December 29, 2011

Dantonio feeling good about playing game 14

Michigan State will wrap up the longest football season in school history on Monday in the Outback Bowl when the Spartans play their 14th game of the year, against Georgia.

It will Georgia's 14th game as well, as both teams played in the championship game of their respective conferences.

Georgia has played in conference title games before. This is a new experience for Michigan State, playing into December, taking a short four weeks off, and then returning to the field for a bowl game.

"It was a long season for us, playing 14 games," Michigan State head coach Mark Dantonio said during Wednesday's joint press conference featuring himself and Georgia head coach Mark Richt. "We had a bye week in there. That's why we took two weeks and didn't do anything.

"We had one week after the championship game and then we had exam week and then we went back to work and then had vacation, so I think we're rested.

"We've put everything behind us and we're looking forward. That's what we've been able to do as a football program really since we've been there. We've always been able to look forward and bring some energy to the game. I'm quite sure that's going to happen for our football team."

Seniors captains Kirk Cousins, Trenton Robinson and Joel Foreman have led the way.

"I continue to say we've got great leadership," Dantonio said. "Ground level, our players understand what they have to do in terms of just the energy that they have to bring in that leadership capacity. I'm not concerned about that."

Cousins will be starting his 39th and final game as the Spartan quarterback. Cousins, who was an unheralded member of Dantonio's first recruiting class at MSU, earned second-team All-Big Ten honors this season by the coaches and was one of three finalists for the Chicago Tribune Silver Football Award (Big Ten's best player).

As a senior, Cousins threw for 3,016 yards with 24 TDs and 7 INTs.

"When you have a great deal of respect and confidence in a young man you turn him loose," Dantonio said. "He's been a three-year starter so he gets in and out of things."

Meaning out of bad plays at the line of scrimmage by checking to more suitable play calls.

"Our quarterback has free reign to do that," Dantonio said. "There are certain things we call that are going to go, obviously. But he's got freedom out there. Part of being a good coach is being a good listener. So we want to try and listen to ideas he has as he moves forward too."

Dantonio hasn't been one to present brand new, sweeping new wrinkles in a bowl game. But there is always a possibility.

"I think both teams have an opportunity to change things," Dantonio said. "We do what we do. You study what you have to study. You study the players, you study what they do. You look at your own football team and ask how you can make it better, how you can assess what you've already done.

"You've had time to do that but at the same time you're still trying to recruit, still trying to squeeze some Christmas in there, do different things, so it's challenging.

"The big thing is, as we talked about early on, bring energy to the football game. At the end of the day, players play and coaches coach, but you have to have enthusiasm on both sides, players and coaches."

Taking Inventory

After beginning bowl week with a conditioning-oriented, non-contact practice on Monday, the Spartans were in pads for a second straight day on Wednesday.

"We had a great practice yesterday (Tuesday)," Dantonio said. "We'll go today until around one o'clock. It will be our second day in pads.

"Again, the same things we're looking at: how we're practicing, how we're moving around. Are we going to have energy or not? That's a choice we make every single day we come out there. We try to put an emphasis on that, just try to be prepared.

"We're playing an outstanding opponent. We have a great challenge ahead of us, at the same time, it's important for our players to finish. That's what we're trying to do to the best of our abilities."

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