ANAHEIM, Calif. (AP) — Michigan State coach Mark Dantonio declined to give any details about the suspension of starting linebacker Max Bullough when the Spartans joined Stanford at Disneyland on Thursday to kick off their week of Rose Bowl preparations.
The school announced Bullough’s suspension late Wednesday. In Orange County several hours later, Dantonio only confirmed that Bullough violated a team rule.
“We’ve climbed the ladder to get here, and now we have to finish it and win the game,” Dantonio said.
Spartans linebacker Kyler Elsworth knows Bullough will be missed when Michigan State takes on the Pac-12 champion Cardinal in Pasadena on Wednesday. Bullough finished the season with 76 tackles, including 9 1/2 for loss.
“We’ve had to climb hills and adversity before,” said Elsworth, who is splitting first-team work at middle linebacker in Bullough’s absence. “We all have to pick it up and make the best of the situation. We need to fight for 60 minutes.”
With the backdrop of Sleeping Beauty Castle and a 16-piece orchestra on a beautiful summer-like Southern California day, the teams kicked off preparations for the 100th edition of the Rose Bowl.
No. 4 Stanford (11-2) is making its second consecutive Rose Bowl appearance, playing in its fourth straight BCS bowl game. The No. 5 Spartans (12-1), the Big Ten champs, are appearing in the Rose Bowl for the first time in 26 years.
The suspension of a key Michigan State player took Stanford coach David Shaw by surprise.
“I feel sad for (Bullough),” Shaw said. “But as a coach, I understand what you have to do some times. A team is not one person.”
The Cardinal’s powerful offense will be even tougher to stop without Bullough in the middle of the Spartans’ defense.
Stanford is led by Tyler Gaffney, who has rushed for 1,618 yards, including nine 100-yard games. Receiver Ty Montgomery has 2,093 all-purpose yards and is first in the nation in kickoff return average.
The Cardinal defense is led by linebacker Trent Murphy, who leads the nation with 14 1/2 sacks, and Shayne Skov, who recorded 100 tackles.
“Us seniors are leaving our legacy at Stanford,” Murphy said. “We want to win badly.”
But Michigan State has won nine consecutive games heading into the fifth Rose Bowl appearance in school history.
The Spartans are led by running back Jeremy Langford, who has rushed for 1,338 yards and 17 touchdowns, and quarterback Connor Cook who has thrown for 2,433 yards and 20 TDs.
In Bullough’s absence, the Michigan State defense must rally around star defensive back Darqueze Dennard and top defensive lineman Shilique Calhoun. The Spartans still have one of the nation’s top defenses, holding its opponents to an average of 80.8 yards rushing per game.
Both Shaw and Dantonio expect a physical battle.
“This is one of the best teams we’ve faced,” Shaw said. “They’re athletic, fast and they run right at you. They’re a lot of similarities between the two teams. We have to stay focused and play smart with an attitude and have the right mindset.”
Dantonio believes the battle would be in the trenches.
“Our offensive and defensive lines have to play physical and win the game up front,” said Dantonio, the first Michigan State coach to reach a bowl game in each of his first seven seasons. “We have to be ready. Stanford starts fast, and we cannot turn the ball over. It’s been our goal to get here (to the Rose Bowl) for the last seven years. Now we have to finish it.”