Monday, January 2, 2012

Thoughts on MSU's Outback Bowl win vs. Georgia.

B-1-G! B-1-G! Ok, not exactly.

Kirk Cousins' final season at MSU started with the famous speech at the Big Ten Kickoff Luncheon. It appeared it would end the way so many others did: with disappointment. After rallying back from a 16-0 deficit to take a 20-19 lead, MSU trailed Georgia 27-20 with just under four minutes remaining. When Georgia picked up a first down and the clock starting winding down, it appeared MSU was on the brink of defeat.

But a smart challenge from Mark Dantonio that caught many by surprise ended up making a huge difference. The challenge saved some clock, MSU got the ball with two minutes left and Cousins kept his season alive driving MSU down and into the end zone with 14 seconds left. And after some questionable calls from both teams in the overtimes, Anthony Rashad White's arm saved a 33-30 Outback Bowl victory; the first under Dantonio and the first for MSU since 2001.

(Highlights from MSU here)
(via @sbnation)
For all the big plays made, this win was about the MSU seniors, who have taken MSU to unprecedented heights with back-to-back 11-win seasons. The only ones in school history. On the game-tying drive at the end of regulation, Cousins went 5-for-7 passing with four completions to his fellow seniors. For everything the class had accomplished, they hadn't achieved what Mark Dantonio has said are the team's top two goals: Play in the Rose Bowl and win the final game of the season. They didn't win the Rose Bowl on Monday, but you could see how much the other goal meant to them.

Cousins finished 27-for-50 for 300 yards, one touchdown and three interceptions. When he threw his third pick in the first overtime, it appeared he was set for a Brett Favre ending (Favre nearly ended his careers with each team with an interception as his final pass). But Georgia coach Mark Richt made one of several questionable calls, playing for a 42-yard field goal. His kicker missed and MSU ultimately won. It wasn't his best game, but you had to be happy for Cousins to go out on top. For everything he's done off the field and what he has meant to the MSU community, it would have been a shame if he went out with a loss and a poor performance.

Oh, and he also broke the school record for passing yards. All the major records are his, and he surely has to go down as the best quarterback in school history, as well as people.

While the win was about the seniors, the game was won by MSU's defense. MSU had a season-high and school-bowl-record 17 tackles for loss. Georgia had a season-low 51 rushing yards, averaging just 1.3 yards per carry. Georgia's offensive line averaged out at 329 pounds, a 40-pound average edge on MSU's defensive line, but the Spartans played big and creative blitzes from Pat Narduzzi helped stymie Georgia's ground game. They also spooked Georgia quarterback Aaron Murray.

Jerel Worthy likely boosted his NFL stock in this game and may be gone, William Gholston made it look like next season will be his last and Anthony Rashad White filled in quite admirably for injured Kevin Pickelman. Rashad White had a career-high seven tackles, including three for loss and had the final blocked kick to secure the win. And of course there was a creative name for the play.

"We got the call from coach, I think it was "Monster," and Jerel got a good surge off the ball," Rashad White said in a quote from MSU. "I followed right behind him, jumped as high as I could and blocked it."

MSU's defense gave up just 18 points to Georgia in regulation. They went toe-to-toe against an SEC team and came out on top.

Worthy jump-kick! From
(click on the image for animation)

On the other side of the ball, Dan Roushar will take a lot of heat for some playcalling, but won't get credit for the adjustments he made. On MSU's first touchdown, the Spartans came out in all sorts of formations that confused Georgia. Not all of his adjustments were good, but at least he started to change up things, something that has hurt the MSU offense in years past.

At halftime, MSU trailed 16-0 and Kirk Herbstreit basically said it was over. He apparently didn't watch the half, because MSU had given up 207 yards, but 140 of that had come on two plays. It wasn't the world-famous SEC speed that resulted in the punt return touchdown, it was overcommitment from three Spartans on the coverage. MSU was still in the game and eventually made the comeback. No more talk of SEC speed and dominance when it comes to the Spartans. MSU held its own.

Also of note, B.J. Cunningham tied Devin Thomas' 2007 record with 79 catches on the season.

Some of the most underrated plays in the game were Larry Caper's tackle after a Cousins interception (would have been a TD, resulted in a FG) and Brad Sonntag's holding. Long-snapper is not a position one would think plays a big role, but with Matt Giampapa suspended, Sonntag came down with some big-time holds after bad snaps on the late tying touchdown and in overtime.

MSU likely will finish in the top 10 in the polls, but might not be there to start next season if Worthy leaves. MSU proved that last season wasn't a fluke. They went through probably the toughest schedule in the Big Ten and finished with the best record in the conference. They fell short in the championship game, but the program still took a major step forward. People were ready to come out with the "Same old Spartans," (see: Sparty no!) but this isn't them. The negative talk about the Big Ten will continue, but the Spartans don't have to listen to it. They did their job.

Next season, Andrew Maxwell will have big shoes to fill. Everyone in the program has the utmost confidence in the former Midland star, but he won't need to shine next year. MSU returns 10 players from its bowl-starting defense (nine if Worthy leaves) and it appears defensive coordinator Pat Narduzzi will be sticking around for now. The Spartans also return four starters on an offensive line that still has a high ceiling. Maxwell will have a completely new receiving corps, but it's a group he has worked with on the second-team offense. All of the major running backs will return and I expect Le'Veon Bell to be one of the best running backs in the Big Ten.

So farewell to Kirk Cousins, one of the best people I will ever cover as a journalist. He will go on to find much success in something, on the field or off it, and will change the lives of many people. Because that's always been what's most important to him. All the seniors helped change the culture for MSU and took the program to the next level. Joel Foreman finished tied with Eric Gordon for most starts in school history (50). He would have the record if he didn't give up his spot to Arthur Ray against Youngstown State. But which was more important?

I'll end this with a quote from Keith Nichol on Cousins, per the Lansing State Journal, and a video of the men's basketball team's reaction to the game.

"I hugged him at the end of the game, I said it’s just been a blessing to go along on this ride with him, to have someone like that on my side, in my corner. I couldn’t ask to be with a better person through a journey like that. And to connect like that … it was a big moment for the team... 

"It’s something as a man, to go through something for four or five years and say you competed in college football and you made it through the grind of early-morning conditioning, workouts, whatever it is, walking off the field and knowing you gave everything you had – that’s the best feeling I’ve ever had. I mean, that was better than the Hail Mary catch for me. This is a game I will remember. I’ll see that Hail Mary catch for a long time, but I won’t remember that like I remember this right here. Hugging B.J. and Kirk, Foreman, Keshawn. I mean, that’s what makes college football so great. The relationships you have with those kind of guys.”

Is it time for spring football yet???

1 comment:

  1. thanks Chris. This was an awesome game!