinks a lot of him, and he’ll get his time when that time comes,” Bielema said.
Handling The Hype
Part of Michigan State’s walk-through was open to the media and it was obvious the players were loose when they took the field.
“We pride ourselves in staying fresh and having fun,” Dantonio said. “I want to make this an experience they’ll remember for a lifetime. So that’s what we tend to do.
“I constantly talk about pressure (being) good. I think you can succeed with pressure. It makes you have a greater attention to detail. You’re more focused. Stress is not; stress is the enemy. So we don’t want to stress out about this. We want to just play.”
Dantonio said the Spartans would watch a movie together Friday night.
“I don’t know if we’re seeing Home Alone tonight or whatever,” he said. “But it will be something that brings hopefully something back from their childhood, and that seems to help them. We want them all to watch it together just to be with people.”
For more Big Ten Championship Game coverage from Indianapolis, follow Adam on Twitter (AdamHogeCBS).