Enjoying this year's bowl season from a Big Ten perspective was an easy task. But the Spartans of East Lansing probably didn't have time to pay attention to these highs and lows. Mark Dantonio's squad was enveloped in criminal investigations and suspensions that would leave them hamstrung against the nations #2 pass offense. ESPN sagely listed MSU as the team LEAST likely to win their bowl matchup. So just keep that all in mind as I review this back and forth Alamo Bowl. Maybe, with the knowledge that Big Ten teams were better than anyone knew, we shouldn't be surprised that MSU was able to hold its own against Texas Tech, even under bad playing circumstances.
Kickoff...MSU with a 40 yard run back and the entire bench jumps on Keshawn Martin like he ran it back for a touchdown. I read similar emotions in the press conference via the teams body language - the Spartans know they're an underdog, they're shorthanded, but dammit, they are going to come out inspired. That's the mark of a team with good leaders (Blair White, Kirk Cousins).
Ruffin McNiel, Interim Head Coach...and he wanted the head coaching job. Not happening. Mike Leach has turned TT into a better place to coach at, so the Red Raider admins were going to go after a big name. Tommy Tuberville got the job and is in the process of slowly dismantling the Air Raid principles. I'm going to miss Leach and the pure Air Raid; he made that team worth watching.
Keshawn for 25; makes the catch while hitting the ref, throws in a couple jukes, ...It's going to be fun watching him next year. His maturation is a key for replacing Blair White
Note to all Big Ten teams who lack a capable QB - It's really fun having a guy with a laser arm. Kirk Cousins...has one of them. There is a flip side to having this laser arm though, as Cousins believes he can throw fadeaway bullets into the middle of the field. An early pick gives the Red Raiders good field position.
Swing pass. You run it in Madden when you don't feel like surveying the secondary. TT runs it approximately 20 times with great success. The Spartan secondary never is able to adjust, but that's just one problem for this embattled unit. 7-0 TT, the Red Raiders move the ball easily down the field, running effectively between the tackles.
Mike Leach. TT says "it's your fault for getting fired." Leach says "they don't want to pay me and they want to have more power." ESPN follows TT's side, not surprising at all considering Craig James is an ESPN announcer who threatened to sue the school if Leach wasn't fired for allegedly mistreating Adam James, Craig's son.
Edwin Baker: Lots of positive discussion about Michigan State's young backfield of Baker and Larry Caper. Baker shows some straightline speed on a 50 yard touchdown run. 7-7, I remember my night was turning into bar hopping and partying...and amidst this haze, I was surprised to see MSU making tackles and holding Texas Tech from running away with a game. 10-7 TT after a Red Raider field goal, 17-7 TT, after TT runs a 5 wide formation from the two yard line and a WR breaks free.
MSU Secondary: I wrote so many negative articles about these poor souls, so it's almost not worth shredding or whining about their play anymore. They can't play man, so the one-on-one issues are coming to a hilt. Texas Tech has about 250 yards in a quarter in a half. Big question for 2010 - How will Narduzzi change his defensive strategy after the entire Big Ten lit up his secondary?
Keshawn Martin...Again: MSU effectively runs a scramble drill when the play breaks down. Cousins is flushed, Martin breaks deep...and a 40 yard touchdown results. 17-14 TT, and the Spartans get a stop and then get a field goal blocked. The Big Ten had real FG problems during Bowl season.
Spike Dykes: Greatest coach name ever. The announcer changes the name of the bowl to "The Controversy Bowl." Makes sense. MSU stiffens again on defense and it's 20-14 TT at the half.
FUMBLE on the opening kickoff and the Spartans pick it up. Cousins scrambles again, picks up a shocking first down and takes a helmet to helmet shot. Quarterback draw with Nichol, whose resemblance to Cousins confuses everyone, and holy God the Spartans are leading 21-20 with 12 minutes left in the third quarter.
"No one within 3 steps of him," and this is of course referring to WR Jacoby Franks, scoring from 30 out on a simple head fake that turns into a post route. TT 27, 21 and Sparty is driving, gets stopped but then Aaron Bates the punter completes a 10 yard duck to Chuck Gant on a fake field goal and then GOOD GOD, how deep can you go in the playbook!!! as Keshawn Martin fakes run and then throws a dart to Blair White for a 20 yard touchdown, MSU 28-27. Three different players complete a pass and Don Treadwell, the OC for Dantonio, is showin' me something.
Start of the 4th Quarter and MSU is leading! Do you believe in miracles? Ross Weaver, the Sparty DB, picks off Taylor Potts in MSU territory and the mo has officially turned. MSU is driving again until left tackle Rocco Cironi holds on a trick play and kills the drive. Brett Swenson, who is a little guy with a huge leg, kicks the Spartans to a 31-27 lead.
Play of the Game happens on 3rd and 12 with 6 minutes to go when Steven Sheffield throws a "you turn around at 15 yards" route perfectly and Lyle Leong picks up 40 yards. Remember Sparties momentum? Me neither. Detron Lewis, 9 catches for 109 yards, makes another fantastic catch and backs into the pylon for a touchdown. TT 34-31.
Pouting is exactly what Taylor Potts is doing. 29-43, 372 yards, 2 touchdowns...and he's sitting on the bench while his backup sparks the crowd and the team.
Backbreaking Pick, Version 2.0...Cousins, who is having a fantastic game, throws an unconscionable pick into triple coverage. And this game is toast as the Red Raiders walk away with a 41-31 win...The Spartans will be loaded offensively in 2010 and under Don Treadwell's guidance, I have nothing by confidence in Cousins et all. This game furthered my faith in Treadwell and his understanding of how to use Cousins, Baker, and Martin. But this game was utterly winnable and another heartbreaking loss in a season filled with them.