Ferentz, Dantonio talk title game


By Charlie Green |  [email protected]

On Sunday’s Big Ten Championship Game Teleconference, Kirk Ferentz and Mark Dantonio answered questions ahead of Saturday’s showdown. Here’s what they had to say.

Ferentz recalls Cook’s breakout

As Iowa head coach Kirk Ferentz prepares for Michigan State and a standout quarterback in Connor Cook, he recalled facing him on Oct. 5, 2013, for Homecoming. Ferentz said it could have been Cook’s “coming-out party.”

Then a sophomore, Cook threw for 277 yards and 2 touchdowns in that game, as the Spartans prevailed, 26-14. His head coach, Mark Dantonio, reflected on that game as a breakthrough for his signal caller as well.

“I think in the Iowa game, he stepped into his own,” Dantonio said. “And I think it was the best that he had played at that point in time against great competition and in a tough environment.”

Michigan State’s defensive front

No disrespect to Cook, but the real reason Michigan State won in 2013 was probably the play of its defensive line. The group helped hold Iowa to just 23 yards on the ground (QB Jake Rudock was the leading rusher with 11 yards). In 2015, it’s a strength of the team yet again.

“They’ve got great size and athleticism,” Ferentz said. “But more importantly, they play with great technique and leverage.”

Winning at the line of scrimmage has been a staple of the Spartans’ success since Dantonio took the helm in 2007. This year, his defensive front is led by senior Shilique Clahoun, who had 7 sacks to date.

Spartans’ championship experience

Saturday will mark the third conference championship game the Spartans will have played in since its inception in 2011 — a period that spans the careers of the team’s redshirt seniors.

“I do think there’s an advantage having gone through this before,” Dantonio said. “We have guys who were redshirted in 2011 who were at the Wisconsin game, and they were playing in the game in 2013. So we have guys who — this is their third time down there.”

Michigan State fell to Wisconsin, 42-39, in 2011 and beat Ohio State, 34-24, in 2013.

Fullback inspiration

Dantonio said that when he got the job in 2007, he attempted to pattern his program after Iowa, among others. One of his reasons for doing so was the team’s consistent use of fullbacks.

“The reason we tried to pattern our program after them [is] they always had a workmanlike attitude,” Dantonio said.

He also noted the continuity on the coaching staff over Ferentz’ 17-year tenure as a reason for emulating Iowa football.

Reaching out to Narduzzi

As the Spartans prepare for Iowa and a de facto College Football Playoff quarterfinal, the coaching staff has a familiar source it plans to utilize. Pittsburgh head coach Pat Narduzzi, the team’s former defensive coordinator, came closer than anyone to beating the Hawks in 2015.

“Absolutely we will, and it’s probably already been done,” Dantonio said. “Anybody that we know that has played against them, that we know well, we’ll be talking with. That’s part of the trade, I guess.”

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