Sunday, December 4, 2011

Thoughts on MSU's loss vs. Wisconsin

What a game. The first half was almost identical to the first half of the previous meeting, when MSU feel behind by 14 and rallied back in the second quarter — with an incredible lateral from Keith Nichol to Cunningham for a TD and a fake FG two-point conversion. It came down to the final possessions, when Trenton Robinson and Isaiah Lewis blew the coverage on Russell Wilson's 4th-down heave, later resulting in a touchdown, and Lewis' running into the kicker penalty. Just like the first meeting, this one was an instant classic, it just fell on the wrong side for the Spartans.

MSU led in all the major stats, but two turnovers hurt, and one led to a Wisconsin touchdown. Kirk Cousins and B.J. Cunningham really boosted their NFL stock, racking up yards and points on one of the best pass defenses in the NFL nation (doh!). Cousins went 22-for-30 for 281 yards and three touchdowns, all of which ended up in Cunningham's hands. Cunningham finished with five catches for 115 yards. Denicos Allen was all over the place with all three of MSU's sacks along with four tackles for loss.

The game was not lost on the final penalty. Had there been no penalty, I don't believe Keshawn Martin would have returned the punt like he did. Some of Wisconsin's players didn't give much effort, knowing there was the penalty. And there are no guarantees the Spartans would have won or tied the game on that drive. Mark Dantonio called the punt block, and knowing he has such an aggressive team, that is the risk you take. Yes, it was a penalty too.

The game was lost on some fourth-quarter decisions. When the Spartans got into the red zone early in the fourth quarter, it was quite clear they were playing it safe and playing for a field goal. Kirk Cousins had lit up the Badger secondary all game and two runs on the first two plays told me they just wanted points.

As good as the MSU defense played after the first quarter, the safeties had questionable performances. Two long pass plays - the TD to Jared Abbrederis and the 4th down heave to Duckworth- were the result of blown coverages from the safeties.

I also didn't agree with the decision to punt with three minutes left. Although MSU was a penalty away from getting the ball back, I felt they should have gone for it on fourth down. Also, it looked like Cousins might have had running room on third down, although it was almost a spectacular catch.

We all know the system is broken. Michigan will go to a BCS bowl over MSU, just like 1999. But this is the way things have been and unless someone steps up to take down the BCS, it won't change. MSU is the better team, and the more deserving team, but the BCS is not built for that. This will only add more fuel to the rivalry fire.

As for everything outside the game, the inaugural championship game was a rousing success for the Big Ten. The game was great, I'm sure the ratings will be high. Indianapolis was a great setup. Everything is in walking distance, the weather was great, the stadium is great. All in all, a big success.

Perhaps despite the visual at the game, MSU fans invaded Indy. Everywhere I went, there were MSU fans. It may my have looked there weren't many at the game, but the two-color thing always makes it look like there are fewer fans than there actually are. Wisconsin fans all wore red, so it sticks out more, but there were a lot of MSU fans throughout the Wisconsin section. The announced crowd was 64,000, but the stadium was mostly full outside of the Wisconsin end zone. I think MSU fans should be earning a reputation of traveling well to neutral site games, and I think they would travel extremely well to a BCS bowl this year.

Looking ahead. MSU will probably end up in the Outback Bowl against Georgia. It's not the Rose Bowl, but it's a high-profile matchup. Hopefully MSU fans aren't sick of Florida and will make the trip down to see what should be a good game. Georgia lost in the SEC Championship to LSU. A bowl win over an SEC team would definitely bring some respect that slipped away Saturday.

The season is not over. I feel bad for Cousins not being able to make that elusive Rose Bowl, but it still would be nice for him to finish his career on a high note. The BCS selection show is at 8:15 p.m. on ESPN and the rest of the bowls should come out shortly after. I will post bowl thoughts then.

So again, thank you Indianapolis and the Big Ten for putting on a great cash-grab of an event. I really did have a good time, and despite the loss, I'm sure MSU fans would agree. It looks like this is the start of something good. Some pictures I tweeted from the day can be seen here.

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