This was a dead heat. I mean, it's pretty much as close as possible, with one standout metric. 4.2 to 4.1 (Big Box):
Baylor was significantly more explosive but could not run the ball, and this proved to be important in the fourth quarter where they had just 6 minutes and 50 seconds of possession time at a time when running out the clock would've been useful. Despite the lack of a run game, Baylor was still very efficient; the use of underneath and sideline routes essentially replaced the run game.
Up until the fourth quarter, Baylor had just one true drive which didn't result in points, on a punt in the first quarter. But the final four drives went missed FG, turnover on downs, blocked FG, interception. On those drives, Baylor converted just 1 of 5 third downs and could not convert on a crucial fourth down. The first three of those four drives ended inside of MSU's 40 yard line, with zero points to show for it. An impressive clamping down under pressure.
On the flip side, MSU did literally just enough. Both teams had 10 drives end inside the opponent's 40 yard line. And though the two turnover on downs and tip-drill interception by Alfred Pullom ended promising MSU drives, the offense scored touchdowns on the remaining six drives.
One underrated element of the offensive production was the patience Dave Warner and Jim Bollman showed under duress. For much of the fourth quarter I was going nuts about how much time was ticking off of the clock, but by not abandoning the run completely I think MSU had significantly more success and didn't become one-dimensional. Or at least, didn't become one-dimensional until it was absolutely necessary. A well-called game, for certain.
As some of you know from The Only Podcast, I traveled to Arlington for the game. I thought I'd give my quick thoughts on the experience:
It was impressive from a purely physical point of view, but in terms of fan experience I came away completely unimpressed. In fact, I would liken it to Chick-Fil-A or SEC football: it's just a chicken sandwich.
One thing it didn't have going for it was the weather, which made some of the mediocre aspects significantly worse. For instance, having to walk clear around the stadium to pick up tickets from Will Call was tough because you couldn't just follow along the outside of the stadium (there were metal detector stations and the like blocking that path). So we had to do this weird lap around the deserted areas and such, which became super miserable. Once inside, the amenities were, uh, not really exciting:
The other thing is something I've only experienced in southern stadiums, which is that there was a section of the main concourse where you couldn't walk through unless you had a club or suite-level ticket. So I couldn't even get a true tour of the place, since I was part of the unwashed masses.
Throw in the fact that there was no draft beer (all the beer was given to you in those weird aluminum bottles) and it was really a mediocre experience. Except for, you know, the actual game part.
The MSU Contingent
I was pretty impressed, actually. The split was probably 65-35 Baylor-MSU, and in my estimation that's a better split than the 2013 B1G Championship Game. It was easier to tell once the game was over and all of the Baylor fans left. Considering that Waco is about a 2.5 hour drive from Arlington, that's a nice MSU turnout.
On the flight back, I realized there were more MSU fans in the airport than I'd originally surmised; many of them simply weren't wearing MSU gear. I realized this when about a half dozen of us were running in O'Hare trying to catch the connection to Toledo (it was cheaper) and missed it by about 2 minutes. The other 5 folks were all coming back from the bowl, too.
No matter, I met up with another MSU alum in northern Chicago and grabbed a Three Floyds Permanent Funeral. For you non-beer snobs, Three Floyds is an awesome Indiana brewing company and their stuff is very difficult to find in Michigan. The description told me my morning would be ruined, and I should've listened. Ah well.
This win goes in many MSU pantheons. It's one of the top wins for the program by any estimation, considering Baylor's #5 ranking entering the game. It's one of the great comebacks of the Mark Dantonio era, right up there with '07 Penn State, '08 Wisconsin, '10 Northwestern, '10 Purdue, '11 Georgia (Outback), '12 Indiana and '12 TCU. It's one of the best wins in the Dantonio era in general, and that's saying something.
The win solidifies the national reputation that MSU has earned over the course of the last two years. All year long, MSU has been ranked as one of the best 1-loss or 2-loss (depending on the week) teams in the nation, despite no truly signature wins, and basically no good wins other than Nebraska. That was deserved.
With many changes coming for this team before next season, savor this one. It'll be eight months before the next game.
Thanks so much for reading and commenting all season long, guys! It's been a blast.