Friday, November 30, 2012
Dantonio, O'Brien scout Huskers-Badgers
By Adam Rittenberg and Brian Bennett
Rather than the normal Friday Q&A, we decided to reach out to two coaches who faced both Big Ten championship game participants -- No. 12 Nebraska and Wisconsin -- earlier this season. Michigan State head coach Mark Dantonio and Penn State head coach Bill O'Brien were nice enough to oblige. Both Michigan State and Penn State beat Wisconsin and lost to Nebraska (both in somewhat controversial fashion). Michigan State rallied to beat Wisconsin 16-13 in overtime Oct. 27 at Camp Randall Stadium, and fell to Nebraska 28-24 the following week in East Lansing. Penn State lost 32-23 at Nebraska on Nov. 10 and finished its season with a 24-21 overtime win against Wisconsin last Saturday in Happy Valley.
Dantonio's Spartans played in last year's Big Ten championship game against Wisconsin and have had several exciting games against the Badgers in recent years.
Here's what Dantonio and O'Brien had to say about the title game participants.
On the challenges the two offenses present ...
Quarterback Taylor Martinez helped rally Nebraska past Wisconsin in September.
Dantonio: They're two different types of offenses. You have Nebraska, which is a no-huddle and a more running-spread type thing, and it incorporates option, zone read and different things. Wisconsin is more power-oriented, more pro-style-attack. Both of them play to their strengths. You have marquee players in [Taylor] Martinez from Nebraska, and then also Montee Ball and even James White with Wisconsin. And with Nebraska, you combine it with having [Ameer] Abdullah back there, he's an outstanding player as well, a powerful runner relative to his size.
O'Brien: Both teams are really good. Offensively, it comes down to, in my opinion, how well Wisconsin will be able to run the ball with Montee Ball. For the Nebraska offense, how well does Taylor Martinez play? Those two guys are the focal points of their offenses.
On the two defenses ...
Dantonio: Two very systematic approaches, but two different styles. Nebraska is a 4-3 and more man-conscious. Even when they're zone-conscious, they'll play a lot of man coverage with a downfield safety and different combinations. Wisconsin's going to be a little more zone-oriented. They will get in Cover 1 and man coverage, but you get a little more zone pressure out of Wisconsin than Nebraska. With Nebraska, it's a little more man pressure. You have two defensive coaches by trade [Wisconsin's Bret Bielema and Nebraska's Bo Pelini], and both have been very successful defensive coordinators. Both programs are built on toughness, and both have big-play ability. They have marquee defensive players with [Chris] Borland and [Mike] Taylor on Wisconsin, and then with Nebraska, 51 [Will Compton] and [Eric] Martin stand out, and their secondary is very, very good as well. But I think Wisconsin's secondary can play, too.
O'Brien: I believe Wisconsin has a very, very physical defense, and Nebraska on defense is also very physical and they do a very good job on third down. They disrupt the timing of the passing game. They hit your receivers at the line of scrimmage and do a really good job of that. And like I said, they make it really difficult for you on third down, and I think that's because they are a game-plan, third-down team. They don't just do what they did in previous weeks on third down; they're going to have something new for you. I think a lot of the credit goes to their players and to Bo Pelini for that.
On Wisconsin quarterback Curt Phillips (only Penn State faced him) ...
O'Brien: I thought he was a very poised player. Beaver Stadium is not the easiest place to play, and our front four is not the easiest to play against. But he kept his poise and played a good game and brought them back down the field for a tying touchdown. He knows their offense and is obviously a bright kid and a poised guy.
On which Wisconsin and Nebraska players Michigan State prepared the most for ...
Dantonio: Martinez, because it all goes through him, and we felt [wide receiver] Kenny Bell was excellent. We thought Nebraska really had as good a group of wide receivers as there are in the league. And we had a great deal of respect for Abdullah -- obviously for [Rex] Burkhead, but felt like he probably wasn't going to play against us. We saw Abdullah making a lot of plays. And then for Wisconsin, obviously it's Ball. They're on their third quarterback, which makes a difference, but I thought [Phillips] played pretty well against Ohio State. So Ball and the type of power-oriented attack they have, they get a lot of people to the point of attack with their runs. They create some different things with different formations. And White is another guy, and Gordon can make some plays, too. They have three very good running backs.
On what the game could come down to ...
Dantonio: When you look from afar, you see this league having a lot of parity. Any week, anybody can rise up and play. I know what Wisconsin's record is, and I know what Nebraska's record is, but you can throw out the records as far as I'm concerned. The game always comes down to who makes the least amount of mistakes. I looked at our game last year [against Wisconsin in the league championship] and how it flowed back and forth. Whoever can really regain momentum once they lose it will have an edge. If you can eliminate the big play and eliminate turnovers, or get the big play and eliminate turnovers, then you've got a great chance to win. I think it'll be a great football game.
O'Brien: Both teams are really good. Like every game, it could come down to special teams and a play in the kicking game. Any time you get into a championship game and have two good teams and two really, really good head football coaches, it's going to go right down to the wire.