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December 1, 2011EAST LANSING - College football pundits predicting that Wisconsin (10-2) will win big against Michigan State (10-2) in the first-ever Big Ten Championship Game do not expect the Spartans to replicate the game-changing plays that they had at night in Spartan Stadium on Oct. 22.
That reasoning appears sound given the unlikelihood of Michigan State blocking and recovering a punt in the end zone for a touchdown again or throwing another game-winning Hail Mary in a second meeting between the Legends and Leaders Division Champs.
But Wisconsin players are not the only ones with plays that they would like back.
That reasoning also presumes that Michigan State had one of its better defensive efforts of the year against the Badgers. The Spartans played well on defense in stretches, but it was far from Michigan State's 'A' game.
"That Hail Mary pass was great for us and it was great that Keith (Nichol) came down with the ball," said senior safety Trenton Robinson, "We made a lot of mistakes to even get ourselves in a position to where we were going to have be throwing a Hail Mary pass. We blew some coverages out there and we missed some tackles... we had some things that we had to correct and we are going to correct so that we don't have to depend on a Hail Pass again."
Robinson is not surprised that his team is a 10-point underdog heading into the championship despite the fact that Michigan State has beaten the Badgers three out of the team's last four meetings.
"Everybody says that Michigan State is going to lose by this or that amount," said the All-Big Ten safety from Bay City, Mich. "We just go out and play football and we know what we are capable of, all of those spreads, this or that, it really doesn't matter to us. When we go out and do it everybody has their mouth open like, 'wow, Michigan State are here to play' That's what we are here for and we are here to stay."
Robinson expects very little change in terms of the defensive game plan against the Badgers.
"We know what they are going to do, they know what we are going to do," Robinson said. "We are going to pound that ball and they are going to pound that ball. There is nothing like it and I was thinking about this last night. I love to play them, they are a good football program and you always go into a game with Wisconsin knowing that it is going to be a good game. You know if you don't come ready to play and you just roll out there without being ready, something bad is going to happen. Every year preparing for them is always fun and you know that you are going to be hit."
Robinson and his teammates on the Spartan defense have a great deal of respect for the Wisconsin offense and its stars Russell Wilson and Montee Ball.
Michigan State defensive backs recorded two picks against Wilson, who only threw three interceptions his entire senior season for the Badgers. But Robinson and his mates in the secondary see several areas that they will need to tighten up in the rematch.
"He is one of the best quarterbacks in the country," Robinson said. "I think he is a great quarterback and I think he manages the game very well. He makes real good decisions. I feel like on our part, we did some things that were pretty good. But I feel like after watching the film of that game, we have a lot of things that we have worked to get better at. I feel like if we eliminate those things, which I feel like we are very capable of doing, which I am sure we are going to do, the game shouldn't be like it was last time."
Michigan State leads the Big Ten and ranks No. 10 nationally in rush defense. The Spartans have held a number of talented tailbacks in check or shut them down altogether, as was the case with Iowa's Marcus Coker, Michigan's Fitzgerald Toussaint, Indiana's Stephen Houston, and Minnesota's Duane Bennett not to mention several dual threat quarterbacks.
The Spartans had less success against Montee Ball, who had 18 carries for 115 yards and a touchdown at Spartan Stadium. The 5-foot-11, 210-pound Wisconsin junior has the full respect of Michigan State defenders who are eager for another chance to measure up against the Big Ten's best tailback.
"I think he is phenomenal," Robinson said. "He runs so hard. Every carry he gets, you can just tell the kind of work that he does in the weight room and in practice. Every opportunity he gets, he hits the hole and you know when he is coming through the hole that there is going to be a collision. That is a great thing. I love that about him and I think he is a great back we are excited to get an opportunity face such a great running back because I have a lot of respect for this guy. I think he runs hard, he hits the hole hard every time, his feet are always running. If you don't wrap him, he is going to keep going. We are excited about that."
Robinson is confident that Michigan State defensive coordinator Pat Narduzzi will come up with a gameplan that puts the Spartan defense in the best possible position to slow down a powerful and prolific Wisconsin offense.
"I think he is a genius with how we watch film and how he breaks everything down," said Robinson of Narduzzi. "Him, the GA's, and the coaches do such a great job with that. Every game that we go into, even the games that we've lost, we've lost because of not executing. It is not because of bad playcalling or coaching or anything like that. It is us missing a tackle or blowing a coverage. He does such a good job. We know everything that the team is going to bring us. Everything a team throws at us, we are not shocked, or saying 'man, I can't believe we just let them get away with that' because we've seen it in practice all week several times. It is an honor to play under coach Narduzzi, I think he does a great job."
Michigan State's game plans are thorough, but they are also player friendly.
"Nothing is really complicated for us, he makes it as simple as possible," said Robinson. "If the guys aren't liking something, he will say, 'you guys aren't liking this, okay, scratch it because we're not doing it if you don't like it.' He makes sure that all of us players are comfortable with the calls that he has and it is a great thing."