Stanford head coach David Shaw and Michigan State head coach Mark Dantonio previewed what they expected to be a physical 100th Rose Bowl Game in a Sunday night teleconference, as the No. 4 Spartans (12-1, 8-0 Big Ten) and No. 5 Cardinal (11-2, 7-2 Pac-12) began to move forward from their respective conference championship game victories on Saturday.
“I think people that appreciate real football are going to love this game,” Shaw said. “It’s going to be blocking and tackling and running the ball and making big passes down the field and playing great defense and playing special teams and playing field position. You’re going to talk about probably two of the better coached teams, as far as fundamentals and as far as doing things right and doing things well, in the nation.”
If there’s one thing that both of these teams do well, it’s defense.
Michigan State leads Division I in total defense (248.2 yards/game) and rushing defense (80.8 yards/game), with Stanford placing third in the latter category (91.2 yards/game). For every Trent Murphy, whose 14 sacks for the Cardinal lead the nation, there’s a Darqueze Dennard, whose four picks and 10 passes defended for the Spartans landed him in Charlotte on Monday night as one of five finalists for the Bronko Nagurski Trophy.
“He brings his confidence to the table,” Dantonio said. “He’s electric out there for us, and obviously there’s a domino effect.”
Both coaches also talked about their teams’ respective paths to the historic event. For Michigan State, the Rose Bowl berth is the culmination of a seven-year journey since Dantonio’s hiring which has seen the Spartans win 11 or more games three times. Despite that success, however, Michigan State had never been selected for a BCS bowl before this season. The Spartans made their last trip to Pasadena in 1988.
“I remember the press conference, and [going to the Rose Bowl] was the primary statement,” Dantonio said of his hiring. “It was something that was a dream. It was a process, and that came to fruition last night.”
On the other side of the field, Stanford has certainly proved its BCS staying power. With Oregon missing out on an at-large selection, the Cardinal now holds the nation’s longest active BCS bowl appearance streak (four years) and has the chance to win a second straight Rose Bowl for the first time since 1972. Yet as Football Outsiders writer Matt Hinton pointed out on Twitter, of the five teams that have reached four consecutive BCS bowls, Stanford is the only one to never play for the national title.
The Cardinal certainly had hopes of playing in the final BCS National Championship Game before its season took a rocky turn in upset losses at Utah and USC. But Stanford isn’t disappointed with a Rose Bowl berth, and Shaw noted that the adversity brought out the best in his players.
“I think the Michigan State‑Ohio State game says it all, which is [that] it is hard to go undefeated,” Shaw said, referencing the Spartans’ win in the Big Ten Championship Game that spoiled the Buckeyes’ perfect season. “It’s hard to win them all, and then when you don’t win one, the next challenge … is to come back that next week and not let one loss become two losses in a row. You know, we had two losses this year, and both those losses were followed up by great performances.”
“When we don’t reach our goal one week and the entire world turns you off and turns their back on you, you’ve got enough senior leadership to say, ‘Hey, you know what, we’re going back to work,’” Shaw continued. “‘Our goals are still out there for us. We can still achieve some great things this year.’ And because of the fact that we stuck to it, because of the fact that we came back to fight every single time, we kept ourselves in a position that if [something] broke our way, we were going to have a chance to get back in the conference championship game. And that’s what happened.”
Contact Joseph Beyda at jbeyda ‘at’ stanford.edu.