EVANSTON - Following his team's 31-17 victory at Northwestern, Mark Dantonio indicated that the Spartans would forego their typical Sunday evening routine of reviewing film from previous week's game and begin preparation for this Saturday's Big Ten Championship Game against Wisconsin.
That plan suits defensive captain Trenton Robinson given how much is at stake next weekend in Indianapolis.
"This is the biggest game of our careers coming up next," explained the third-year starter at free safety. "Every game gets bigger and this is the biggest game of our career. This is the game that will allow us to be Big Ten champs all alone, not sharing it with anyone. And that will send us to the Rose Bowl. This is the biggest game of our career. This is 'you better be ready.'"
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Robinson and Michigan State's 16 other seniors would be disappointed with anything less than a spot in the 2012 Rose Bowl.
"This is the end of the road that we are coming to," Robinson explained. "We can't afford to lose. If we lose this game, it takes away all of our goals, all that we have worked for. We have worked to be the best in the Big Ten. We didn't work to be second best. We want to be the best.
"It is a great feeling to have ten wins and be Legends (Division) champions. But we want to be Big Ten champs, we want to be Rose Bowl champs. The ten wins was good, but if we would have had nine wins and a Big Ten Championship it is still a good feeling. We play to be Big Ten Champs."
Fifth-year senior nose tackle Kevin Pickelman is proud of everything his class has accomplished. But like Robinson, the 6-foot-4, 288-pound former Marshall star wants to play his final game as a Spartan in the Rose Bowl.
"I never imagined that I was going to be at this point or to have these opportunities," said Pickelman, who recorded eight tackles and a sack against Northwestern in his ninth consecutive start this season. "It is a dream come true and I am going to put in all of the work that I can, do anything that I can to get that championship."
Big Series, Big Hit: Michigan State was clinging to a seven-point lead when line Jairus Jones was flagged for a personal foul on punt coverage allowing Northwestern to begin its second offensive series of the fourth quarter in Spartan territory.
Michigan State received a much-needed break when Northwestern tailback Jacob Schmidt was flagged for a hold after tackling Denicos Allen.
One play later, junior defensive tackle Jerel Worthy blew by the left guard and flattened senior quarterback Dan Persa for a loss of nine yards.
"I feel like when I go out there and play and do my job and I have fun doing it and try and be as consistent as possible, this defense is a lot better," said Worthy. "Our front four plays a lot better, and other guys are able to make a lot more plays if I am doing my job drawing double teams and trying to fight off blocks, it frees a lot of guys up to make a lot of plays."
Click through for an interview with Jerel Worthy
Strong Spartan Presence in Evanston: Michigan State finished Big Ten play with a 7-1 overall record including a 3-1 in Big Ten road games.
All three of Michigan State's conference road victories came against bowl eligible opponents. The Spartans their first two conference road victories in two of the league's more hostile environments, at Ohio State and at Iowa.
A large percentage of 32,172 fans in attendance at Northwestern were cheering for the green and white.
"It was a great atmosphere for us," said Robinson. "It felt like we were at home almost, like a littler home. Our fans were rooting for us. Sometimes we'd make a play and I would here 'oooh.' And I would be sitting down, thinking 'did they get a pick?' Then I would look up and it would be a long pass. It was just loud and our fans did a great job today. It was just a good feeling out there. Everybody was just kind of fired up to get this win because it means a lot for us."
Click below for a postgame interview with Robinson
Pickelman likes playing up-tempo teams: Fifth-year Spartan senior Kevin Pickelman may be the only defensive lineman in college football that relishes the opportunity to face an up-tempo spread offense like Northwestern's.
"I like playing the spread teams," explained Pickelman. "I like the gaps being a little bigger. I am able to try some different moves. The footing was definitely difficult and I had to try and keep my feet under me. With that fast tempo, some people get tired. I just dig down deep and try and keep playing."
Click below for a postgame interview with Pickelman
Ground game takes another step: Michigan State's rushing attack showed signs of growth for the third consecutive week after gaining 166 yards total and averaging 4.6 yards per carry at Northwestern.
Senior captain Joel Foreman, a four-year starter at guard, was encouraged by the results.
"We talked a lot about building on the momentum that we've had, " Foreman said. "I think we've ran the ball great in the last three games and Northwestern is a quality opponent. They always play us hard and it has always been a physical battle. We knew we had to show up today and play at a high level. We wanted to carry momentum over to next week no matter who we faced. We wanted to establish the run and keep running."
The Spartans were led by sophomore tailback Le'Veon Bell, who gained 86 yards on 16 carries and a touchdown.
Click below for an interview with Joel Foreman.
Allen continues making big plays: Sophomore linebacker Denicos Allen couldn't prevent a touchdown pass from Persa to Demetrius Fields that pulled Northwestern within a touchdown of the Spartans early in the fourth quarter.
But the 5-foot-10, 220-pound Sam linebacker got his revenge with a pair of sacks on the same series later in the fourth quarter. Allen was also credited with two quarterback hurries, two tackles for loss, and a pass break-up.
"It was a challenge, but a challenge that will make us better as linebackers," said Allen of the playing against a Northwestern offense built to take advantage of coverage mismatches with wide receivers on linebackers. "I think it is something that me and linebackers like Chris Norman look forward to, agile linebackers facing, agile quarterbacks. I definitely look forward to it and I think it helps out in the long run."
Click below for an interview with Denicos Allen.