Posted on: December 3, 2011 11:55 pm
Edited on: December 5, 2011 1:53 am
Posted by Adam Jacobi
In the first-ever Big Ten Championship Game, Wisconsin won a slugfest with Michigan State, 42-39. The game lived up to the expectations set by the two teams' first meeting -- a 37-31 Spartan victory that was won on a last-second Hail Mary -- and although this contest didn't come down to a score on the final play of the game, it hardly lacked for excitement.
Wisconsin struck first and struck hard in the first quarter, featuring a punishing rushing attack that had Montee Ball rush for 105 yards and two scores in the opening frame. That quarter ended with Wisconsin up 21-7 and MSU facing a 4th and 1 on its own 30 yard line, and the Badgers looked like the more capable of the two teams.
Michigan State started that second quarter off with a bang, however, scoring on a 30-yard strike from Kirk Cousins to B.J. Cunningham off a fake pitch. The Spartan defense stiffened considerably after that, holding Wisconsin without a first down and to -4 yards of total offense in that quarter. Meanwhile, Kirk Cousins came alive, going 12-14 for two scores and 137 yards in the quarter, leading Michigan State to 22 straight points and 208 yards of its own. All of a sudden, the 21-7 Badger lead had turned into a 29-21 Spartan advantage, and even that could have been worse; Dan Conroy missed a long field goal for MSU at the end of the half. That missed kick would loom large later.
After the half, Wisconsin answered with a 42-yard score from Wilson to Jared Abbrederis, and the Badgers were within a point. Cousins responded with his third touchdown pass to Cunningham on the night, and momentum was back on the side of Sparty. MSU had held Ball to 10 yards in the second and third quarters combined, and Ball was bottled up on the ensuing drive. But instead, Russell Wilson began to shine, going 5-5 for 43 yards and a touchdown that put the Badgers in position to tie the game. Alas, Wilson's two-point conversion was dropped, and MSU held a 36-34 lead.
The Spartans would add a field goal midway through the fourth quarter to push the lead to 39-34, and while that gave them considerable breathing room, it also left the door open for the Badgers to make a push toward the lead. And push the Badgers did, with Russell Wilson heaving a deep throw to Jeff Duckworth on 4th and 6, and Duckworth making a fantastic leaping catch to keep the Badgers' hopes alive. Ball waltzed in on the very next play, and after a 2-point conversion, Wisconsin retook the lead with 3:45 left on the clock.
Michigan State's offensed proceeded to sputter, but Keshawn Martin made a highlight-reel catch to keep the drive alive on 3rd and long. Unfortunately for Martin, his foot was judged to be out of bounds on replay, and the Spartans punted the ball away with under three minutes left. They would force a three-and-out, but Isaiah Lewis ran into Brad Nortman on the ensuing punt -- one that was returned inside Wisconsin's 5-yard line by Martin -- and as the penalty gave Wisconsin the first down, the Spartans would not see the ball again.
For Wisconsin, the victory means a second straight trip to the Rose Bowl and a likely Top 10 ranking -- its first since Keith Nichol broke the Badgers' hearts with his catch at the goal line back on October 8. For Michigan State, there will be no shortage of regret, no paucity of wishing that just one or two things had not gone wrong in those final minutes.
Posted on: October 16, 2011 3:08 am
Edited on: October 16, 2011 3:08 am
Posted by Adam Jacobi
WINNER: The general order of the universe as we knew it in the spring. Michigan State beat Michigan, Ohio State beat Illinois, Wisconsin beat Indiana, Iowa beat Northwestern, and Penn State beat Purdue. All normal ideas for the casual Big Ten fan during the off-season, more or less. Yet those first two results are rather surprising, because it was Michigan and Illinois coming into the week undefeated and ranked 16th or higher, not MSU or OSU. On Saturday, the Spartans and Buckeyes looked like the teams we figured they'd be coming into the year, though, and in a way so did the Wolverines and the Illini.
Michigan State's victory was the most impressive of the week (sorry, Wisconsin), because nobody has bottled up the Michigan offense like that this year (more on the particulars in a second). After Notre Dame thwacked the Spartans in Week 3, it was fair to wonder if Michigan was also about to run up 30+ points and shut down the MSU rushing attack. Neither happened, and the Spartans are now all of a sudden back in beautiful shape for the Big Ten Legends Division race -- just like we figured before the season.
LOSER: Those do-everything quarterbacks I was so proud of last week. So, Taylor Martinez had the week off, so he's off the hook. Denard Robinson and Nathan Scheelhaase, though? Last week, the two QBs averaged 267 yards passing, 102 yards rushing, and four TDs in their team's victories. Extrapolate those types of numbers over 12 or 13 games, and you've got a Heisman finalist.
Extrapolating single games out for a year is stupid, though, because on Saturday, those numbers dropped substantially. Scheelhaase threw for 169 yards and rushed for 49 more, while Robinson's numbers were a dismal 9-24 for 123 yards passing (one TD) and 18 rushes for 42 yards (another TD). Not surprisingly, both QB's teams lost by double digits. It's certainly fine to have a do-everything quarterback helming your offense, but that just means it's imperative that that quarterback actually puts big numbers up; if he doesn't, that team's in real trouble.
WINNER: Illinois' pass defense. Wow, the Illini held Ohio State to 17 yards on Saturday! That's quite an accomplishment! Yep, 17 yards on 1-4 passing. But wait... if the Buckeyes only passed four times for the entire game, then that means... uh-oh.
LOSER: Illinois' rush defense. Oh, there's the rest of the story. Ohio State rushed 51 times to the four passes, totalling 211 yards on the ground, and Dan Herron led the way with 113 yards in his first game back from suspension. Honestly, Illinois' effort on defense wasn't bad, and holding OSU to 4.1 yards a pop on the ground isn't really cause for panic, but this was an Illini rush defense that had been ranked ninth in the nation coming into the week, averaging 2.3 yards per carry given up. The Illini front seven had a reputation to uphold, and it didn't do a great job of it.
WINNER: Somehow, inexplicably, Penn State. Penn State is 6-1 and on the verge of being in the Top 25. That is amazing news to anyone who has watched Penn State play, because the Nittany Lions are, at times, bafflingly bad on offense. The QB rotation between Matt McGloin and Rob Bolden continues to confound PSU fans, the rushing game comes and goes, and Penn State has now beaten the foursome of Temple, Indiana, Iowa, and Purdue by a grand total of 25 points. This team should not be 6-1, but there's no "should" column next to wins and losses.
The latest victory is a 23-18 decision over hapless Purdue, a game that should have been tied in the 4th quarter at 20-all if Purdue hadn't missed a PAT then missed a 2-point conversion to make up for the missed kick. Now, to be fair, Purdue never led, PSU never let Purdue manage so much as a first down after the game was 20-18, and the game ended with Penn State up 5 and taking knees inside the Boilermaker 10 yard line, but it was still another ugly, wretched affair all around. And yet just like the 4-point win over Temple and the 6-point win over Indiana, Penn State just did all it needed for the victory, and nothing more. Hey, a win's a win.
LOSER: Mark Dantonio's reputation as a disciplinarian. It seems like every season, fans are treated to anecdotes about what a great coach Mark Dantonio is, and how high his standards of player discipline are. "Zero tolerance" are his words, not ours. And it also seems like every season, there's an instance of Dantonio basically punting on discipline with his star players, like with Chris L. Rucker rejoining the team immediately after serving an 8-day jail sentence, or B.J. Cunningham taking part in a massive brawl on campus and missing one game as a result.
With that in mind, then, it's really not surprising to see star DE Will Gholston allowed to stay in a game after he punched Michigan OL Taylor Lewan (who, to be fair, had been holding Gholston's head on the ground earlier in the play). It was Gholston's second personal foul of the afternoon, with the first being a combination of a late hit and a face mask on Denard Robinson. The Big Ten may very well intervene and keep Gholston out for next week's game against Wisconsin, but the fact that Dantonio kept Gholston in the game after both incidents speaks far, far louder than Dantonio's claims of "zero tolerance."
WINNER: The Iowa athletic department. Before today's game, the fans at Kinnick Stadium were all given two-sided cards for one of those old-fashioned card stunts. The end result was really, really cool, and don't be surprised to see more of this type of thing around college football stadiums nationwide in the next few years or so.
LOSER: Iowa's Northwestern demons. For years, the Hawkeyes have struggled mightily against Northwestern, sometimes even at the expense of BCS bowl dreams. All in all, coming into today, Iowa had lost five of its last six against the Wildcats -- and the last four losses featured double-digit Hawkeye leads.
So when Iowa ran up a 17-0 lead on Saturday, then watched the Wildcats string together drive after drive to tie the game up at 17-17, it was only natural for Hawkeye fans to think, "here we go again." Fortunately for the home crowd, Iowa responded with 17 straight points of its own, and held on for the 41-31 victory. The win pushes Iowa to 4-2 (1-1) on the year, and with Michigan, Michigan State, and Nebraska all looming on the schedule, this win was crucial to the Hawkeyes' hopes for securing another winning season.
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Tags: Adam Jacobi, B.J. Cunningham, Big Ten, Chris L. Rucker, Denard Robinson, Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Iowa Card Stunt, Kinnick Stadium Card Stunt, Mark Dantonio, Matt McGloin, Michigan, Michigan State, Nathan Scheelhaase, Northwestern, Notre Dame, Ohio State, Penn State, Purdue, Rob Bolden, Taylor Lewan, Temple, Week 7, What I Learned, Will Gholston, Winners and Losers, Wisconsin
Posted on: September 2, 2011 11:34 pm
Posted by Adam Jacobi
MICHIGAN STATE WON. The No. 17 Michigan State Spartans overcame a slow start and dispatched the Youngstown State Penguins, 28-6, under the lights at Spartan Stadium (more on that, by the way, in a little bit). Kirk Cousins was cruelly efficient at 18-22 for 221 yards and a score through the air, and big back Le'Veon Bell punched in two more scores on the ground for the Spartans.
WHY MICHIGAN STATE WON: Michigan State is just too talented on offense for YSU to bottle up the attack for four quarters. Cousins had little difficulty finding open receivers, although he didn't have to find anyone other than B.J. Cunningham too often. Cunningham had nine of the Spartans' 18 receptions, 130 of the team's 221 receiving yards, and the team's only score through the air. The performance left him tied with Matt Trannon for most catches in Michigan State history, and with 11 or 12 games left in the season, odds are that Cunningham will obliterate that program record by the end of the year.
WHEN MICHIGAN STATE WON: Youngstown State never led during the game, but this game wasn't really in hand for Michigan State until Cousins found Cunningham with a rocket of a throw for the 18-yard score, making it 21-6 with just under five minutes left in the third quarter.
WHAT MICHIGAN STATE WON: The Spartans may not have looked quite as impressive as Wisconsin did in its Thursday opener, but they did demonstrate the ability to move the ball with ease both on the ground and through the air. Holding YSU QB Kurt Hess to just 135 passing yards on 38 attempts is a major victory for the Spartan secondary, even if they "only" forced one interception.
WHAT YOUNGSTOWN STATE LOST: The Penguins lost little other than pride, although the Penguins and their coaches will not doubt lament the missed scoring opportunities in the first half. An upset wasn't seriously in the cards, even with MSU leading only by eight points in the second half, but the 28-6 final score belies the difficulty YSU gave the 17th-ranked Spartans for the first three quarters.
THAT WAS CRAZY: Late in the second quarter, following a missed field goal by Youngstown State kicker David Brown, a bank of temporary lights went out. The game was stopped briefly, but game officials decided the light levels were sufficient to go forward. No word on if the shanked field goal was directly responsible for the outage.
Posted on: December 31, 2010 9:27 pm
Posted by Tom Fornelli
The Basics: Alabama (9-3) vs. Michigan State (11-1), Jan. 1, 1pm ET
Why You Should Watch: If you're a fan of defensive football, then this game may be your dream matchup. Now, on the surface, not many people seem to be giving Michigan State a chance in this game, and it's understandable. After all, Alabama is the defending national champ and has a bit of a chip on its shoulder following what it feels is a disappointing season. Nobody seems to be paying much attention to the fact that Michigan State has only one loss, and has been a very solid team all season. This one could turn out to be one of those New Year's Day shockers.
Keys to Victory for Alabama: I think the biggest key for Alabama in this game is that it wants to play in it. It's not crazy to think that the Tide might show some disinterest in this one. After all, this is a team that feels it's supposed to be getting ready to defend its title in ten days, or at least in a BCS bowl game. Not playing in Orlando in the "second-tier" Capital One Bowl.
Of course, on the flip side of that, this could be an angry team. One hell-bent on destroying the Spartans. If Alabama cares then I see no reason why it shouldn't pick up the victory. The Tide are more talented than Michigan State at just about every position. Plus, one of Alabama's weakness is it's pass protection and Michigan State hasn't had much of a pass rush all season. Still, that doesn't mean Alabama should fall into the trap of trying to throw all day. Yes, Julio Jones is a monster, but the secondary is probably the one aspect of this game in which Michigan State has an advantage on the Tide.
Instead we should get a healthy dose of Mark Ingram and Trent Richardson, and seeing those two matchup against MSU's Greg Jones is something that every college football fan should enjoy.
Keys to Victory for Michigan State: The Spartans have used a balanced offense to find success all season, and that shouldn't change in this game if they want to pull off the upset. Yes, Alabama is tough against the run, but the Spartans have a few options at running back with Edwin Baker, Le'Veon Bell and Larry Caper and have the ability to wear the Tide down.
Also, just because the Spartans will be without B.J. Cunningham -- the teams leading receiver -- that doesn't mean they don't have options in the passing game. Plus the Tide will be without Mark Barron, which will only help matters. Kirk Cousins has been one of the most underrated quarterbacks in college football this season, and he'll still have plenty of weapons at his disposal in Mark Dell, Keith Nichol, Charlie Gantt and Brian Linthicum.
The X-factor could be the speedster Keshawn Martin. He's very dangerous in space, so look for the Spartans to try and find him some.
The Capital One Bowl is like: the movie 300. The Spartans will be playing the role of the Spartans, and Alabama is the giant Persian army marching in looking to crush everything and everyone in its path. All that's missing are the air-brushed abs and gratuitous nudity. Will these Spartans emerge victorious, or end up in a pile of bodies?
Posted on: December 21, 2010 12:25 pm
Posted by Tom Fornelli
There's a part of me that feels sorry for Michigan State this season. Like Ohio State and Wisconsin, the Spartans went 11-1 this season and picked up a share of the Big Ten title. Unlike Ohio State and Wisconsin, the Spartans aren't going to a BCS bowl game this season thanks to a big loss against an Iowa team that stumbled down the stretch.
Instead they'll be going to the Capital One Bowl where they get to face Alabama. Not that it's anything to be ashamed of, but when you win a share of the Big Ten title, you expect a bit more. Unfortunately for the Spartans, the hits keep on coming now that the regular season is over. The team's leading receiver B.J. Cunningham broke his foot during practice on Saturday and won't be able to play in the game.
"B.J. Cunningham is a great competitor and he's extremely disappointed to be out for the Capital One Bowl game against Alabama," Michigan State coach Mark Dantonio said in a release from the school.
"B.J. had another outstanding season, and I know that he'll work hard during his rehab and set himself up for a big senior year."
Cunningham had 50 catches and 9 touchdowns this season, both of which led the Spartans. The good news for Michigan State is that they have a couple of talented receivers behind Cunningham in Mark Dell and Keshawn Martin, but when you're going against a defense like Alabama's, you want as much talent on your side as you can get.
So not having Cunningham available will only make a tall task that much taller.
Posted on: November 27, 2010 1:29 pm
Posted by Tom Fornelli
Michigan State finds itself in a precarious position this weekend. The Spartans need to win to keep their Big Ten title hopes alive, and while a win would guarantee at least a split of the conference championship, in order to get to the Rose Bowl, they'll need some help. In particular, the Spartans need their in-state rivals to take care of Ohio State on Saturday.
Of course, all Michigan State can control is its own game, and the Spartans are taking care of business through the first 30 minutes in Happy Valley. The Spartans lead Penn State 14-3 at haltime thanks to a touchdown run by Edwin Baker and a touchdown catch by B.J. Cunningham. Still, the Spartans have let a couple of opportunities slip through their hands -- literally.
Twice Michigan State defensive backs have had balls hit them right in the hands, and neither ended in an interception. One allowed Penn State to get a field goal.
Penn State hasn't played poorly, though the Nittany Lions are hurting themselves with penalties and while they've been able to move the ball, it hasn't resulted in points on the scoreboard.
Michigan State will need to make sure that trend continues, because the way things look in Columbus right now, I'm not sure it can count on Michigan taking care of the Buckeyes.
Posted on: October 23, 2010 3:27 pm
Posted by Jerry Hinnen
When we last off with Michigan State vs. Northwestern , the homestanding Wildcats were manhandling the favored Spartans on the ground and had opened up a commanding 17-0 second quarter lead. They never really stopped manhandling them, either; until a late, essentially meaningless Edwin Baker touchdown run, Northwestern was outgaining the Spartans 2-to-1 in the rushing game.
Which is why Michigan State went to the air in the second half, changed the game, and won 35-27 . Spartan quarterback Kirk Cousins enjoyed a monster second half, finishing with 335 yards on 32-of-45 passing, three touchdowns, and no interceptions. MSU wideouts B.J. Cunningham and Mark Dell each finished with over 100 yards receiving. They were all at their best on the Spartans' critical 11-play, 89-yard fourth-quarter drive to take the lead, as Cousins went 8-of-9 for 96 yards (the Spartans turned 2nd-and-20 and 3rd-and-15 situations into first downs after sacks) and Cunningham added a brilliant touchdown reception after an end-zone deflection.
Sparty also got a boost from another Mark Dantonio fake punt that led to a touchdown and two critical Northwestern turnovers, one on the Spartan 1-yard line in the first half and a Dan Persa interception that helped lead to MSU's first score of the second half. But Cousins was the difference-maker, hitting his routes on perfect timing again and again. Ohio State annihilated Purdue as comprehensively as it's possible to annihilate a Big Ten opponent, but it's not going to matter as long as Cousins and his receivers continue executing at this level and Dantonio's squad continues to show the kind of resilience they did today.