Dreaming big can be scary. When envisioning your favorite team winning a big game, you set yourself up for a letdown that feels ten times worse than the thought of victory. Throughout the second half of yesterday's game, I kept looking for signs of a collapse, whether it be the Spartans turning the ball over on downs or James White running down the sideline for a score. In the middle of the 4th quarter though, anything that could've hinted at a possible collapse vanished as Michigan State embarked on a 15-play,
78 84-yard drive to score the game-sealing touchdown and secure a 34-24 victory over the Wisconsin Badgers.
The offense, excluding the two dumb turnovers (Cousins's first interception and Nichol's fumble - the second interception was the unfortunate result of a tipped ball), was great all day. While the running game wasn't as robust as it has been in previous games, with an average of 3.9 yards per carry, it was still plenty effective with Edwin Baker and Le'Veon Bell doing the heavy lifting. Bell and Baker combined for 34 carries and 162 yards. Larry Caper only touched the ball four times, but one of those touches was a key offensive play; a 35-yard screen on 3rd and 11 during the game-clinching drive.
Kirk Cousins is establishing a routine against top-tier opponents. He is somewhat effective the first half of the game with one or two mind-bending brain farts that usually lead to turnovers. The second half he's insanely effective while taking a couple sacks, and the numbers bear this out. Kirk completed 8 of 10 passes for 118 yards and 2 touchdowns. Mark Dell is becoming more visible by the week, leading the MSU receivers with six receptions for 91 yards and a touchdown. At this point in the season, there is not one unit on the offense that I would not describe as "strong", with a qualifier describing the offensive line as "inconsistent."
Over the past couple weeks there has been much hand-wringing about the state of the pass defense, and today was apparently a great step forward in that regard. Scott Tolzien was only 11 for 25 for 127 yards on the day, and five of Tolzien's 14 incompletions were results of pass breakups by the MSU defense. The pressure still needs some work as Tolzien was sacked just once, but at least the Spartans aren't giving out yards by the bucketful now. The rush defense was a mixed bag, as James White came one yard short of 100 on only ten carries, but John Clay was held under 100 yards for the first time in the past 11 games. Against what some have called the best rushing attack in the Big Ten, I think the rush defense was plenty acceptable.
The offense and defense both played good games, but the special teams might have been the best part of the day. Dan Conroy continued his kicking perfection with a pair of 36-yard field goals; he is now seven-for-seven on field goals for the season. Keshawn Martin tallied his first return touchdown on the season, a 74-yard fairly straight-ahead punt return that exploited a line-drive punt. Kevin Muma averaged 65 a kickoff, which means that the ball usually lands at the five yard line. I can live with that; I think that kickoff yardage is greatly overrated unless the ball's landing at the 20 every time.
All in all, this is the most complete performance from a Michigan State football team I can remember in some time. The time for celebration is winding down though, and up next is a Michigan team that may be very good or merely OK. I've got no idea what to except from this game expect a heap of points - Denard Robinson will get his yards, and Michigan State will surely get theirs as well. More on the game later in the week, but for now, let your enjoyment of the past victory morph into hatred - glorious, glorious hatred.