Pressure increasing again for Michigan State
Mark Dantonio admits the pressure is on.
The Michigan State coach is three wins from leading his team to the Legends Division title and a berth in the inaugural Big Ten championship game. The No. 13-ranked Spartans play at Iowa on Saturday in what could be their toughest remaining game of the regular season.
In perhaps the most obvious sign this is a big game, Michigan State isn't allowing the media to talk to players this week. The Spartans also made players off limits before their Big Ten opener at Ohio State.
''I just think that there is a lot of pressure on them,'' Dantonio said. ''We need to get ourselves emotionally ready to play. They've had an opportunity to be interviewed at length these last few weeks, and I just felt like we want to go there fresh. As much as anything, we want to be fresh. Anything we have on our mind needs to be focused on that football team.''
The Spartans would be hard pressed to look less ready than they did last year at Iowa, when they went into the game undefeated and lost 37-6. It was Michigan State's only defeat of the regular season.
The Spartans (7-2, 4-1 Big Ten) don't have to look far for motivation this time. Tape from last season's game is plenty.
''Every time a cut-up is played, particular plays, whether it's on special teams or defense or offense, that scoreboard flashes,'' Dantonio said. ''So they've got a reminder - every time they watch film of us last year there is a reminder.''
Iowa, Nebraska and Michigan are tied for second in the division, one game behind Michigan State. The Spartans beat Minnesota 31-24 last weekend, and Nebraska and Michigan lost to fall out of a first-place tie.
After taking on the Hawkeyes (6-3, 3-2), Michigan State returns home to play Indiana, then finishes the regular season at Northwestern. The Spartans can't afford to overlook anyone, but Iowa is the most accomplished team left on the schedule.
''Everything is in our court, and so we look for that opportunity,'' Dantonio said. ''As far as Iowa, I think it obviously starts with toughness when you play Iowa. They've got a great offensive line.''
Michigan State quarterback Kirk Cousins threw three interceptions against Iowa last season, a disappointing performance in an emotional game for him. Cousins' mother went to Iowa, and his grandfather played football for the Hawkeyes.
Cousins will have a chance to redeem himself Saturday, but this game is about more than just him.
''I think the game's magnitude can be referenced in terms of where we're at as a program and trying to do as a team. I think it's much further than him individually competing against Iowa,'' Dantonio said. ''I think the concern or the focus has got to be what we have to do to stay on top of this division, this Legends Division, as we move forward.''
Last year, the Spartans did recover from their loss to the Hawkeyes, finishing the regular season 11-1 and in a three-way tie for first in the conference. But the damage was done. Michigan State had to settle for a trip to the Capital One Bowl while fellow co-champions Wisconsin and Ohio State went to BCS bowls.
The loss to Iowa couldn't be ignored, and the margin of defeat made it that much worse.
''I think you have to play through the tough times. You have to play through the storms. I guess you have to do that,'' Dantonio said. ''The more experienced you are at handling these things, the more opportunities you have to go in, the better you should become. So we should be getting there.''