Ah, Little Giants. I think saying that play was a "surprise" is a slight understatement, as I spent the first minute waiting for the play to be called back. I took a second to press the "W" key on my keyboard, then leaned on the "O" key for the next five minutes, followed by a pleasurable round of exclamation points. It was surprising, sure. But how bold was it really? At the time Dan Conroy had made three field goals in his career, and although one of those was longer than the 46-yard try he was facing, the 50-yarder he made the week before was indoors and under scads less pressure. Aaron Bates and Charlie Gantt were seniors, and considering Bates was a quarterback in high school, the decision to try a fake field goal in that instance was logical, if a bit unconventional.
Looking back on the season, one play sprung to mind that was bolder than Little Giants.
First off, when looking for MSU highlights on YouTube, remember -- there's MSUAndyHRCMB, and there's everyone else. Choose wisely. Up by three in the fourth quarter, Michigan State uncorked a mammoth 15-play drive lasting almost eight minutes. The last play of this drive was a 4th and goal play-action pass from the one-and-a-half yard line. The Spartans had used a play-action pass close to the end zone to score their previous touchdown (go to 6:30 in the highlights), a play in which Charlie Gantt found space in the back of the end zone. The play-action pass I want to discuss (at 7:30 in the highlights) was a bit different, and much bolder. First, a run could've been called, and that would've been a good call -- Edwin Baker and Le'Veon Bell both had success running against the Badgers that day.
However, it's the type of play-action play that Don Treadwell called that surprised me the most. Look at the front -- it's max protect, with only B.J. Cunningham running into the end zone. If Cunningham doesn't get open, Larry Caper looks like he's beginning to move down the field. However, targeting Caper wasn't necessary, for two reasons. First, Cousins sells the play action well enough (one of his most underrated skills) to get the Wisconsin linebackers to respect the run, and they move towards the Spartan offensive line. Second, Cunningham gets past two Badgers to find the space in the back of the end zone. Spartans go up by nine, then ten, then ballgame.
This play was bolder than Little Giants for four reasons: First, a play-action play from about the same distance had worked for a score earlier in the half, and the Badgers could have been more ready for it. Second, it's a pass instead of a run from two yards and in, although an argument could be made that Wisconsin was more than ready to stop the run. Third, Kirk Cousins had only one option on that play; if Cunningham gets jammed at the line the Badgers get the ball needing only three points to tie. Fourth, and although many of know it's statistically better to go for a touchdown from two yards and in than take the field goal, it's still anathema to many football coaches, where conservatism is the only philosophy they now.
So while Little Giants was a great, bold play call, the touchdown that secured the victory for Michigan State against Wisconsin was a bolder, albeit more typical play call for the details instead of the call itself. At that moment I knew Michigan State was serious about winning, and that Don Treadwell was headed for a head coaching job after the season was over. Some of you may disagree (and you wouldn't be wrong), but that play more than anything else last season was, for me, symbolic of Michigan State's aggressive play calling.