Oh, it's fun to write this column this week.
The secondary. Yes, their work was aided by a number of really poor drops by Wisconsin receivers. But hats off to the group for playing their best game in years. Scott Tolzien entered the game with the eighth-highest pass efficiency rating in the country . . . and on Saturday, he went 11-for-25 for only 127 yards. Trenton Robinson made a couple of very nice pass break-ups and was very strong against the run (I thought it was by far his best game as a Spartan), Chris L. Rucker had another very strong game and came up big on Wisconsin's last drive, Johnny Adams absolutely blanketed his receivers, and Marcus Hyde was excellent as well. Furthermore, they as a group (along with the linebackers) were fantastic in containing Lance Kendricks, about whom I was worried sick before the game. This was the kind of big-game performance we've been waiting for since, like, forever. #1 Biggie to you, gentlemen.
Greg Jones. This was the kind of game Jones came back for, and he stepped up in a big way. He had only 8 tackles -- not an overwhelming number for him -- but 3 of them were for losses, and he pressured Tolzien on numerous occasions. On the play immediately preceding Keshawn Martin's big punt return, Jones got into the backfield and stopped John Clay for a 4 (!) yard loss on 3rd-and-1. I'd love to know how many times Clay's been stopped for a 4-yard loss in his career; it has to be a hugely rare event. A fantastic performance.
Pat Narduzzi. We've been very hard on Narduzzi these past two seasons, but it's important to recognize him for how well the defense played on Saturday. This was the most complete defensive performance by an MSU team in years--perhaps since the 2004 Wisconsin game. (They were great last year against Iowa . . . except for the final drive, of course.) The secondary showed massive improvement, we held John Clay in check (a nearly-impossible thing to do), blitz packages were mostly successful, and we avoided having another tight end run all over us. The final score doesn't look phenomenal, but a lot of that can be chalked up to the early offensive turnovers. Wisconsin was held below 300 yards of offense, and with Dantonio on the sidelines, Narduzzi gets all the credit for the performance. One qualm: can we please see more of William Gholston? Please?
More Biggies, after the jump!
Keshawn Martin. His faaaaaantastic punt return was the biggest play of the game, allowing MSU to take a lead they would never relinquish. The play was especially welcome because prior to Saturday, Martin had been fairly average on kick and punt returns this season; his 74-yard touchdown re-establishes him as one of the league's most electric players, and certainly should give Michigan's special teams coach a few headaches this week. He also hauled in a 30-yard completion in the first quarter.
Larry Caper. He only touched the ball four times in the game, but he certainly made those plays count. He was colossal on the final drive, where he 1) caught a screen pass on 3rd-and-11 and ran it ahead 35 yards (surely the second biggest play of the game), 2) ran for 11 yards on 3rd-and-5 to set up 1st-and-goal, and, 3) ran for 6 yards to the Wisconsin 1 yard line on 3rd-and-goal. Without that last play, B.J. Cunningham never catches the game-clinching touchdown, and without the first two plays, Wisconsin would have had the ball back far sooner. Perhaps Treadwell has found Caper's niche as MSU's go-to 3rd down back; he certainly seems a good fit for the position, and his performance with the game on the line was absolutely fantastic. Honorable mention to Edwin Baker and Le'Veon Bell, who both had solid performances against a good Wisconsin front 7.
Mark Dell. MSU's leading receiver once again, with 6 catches for 91 yards and a touchdown. The touchdown was a particularly memorable one, a fantastic catch on a perfectly-thrown endzone fade. Dell did a great job reaching up for the ball and getting a foot in bounds. His one catch on the last drive came in a big spot: a 3rd-and-9 from the MSU 17, when it looked like Wisconsin was going to get the ball back with great field position. Dell ran a perfect slant route and did well to hang onto Kirk Cousins' fastball.
Kirk Cousins. The first interception was bad, but the second wasn't his fault, and everything else was great. Cousins' three touchdown passes were all gorgeous, his 3rd down completion to Mark Dell on the final drive couldn't have been thrown better, and he's really becoming a master at play action. Like everything Cousins has done this season, his performance on Saturday wasn't perfect, but it was a lot better than he's getting credit for -- and the drive he engineered to clinch the win will be remembered for a long, long time. An easy Biggie selection.
Dan Conroy. 2-for-2 on field goals. He's now 7-for-7 on the season and continues to surpass our most optimistic projections for the position.
Don Treadwell. Mark Dantonio might as well start the search for a new offensive coordinator, because Treadwell's as good as gone at this point -- and deservedly so. There's been a ton of turmoil these past few weeks, but the team hasn't missed a beat. Much of the credit for that has to go to Treadwell, who has been pitch-perfect in everything he's done as head coach. Oh, and there's the little matter of the two-fourth down conversions and his excellent playcalling all day . . .
None! We can't single anyone out for having a sub-par day. At first glance, it would seem that the pass rush was an issue again, but State managed 3 quarterback hurries, and also declined two Wisconsin holding penalties on passing downs. So, no JLS sightings this week, which is always a good thing.
So, who'd I miss?