Saturday, December 7, 2013

Gearing up the Big Ten championship game

If this was boxing, Michigan State would be Joe Frazier. The battler, the scrapper, the fighter who, despite being a bit undersized, never ever quit and made his opponents earn everything they attained. Frazier didn't win every fight, but if you fought against him, you damned well felt every punch.

In this boxing analogy, Ohio State is Muhammad Ali. Glamorous, sexy, seemingly effortless.

As is generally the case in almost any big athletic contest it enters, Michigan State is the underdog. The Spartans enter the game with a chip on its shoulder. MSU is a defensive team, and defense is decidedly unglamorous.

I have no idea who will win tonight, but MSU definitely has a shot. Play within themselves, don't get too caught up in the emotion of the moment, play the same aggressive, relentless defense that got them there. The same defense we saw against Michigan. I don't expect the Spartans to dominate Ohio State's offense the same way they did Michigan's, but the key to victory may be to simply limit the Buckeyes' scoring chances in the red zone. On the other side of the ball, Connor Cook needs to remain the same steady performer he has been for the last 3/4 of the season, and don't be surprised one bit if Coach D throws in a few trick plays.

And don't forget special teams. Great special teams play has been a hallmark of the Dantonio era, and this year is no exception. Mike Sadler is the best punter in the Big Ten, and it's obvious why Michael Geiger was the most highly recruited placekicker last year. In a close game, the final could very well be decided by special teams play.

There is still a part of me that isn't sure what to expect from Ohio State. Are they a team that has been playing with one arm tied behind the back all year? Have they put in just enough effort to win their games, but are saving their very best for this game? Could we be in for a repeat of the 2011 Capital One Bowl against Alabama? I highly doubt it, but it's in the back of my mind. I'd prefer to compare this to the MSU basketball team's 1999 Elite Eight game against Kentucky. It was, to that point, Tom Izzo's biggest game as coach, and the MSU basketball team was on the ascent and trying to make a name for itself. Most of the national pundits predicted a Kentucky win and gave MSU little chance, but the Spartans shocked everyone by decisively beating the Wildcats, though the game got off to a rocky start with MSU falling behind early 17-4. Still, it was a signature win and established MSU basketball as a program to be reckoned with on the national stage.

Speaking as a fan, I have come to despise Ohio State almost as much as Michigan--(although Michigan has been such a Keystone Kops operation in recent years, I've come to pity them more than hate them). It's really the Urban Meyer factor, the guy comes across as so incredibly smug and arrogant. I have never really had that much of a problem with OSU in the past, but I'd love nothing more than to stop that 24-game winning streak and deflate Meyer's enormous ego just a tiny bit.

This is probably the biggest football game Michigan State has played since 1966. A victory would be huge for the program and for the national perception of MSU football. As usual, I'm trying not to get overly jacked for the game, but realistically I know that no matter what the outcome of the game, I'll probably be up until about 4:00 in the morning. That's just how I operate when it comes to MSU sports.

Win or lose, I'll be back later to either celebrate or commiserate. And, as always, Go Green!

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