For MSU and Iowa, Big Ten title game ancient history

Matt Charboneau

East Lansing — Both teams insist it is ancient history.

Of course, Michigan State and Iowa are referring to the last time they played each other in the 2015 Big Ten championship game. That night in Indianapolis, the Spartans put together an epic, 22-play drive that ended with then-freshmen running back LJ Scott spinning and bouncing off Hawkeyes defenders and stretching the ball out over the goal line in the game’s final minute.

It sent Michigan State to the College Football Playoff, capping a six-year run with 11 or more victories in five seasons, while Iowa “settled” for the Rose Bowl, its perfect season ended.

“It was a tough loss. There was a lot at stake there that day, needless to say, for both teams,” Iowa coach Kirk Ferentz said earlier this week. “We were both at the last stop in terms of conference play. So that was tough. … It feels like it was 10 years ago. It literally does. It's so far back. That one's ancient history.”

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Michigan State coach Mark Dantonio remembers that night fondly as Scott ran the ball 14 times in that 22-play drive.

“It was impressive,” he said. “How big was it? Put us in the playoffs. Put us into one of the top four teams in the nation. And that was the second year for playoffs?

“So, it allowed us to become Big Ten champions and that was a great defensive football game, great drive at the end of the game.”

As the teams prepare to square off at 4 p.m. today at Spartan Stadium, the last meeting will have very little effect on the outcome as there has been plenty of changeover on both rosters.

However, that doesn’t lessen the importance of the game considering it’s the Big Ten opener for Michigan State (2-1) and both teams are trying to overcome losses — Iowa’s coming on the final play at home against No. 4 Penn State while Michigan State turned the ball over three times in a 20-point loss to Notre Dame.

The Hawkeyes and Ferentz, now in his 19th season at Iowa, will take the same approach to bouncing back as they did two years ago after the loss to the Spartans.

“The facts are, you've got to go back to work on Sunday,” Ferentz said.

“You've got to clean some stuff up. You've got to try to flip the page and move on to your opponent. If you can't handle that emotionally, you probably should get out of the sport. You probably won't last long. That's kind of the way it goes.”

Michigan State understands. It has suffered its share of gut-punching losses — the Spartans suffered a similar final-play defeat to Iowa in 2009 as the Hawkeyes endured last week — but more importantly, Michigan State is focused on avoiding a collapse similar to last season.

After winning their first game in 2016, the Spartans lost seven in a row, beginning with the conference opener at home.

They started this season 2-1 and are hoping to reverse their fortune in Big Ten play. To do that, a young team needs to stay focused.

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“It’s really all individual. Everybody has got their own little battles,” fifth-year senior running back Gerald Holmes said.

“We’re a team but if an individual person does good that helps the team. Guys have to go out there with the utmost confidence in themselves and personally understand the man in front of them and control what you do. Go out there and do what you’ve been taught, do what you’ve worked to improve over the years.

“For the most part, guys have got to keep working and understand what is at stake.”

It’s not always easy when you’re young, but the Spartans see it as a positive.

“I think our guys do a good job at that, I really do,” Dantonio said when asked about staying in the moment. “First of all, young people are very good about letting things go and concentrating on exactly what's in front of them. They're much better at that than looking a week into the future or two weeks or three weeks. They're much better focusing on, ‘What do I got to do today?’

“I think that's probably just the way the generation is, or most people are. We have to make sure that what we're doing today affects Saturday.

“That's the way we've got to handle things, and I think from a maturity standpoint our guys have done a good job of doing that thus far.”