I don't know where to start with this game. Or with these teams.
It was the best of times, it was the worst of times.
It was the worst game I have ever watched. It was also the best game I have ever watched. The venue was theirs; Michigan State vs. Wisconsin in the Big Ten title game, fighting for a shot at Pasadena on primetime.
Both teams responded with a thriller for the ages, and one of the wildest games of the entire Big Ten season.
For the Michigan St. Spartans, winners of a previous game against the Wisconsin Badgers in improbable fashion, it was a chance at vindication. It was a chance to prove that they deserved to go to Pasadena.
The Big Ten Title (and all the rights and privileges thereof) came down to the wire. On 4th and 3 with under 2:00 remaining in the 4th Quarter, Brad Nortman punted away to Keshawn Martin...and delivered a performance worthy of an Academy Award. Martin ran the ball back inside the Wisconsin 5...but the Spartans were called for running into the kicker (which they did). And as Michigan State was out of timeouts...
All Wisconsin had to do was kneel out the clock.
Montee Ball scored 4 TDs on the day (3 rush, 1 receiving) and ran for 137 yards on 27 carries (5.1 YPC).
In order to understand the wild result (and the 42-39 final score), some context is necessary.
Michigan State gained 471 yards of total offense, significantly outgaining Wisconsin (which racked up 345 yards of total offense). However, in a reprise of the earlier game, a fumble by Michigan State set up Wisconsin's 2nd TD. The Badger offense got off to a roaring start, recording 21 points in the first quarter (and over 100 yards from Montee Ball). One of these scores was courtesy of a fumbled kickoff by Nick Hill. It looked like Wisconsin could well run away with the game in the 1st quarter, and the hard running of Montee Ball was going to do it.
Then Mark Dantonio began throwing the entire playbook at Wisconsin, and the Spartans scored 22 points in the 2nd quarter. 22 seems odd, doesn't it? Dantonio called a brilliantly executed 2-point conversion to Brad Sonntag, and the Spartans led 22-21. Wisconsin's defense and offense were utterly inept in the 2nd Quarter, and Michigan State looked almost unstoppable. The only blemish for the Spartan offense on the day was a Kirk Cousins pass over the middle that was intercepted by Shelton Johnson. But Wisconsin went three and out after the interception and MSU rapidly drove the distance for a score by Le'Veon Bell.
One of the key moments of the game was right before the half. MSU had a chance to extend their advantage to 32-21 on a 51-yard FG attempt by Dan Conroy. Unfortunately for Michigan State, 51 yards, even indoors, is not an easy kick and Conroy missed wide to the right. Wisconsin went into the locker room down 29-21, but were still very much alive despite an absolutely atrocious second quarter.
MSU's defensive adjustments after the 1st Quarter were huge; the Spartan defense began to key on running plays from the 2nd Quarter on and Montee Ball was held severely in check the rest of the game. But in the 3rd Quarter, Wisconsin took advantage of a gigantic breakdown in Michigan State's coverage; Russell Wilson lofted a pass to a wide open Jared Abbrederis for the TD, and Wisconsin cut MSU's lead to one. Making matters worse for Michigan State was a gigantic facemask penalty on Johnny Adams, who went high trying and failing to sack Russell Wilson. Adams gouged Wilson's eye in the process.
Chris Borland separates Keshawn Martin's do-rag and helmet from the rest of his body. Unfortunately, this tackle came AFTER MSU gained 15 yards on this play.
MSU's next possession wasn't particularly great, but the Spartans drove past midfield and took an intentional delay of game after being stopped on a 4th and 3. Mike Sadler, and some spectacular work by the Spartan STs, pinned Wisconsin at its own one yard line. Wilson snuck on 1st down to try and buy some breathing room, and Ball got 3 more yards on 2nd down. On 3rd and 5, Wilson lofted a pass...only for it to be out of the reach of Nick Toon's
tiny little arms. Wisconsin punted, but Martin ran it back 12 yards to put Michigan State in striking distance.
Michigan State took immediate advantage of this, and on 3rd and 6 from the 44, Wisconsin improbably lined up with only one deep safety. B.J. Cunningham ran a deep crossing pattern, and went untouched into the endzone for his 3rd TD of the game, putting MSU up 36-28.
Wisconsin was not done, however, and Michigan State found itself vulnerable to the air attack. On a 3rd and 9, Wilson found little-used WR Jeff Duckworth on a short pattern into the flat; Duckworth shook a tackle and gained enough for the first down. Jacob Pederson was the recipient of Wilson's next pass, and gained 13 yards for another 1st down. Wilson then turned to Jared Abbrederis, and the walk-on caught a 12-yard strike for Wisconsin's 3rd first down of the drive. Wilson then took a shot, and Nick Toon was interfered with by Johnny Adams in the endzone. The ball was spotted at the 2, but Michigan State sprang through the gaps and stifled Ball for a 3-yard loss on 3rd and goal. Wilson and the Badgers then surprised the Spartans with a shovel pass, and Ball carried into the endzone to cut MSU's advantage to 36-34.
But the 2-point attempt failed. Wisconsin now found itself facing a Michigan State offense they had proven utterly hopeless against in the 2nd quarter. They stood up, and on 3rd and 5 from the Wisconsin 8, Kick Cousins's pass fell incomplete. Conroy trotted out and nailed a 25-yard FG, and Michigan State led 39-34.
Jared Abbrederis ran back the ensuing kick 33 yards, setting up Wisconsin at its own 36 yard line with under 9 minutes remaining. 64 yards separated Wisconsin from its first lead since the 1st half of the game. Russell Wilson led the Badgers into striking range. Despite two false start penalties, the Badgers would not die. They would not go away, and on 4th and 6, Wilson survived the Michigan State rush...and delivered a dying duck of a pass to Jeff Duckworth, who made an amazing catch at the Michigan State 7. On the next play, Montee Ball plunged into the endzone, giving Wisconsin the lead, 40-39. But they weren't quite done; the Badgers lined up for 2 to take a 42-39 lead. The pass protection broke down, but Wilson survived again to find Jacob Pedersen for the score.
Wisconsin then did something very silly on the kickoff, squibbing it downfield instead of trying to boom it deep. MSU nearly made the Badgers pay for that mistake, and started from the Michigan State 37. But on 1st down, Cousins's first strike (into coverage) fell incomplete. Bell was stopped for a gain of 2 on 2nd down. On 3rd down, Cousins's final pass attempt of the game also fell incomplete. Sadler punted, and Wisconsin had 2:57 separating them from immortality.
MSU only had two timeouts, and used both to bring the clock to a stop with 2:40 remaining. But on 4th and 3, Michigan State rushed the punt...and Brad Nortman delivered a spectacular fall worthy of an Academy Award, an Oscar, A GOLDEN GLOBE! But Michigan State ran into the punter, and that was all that was necessary.
Out of timeouts, Michigan State was trapped, helpless, at Wisconsin's mercy. None was had. The Badgers kneeled 3 times, running out the clock and bringing to a close Michigan State's hopes of a Big Ten Championship game.
For Michigan State, this was a great game in that they tallied their season-high for yards and Kirk Cousins worked his magic time and time again. It was their worst in that the defense proved unable to stop Wisconsin on its final TD drive, and allowed 345 yards without one turnover.
The Wisconsin Badgers are your 2011 Big Ten Champions!