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Spartan Football Playback: Michigan State vs. Wisconsin (2011)

The Spartans needed every second and inch in this contest to take down an undefeated Wisconsin team in 2011.

Wisconsin v Michigan State Photo by Mark Cunningham/Getty Images

Opponent: Wisconsin Badgers

Date: Oct. 22, 2011

Location: Spartan Stadium (East Lansing, MI)

Final Score: 37-31, Michigan State

All-time Matchup Record: Michigan State leads 30-24

Michigan State has exited the panic portion of the 2022 season and will now look to scrape up any momentum and/or reminisce of respect the Spartans had entering the year. At this point, it is clear Michigan State is not the team on the rise many fans and pundits expected. The Spartans were able to stick around for a short time against a great Ohio State Buckeyes team with championship aspirations, but all the same struggles were visible in MSU’s 49-20 defeat last Saturday.

The team hasn’t looked truly competitive since its last win versus Akron, and that’s a concern. While injuries have mounted and the pass defense has seen little improvement from last year, the Spartans need to prove it to themselves and the fan base that they are at least looking for different options to win. MSU still have impressive recruiting classes incoming for the future, so showing resilience and sustaining a consistent culture is hugely important. A bowl game is still within reach in 2022, but it will be a tough road.

Michigan State welcomes Wisconsin into East Lansing this weekend for the Spartans’ homecoming game in a battle of stagnant programs looking to turn it around. The Badgers recently fired head coach Paul Chryst and replaced him with a familiar face in defensive coordinator Jim Leonhard; this may be an audition for Leonhard to prove he can run the show beyond this year.

On a better note, let’s dive back into one of the most memorable finishes in recent college football history, where the Spartans needed every second to take down the undefeated Badgers in East Lansing.

2011 Game Recap

They say football is a game of inches and no game encapsulated that more than the 2011 showdown between Michigan State and Wisconsin.

In what would be a prelude to the eventual inaugural Big Ten championship game, both teams came in to East Lansing with Rose Bowl expectations. The Badgers (6-0) landed what would be the transfer player of the decade in Russell Wilson, who added elements to the offense never really seen before in Madison.

Michigan State (5-1) had beaten Wisconsin the year prior, but were snubbed out of a Rose Bowl opportunity due to the old BCS format. The underdog Spartans were eager to gain more national prowess and the stage was set to make a statement under the lights.

MSU looked overmatched early, allowing a pair of early touchdowns and had troubles shaking the always stout Wisconsin offensive line unit. The Spartans turned the game around in the second quarter with great special team impacts, though.

Punter Mike Sadler pinned a ball inside the 5-yard line, which would lead to an intentional grounding and safety from Wilson. On the ensuing drive for Michigan State, Keshawn Martin would take a reverse run into the end zone from 34-yards out to make it 14-9.

Wisconsin would respond with a long drive, but settled for a field goal attempt that was blocked by Darqueze Dennard. The Spartans would lead their own impressive drive that ended on a 35-yard touchdown pass from Kirk Cousins to B.J. Cunningham to take the lead 16-14 before halftime, but the Spartans weren't done. MSU used timeouts to stop the clock and forced a punt that Kyler Elsworth blocked. The ball bounced back to the end zone, where Michigan State’s Bennie Fowler recovered for the touchdown.

A back and forth game in which both teams blew two-score leads featured an even more memorable finish. Wisconsin trailed 31-17 early in the fourth quarter before Wilson pulled several rabbits out of his hat to eventually even the score at 31 with just 1:26 remaining.

Michigan State’s last drive appeared to stall and overtime looked all but certain, but the Spartans had time for one more play — one that will go down as one of the best in Michigan State history, known as “Rocket.”

Cousins was able to buy enough time for receivers to get down the field and tossed a sky-touching ball that bounced off Cunningham’s helmet and into Keith Nichol’s arms. After mass pandemonium and initial ruling of the ball being short of the goal line, the review would show Nichols barely squeezing the ball to the white line of the end zone, sealing a massive win for the Spartans.