It’s quiet time in East Lansing. Literally.
Michigan State coach Mark Dantonio declared the No. 13 Spartans (7-2, 4-1 Big Ten) off limits to the media this week as they prepare for a Legends Division matchup at Iowa (6-3, 3-2). Dantonio used the same tactic before an Oct. 1 game against Ohio State, which Michigan State won 10-7.
Maybe Dantonio is going for the same mojo? Conventional wisdom says he probably doesn’t want his quarterback re-living a very bad day in Iowa City last season over and over and over again as the build-up for this game boils this week.
MSU quarterback Kirk Cousins had a bad game in Iowa’s 37-6 victory over the Spartans last season at Kinnick. He threw three interceptions, including one strong safety Tyler Sash picked and flipped to Micah Hyde, who returned it 66 yards for the back-breaker.
Cousins, whose grandfather and mother graduated from Iowa, signed off for the week with this comment after the Spartans’ 31-24 victory over Minnesota last week:
“Certainly it’s exciting to go back there and get a chance to play much better than last year,” said Cousins, whose 63.9 completion percentage is tied for third in the Big Ten. “At the same time, we try to take each game individually and just go there and play.
“It’s a new team this year on both sides of the ball. Obviously we want to make it personal each and every week to find as much motivation as possible, and with last year’s result we can find a way to make it personal.”
Michigan State’s offense has been fitful at times this season. Perhaps the most perplexing statistic in the Big Ten is MSU’s running game and its last-place ranking in the conference. The Spartans, with all-conference caliber backs Edwin Baker and Le’Veon Bell, are last in the Big Ten with 133.3 yards a game and 3.71 a carry.
Cousins also has had a hand in the struggles. During the first quarter against Minnesota, the senior spiked the ball and earned a 15-yard unsportsmanlike conduct penalty.
Key word in that whole paragraph is “senior.” Cousins is in his last run and he wants it to go as far as possible.
“I was just playing with emotion and just got frustrated, I put the ball in the ground,” said Cousins, who has 13 TDs and five interceptions. “I went to the ref afterwards and I said, ‘Was it just too much emotion?’ And he said, ‘Yeah just a little too much.’
“. . .There’s a lot on the line. I’m a senior, I want to go out the right way after this season and I want to have a special season. I’m just trying to do all I can to make sure that happens.”
The flashbacks to last year are relevant going into Saturday. Last season, the Spartans went into Kinnick Stadium with a 9-0 record and one big hurdle to clear before positioning themselves for a Big Ten title and a possible unbeaten season.
MSU bounced back to finish the regular season 11-1, but were passed by Ohio State and Wisconsin, also 11-1, for BCS bowl bids. It’s worth noting here the Spartans have yet to receive a bid to a BCS bowl and haven’t been to the Rose Bowl since 1988.
The Spartans’ hopes to lift that gorilla off its back were extinguished in Iowa City last season.
“Any way you cut it, seven wins, 4-1 in the conference and we’re right there, Dantonio said. “We survived one playoff win as far as I’m concerned. That’s how we have to challenge ourselves and take this.”
MSU and the Hawkeyes are the only teams in the Legends Division who can lock up a spot in the inaugural Big Ten championship game if they win their next three games.
East Lansing, Iowa City, there really isn’t much more to say than that.
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