Scottsdale, Ariz. – From the moment head coach Mark Dantonio and the MSU football team arrived in Arizona on Christmas Eve, they’ve been mulling over a season that didn’t go according to plan.
In preparation for taking on Texas Christian University, or TCU, in the Buffalo Wild Wings Bowl on Saturday at 10:15 ET, in Tempe, Ariz., Dantonio said the one thing the Horned Frogs do best is what he’s been pushing the Spartans to do all season.
“They play extremely hard and with toughness,” Dantonio said. “That’s all I ever asked our football team to do: know what to do, play with great effort, great toughness. When you look at them defensively, when you look at (their) special teams, they are who they are, they do what they do, and they do it very well. As a coach, you respect a lot of that.”
TCU is one of the youngest teams in the country. The Horned Frogs are tied for first in the country with a total of 16 true freshmen seeing action. They also have more true freshmen (16), than scholarship seniors (11).
One of those true freshmen, defensive end Devonte Fields, was voted Big 12 Freshman of the Year and Big 12 Defensive Player of the Year as well as earning All-Big 12 first team honors.
Dantonio said aside from the impressive freshmen, TCU is very athletic and good at transitioning from defending the run to defending the pass.
“The thing that’s most impressive about TCU is their longevity in playing defense,” he said. “That comes from structure, attention to detail (and) coaching. (TCU Head) Coach (Gary) Patterson has had that reputation for a long, long time.”
Still, Patterson was quick to revert the compliments back to Dantonio and said he has been admiring the Spartan head coach for a long time.
“Coach Dantonio is great because he has a very quiet demeanor in public, then he’s faking punts, faking field goals, could go double reverse passes,” Patterson said. “He’s not fooling me. I’ve been watching their program, how they do things, what goes on, how they fit things around.”
TCU has only given up two 100-yard games on the ground this season, and Patterson said stopping junior running back Le’Veon Bell, the Big Ten’s leading rusher with 1,648 yards and a nation-leading 350 carries, is the main focus of the Horned Frogs’ defensive scheme.
“Every day my SID brings me a stack of articles and newspapers, he’s been doing this for the last three weeks from everything up north,” he said. “So I read in between, Mr. Bell’s lost 10 pounds, so he’s been trying (to get) faster, stronger, he thinks this game’s important.”
In the 34 days since the Spartans defeated Minnesota on Nov. 24, Dantonio said the team has been sharp in practice, and has brought an intensity he hadn’t seen earlier in the season.
“We’re ready to go,” Dantonio said. “Our players know what’s at stake every time they step on the football field. Their reputation as a football player and team is on the line every time you step on the field. You better be up for the challenge. If you’re not, you’re going backwards.”