After a quick start gave the Badgers a 14-0 lead, the Spartans answered with 23 second quarter points and won on a last second hail mary pass, breaking the hearts of Badger fans everywhere. The Spartans ended the Badgers’ bid for an unbeaten season, winning 37-31 and taking control of the Big Ten.
Turning Point: With about five minutes left in the second quarter, the Spartans blocked a 30-yard field goal attempt by Philip Welch. The field goal would have given the Badgers a 17-9 lead and helped the Wisconsin recover from the safety it suffered on the previous possession. Instead, the Spartans took the ball and drove 80 yards for a touchdown– a 35-yard pass from Kirk Cousins to B.J. Cunningham that gave MSU a 16-14 lead. Still reeling from the blocked field goal, the Badgers failed to do anything before halftime and lined up to punt with 37 seconds remaining. The Spartans blocked the punt and recovered it in the end zone to make the score 23-14. This sequence got the crowd into the game after it was quiet early, and swung the momentum entirely to Michigan State heading into halftime. The Badgers roared back with 14 points in the fourth quarter, but fell short on the last-second 44-yard pass from Cousins to Keith Nichol.
Player of the Game: Kirk Cousins. He finished with 290 yards and three touchdowns on 22-31 passing, and made great throws to get the Spartans out of tough spots. He got some help from his favorite target B.J. Cunningham, who also deserves mention here for his five catches, 90 yards and a touchdown. Cousins looked like a senior quarterback, keeping his team calm after an early fumble by Edwin Baker and making good throws at key times. One of his most impressive was the second quarter 35-yard pass to Cunningham, which came on fourth and two. Cousins was patient in the pocket and waited for Cunningham to find an opening over the middle of the field. He led Cunningham perfectly, which allowed him to outrun the defense for the touchdown. And, of course, the last second touchdown was the icing on top of his awesome performance.
Bright Spot : Montee Ball came to play tonight. On his first run of the game, he lowered his shoulder and took S Isaiah Lewis– who had talked a little bit of smack earlier in the week– out of the game, and he kept that attitude on every one of his runs. The Badgers were noticeably less effective when Ball got his bell rung in the second quarter and sat out until the half. He was a workhorse all night and only didn’t get more than his 115 yards and one touchdown on 18 carries was because the Badgers got behind and had to pass more often. He also had a 22-yard touchdown reception that was key to the Badgers’ fourth quarter comeback that ultimately fell short.
Disappointment: It turns out that Russell Wilson is human. On the first possession he went 3-3 for 39 yards, including a nine yard pass to TE Jacob Pedersen for the touchdown, but after that he struggled to make plays. He made a poor decision that led to intentional grounding in the end zone and a safety for the Spartans D, and also had two costly interceptions. His stats were decent– 12-19 for 208 yards and a TD– but he looked a bit off most of the night and certainly wasn’t the spectacular quarterback that Wisconsin has depended on all year.
Hindsight: Head coach Bret Bielema called three timeouts on the Spartans’ final possession, in an attempt to get the ball back for one more shot for his offense. It turned out to be a bad decision, as the Spartans converted on two third downs and hung onto the ball until the game-winning touchdown. Bielema probably did it to keep the Badgers’ momentum going after they had just scored the game-tying touchdown, in hopes of getting in field goal range to keep the game from going to overtime and escaping with a win. He did keep it from overtime, but not how any Badger fans would’ve wanted. The decision essentially lost the game and I’m sure he will be questioned on it by media, fans, and possibly his coaches and players.
It doesn’t get any easier for the Badgers, who face another test next week at Ohio State, who was off this week.