Many of you probably remember my series from spring Reliving Past Tournaments: Tom Izzo’s Top Wins. Given the lack of football this fall, I will be hitting the gridiron history each week taking a look back at all the wins we enjoyed under former head coach Mark Dantonio’s 13-season tenure. Each week of the regular season (until football officially returns), I will go through and select what I think was that corresponding week’s “best win” out of 13 seasons worth of them and recap the action. I will be pausing the series as the start date for the 2020 Big Ten season approaches, however.
Week Five had a few picks to choose from that were nice wins. The 2009 overtime win over No. 22 Michigan obviously is a candidate. Connor Cook’s breakout game at Iowa in 2013 is another great memory. Finally, the 2014 win over Nebraska was also fun, if only because there are far too few wins against that program for my personal liking and it awarded us with this gif:
When it came down to it, though, the easy choice for this week’s win was the 2010 victory over the No. 11 Wisconsin Badgers. This marked the first win (of many) over an AP Top-15 team by Dantonio’s No. 24 Michigan State Spartans. It was also the opening win of a conference campaign that would lead to seven wins and a share of the first Big Ten title for MSU since 1990.
No. 11 Wisconsin at Michigan State
October 2, 2010
Spartan Stadium, East Lansing, MI
MSU 34-Wisc 24
The Badgers received the ball to start, but managed just four yards and were forced to punt. The Spartans, led by Kirk Cousins at quarterback, marched the ball 33 yards over nine plays, including a 14-yard pass to Charlie Gant. After incurring a 15-yard pass interference penalty, the drive stalled and Dan Conroy was called on to score a 36-yard field goal. Score is now 3-0 MSU.
Wisconsin managed a first down on its next drive when John Clay rushed for 18 yards on the opening play of the drive, but stalled out and punted from its own 45-yard-line. Keshawn Martin fair caught it at MSU’s 15-yard-line. The Spartans put together a nice drive highlighted by a 34-yard pass to Mark Dell and a 14-yard run by Le’Veon Bell. However, Cousins was picked off by Antonio Fenelus at Wisconsin’s 17-yard-line and returned it nine yards before he was tackled. The Badgers managed to march the ball 32 yards on six straight rushes before the clock ran out on the first quarter.
The Badgers finally aired it out on the opening play of the second quarter with a 26-yard pass to Jacob Pederson. James White proceeded to rush it another 16 yards on the next play to cross the goal line for a Wisconsin touchdown. Philip Welch’s kick was good, and it was 7-3, Badgers with the lead.
The Spartans woes continued on offense as Cousins connected to Keith Nichol for nine yards on third-and-five, but Niles Brinkley forced a fumble that was recovered by Aaron Henry for the Badgers. Wisconsin only managed to pick up one yard on its own series, but was in field goal range already. Welch was called on for a 49-yard field goal and he kicked it through the uprights to push Wisconsin’s lead to 10-3.
Michigan State made quick work on its next drive, helped by Keshawn Martin’s 25 yard kick return and a 15-yard personal foul penalty on Wisconsin. Then on the opening play, Cousins connects with Martin for 30 yards. The drive stalls on the next series of downs when MSU fails to convert on third-and-eight at Wisconsin’s 23-yard-line. Dan Conroy comes out and kicks a 36-yard field goal to cut MSU’s deficit to 10-6.
Wisconsin picked up seven yards on its opening play, and another two to set up third-and-one. The Spartan defense came through with a huge play as Clay was tackled for a loss of four yards and Wisconsin was forced to punt on fourth-and-five. The Badgers incurred a five-yard penalty on a false start, and now Wisconsin was forced to punt on fourth-and-10 from its own 28-yard-line. Brad Nortman managed a 46-yard punt, but Martin ripped off a huge 76-yard return for a Spartan touchdown! The Spartans retake the lead 13-10.
Wisconsin responded with a five-play, 23-yard drive before stalling out at its own 47 yard line and being forced to punt. Michigan State managed just two yards on its next drive before Cousins was picked off by Devin Smith on third-and-eight at MSU’s 48-yard-line. Wisconsin managed five yards on its opening play, but proceeded to incur an illegal block penalty to push it back to first-and-15. The very next play, Denzel Drone broke through with a monster 22-yard sack on Wisconsin’s Scott Tolzien. The Badgers managed to pick up six yards two plays later when it is third-and-37, but punts from its own 31-yard-line on fourth down.
Martin picked up nine yards on the return to set MSU up at its own 31-yard-line. The Spartans make quick work of the drive as there is only 2:30 left on the clock. Cousins hits B.J. Cunningham for a quick 12-yard strike to move the chains. Bell picks up five yards the next play, but then just one yard on second-and-five. Cousins completes a three-yard pass to Brian Linthicum on third down, and the Spartans are forced to make a decision on whether to go for it on fourth-and-one from Wisconsin’s 48-yard-line or punt with just 0:49 remaining on the clock. MSU elects to go for it, and Bell rips off a 23-yard run for the first down and then some. Another 12-yard strike to Cunningham and a five yard rush by Larry Caper set up second-and-five from Wisconsin’s eight-yard-line. Cousins throws incomplete to Charlie Gantt on second down, but hits Mark Dell for the touchdown with just 23 seconds left. Conroy’s kick is good for the extra point, and it is MSU with a 20-10 lead.
Kevin Muma’s kick is fielded by James White at the seven-yard-line, and he manages to get it out to Wisconsin’s 24-yard-line before he is brought down. The Badgers rush it up the middle for one yard and head into the locker room for halftime.
The Spartans started the second half on offense. Edwin Baker picked up 16 yards rushing on the first two plays, but then three straight tackles for loss and sacks combined to cause MSU to lose a yard on the drive before punting on fourth-and-27. Aaron Henry returned it 13 yards to give Wisconsin excellent field position at MSU’s 47-yard-line. After Tolzien threw an incomplete pass to open the drive, the Badgers’ James White ripped off back-to-back runs for 13 and 34 yards for the touchdown. Welch hits it through the uprights for the extra point and it’s 20-17, MSU still with the lead.
The Spartans respond with a 68-yard drive over 10 plays while eating a nice chunk of clock. Cousins opened the drive with a 26-yard pass to Dell, and two plays later, Baker rips off a 13-yard run. Bell ships in with his own 13-yard run three plays later to set up first and goal from Wisconsin’s seven-yard-line. The drive stalls out as Bell is brought down on third-and-goal at the one yard line. The Spartans elect to go for it on fourth down, but Bell can’t get the push to get it across the goal line and its a turnover on downs.
The Badgers manage to pick up seven yards, but are forced to punt without converting for a first down and Martin fair catches it at MSU’s 49-yard-line. The offense takes the field for MSU and Cousins immediately comes up with a big play as he connects to Gantt for 28 yards. Two plays later Baker picks up another 13 yards and Cousins connects the next play to Brian Linthicum for another eight yards, and MSU is once again at Wisconsin’s one-yard-line. Bell can’t get it done the next play as he’s tackled at the line for no gain. The Spartans decide to finally air it out on third-and-goal and Cousins connects to Gantt for the touchdown! MSU extends the lead to 27-17 as Conroy’s extra point attempt is good as time expires on the third quarter.
The Badgers open the quarter with an 11-play, 70-yard drive. On the second play Clay picks up 17 yards, and then two plays later rushes for another 11. Tolzien throws two incomplete passes before connecting with Lance Kendricks for 12 yards and a first down. Four plays later and Tolzien connects with Jacob Pedersen for 12 yards and a Badger touchdown. Wisconsin makes it a game with lots of time left in the fourth quarter and the score 27-24 MSU with the lead.
The Spartans are called for a holding penalty on kickoff and as a result the drive starts at MSU’s 16-yard-line. Bell picks up a yard on the opening play, but Cousins throws incomplete to Martin on second down. Dell comes through with a 12-yard catch from Cousins on third down to move the chains. Three plays later Larry Caper breaks free for a 35-yard run to get the ball into Wisconsin territory. Not finished yet, Baker takes the field for back-to-back gains of eight and 18 yards. MSU commits a personal foul penalty on the next play when it’s first-and-10 on the Wisconsin 11-yard-line, pushing the Spartans back 15 yards. Baker stays on the field to gain some of the yardage back on a nine-yard run the next play. He loses four on the following play and Larry Caper takes the field and gets the first down with an 11-yard run. Three plays later and it is yet again third-and-goal on the Wisconsin seven-yard-line. Caper picks up six yards and MSU is forced to decide once again whether to go for it on fourth-and-goal a yard shy of the goal line. After taking a timeout, Cousins connects to Cunningham for another touchdown! Conroy’s kick is good and it’s 34-24 MSU! Better yet, MSU’s 15-play, 84-yard drive ate 8:10 off the clock and Wisconsin is left with just 2:20 on the clock.
The Badgers’ offense takes the field after kickoff from its own 23-yard-line. White immediately rushes for 11 yards on the first play. Three plays later Tolzien connects with Nick Toon for 28 yards for a first down in MSU territory at the Spartans’ 39-yard-line. The Badgers stall out as Tolzien throws incomplete, and connects with Lance Kendricks for a loss of two. After calling timeout facing third-and-12 the Badgers proceed to pick up a false start penalty and it’s now third-and-17. Tolzien throws an incomplete on third down, but manages to connect to David Gilreath for 14 yards on fourth down. The Badgers are still three yards short and its a turnover on downs. The Spartans take over with just 0:40 left in the game and Wisconsin out of timeouts. Cousins kneels it twice and that’s a victory for MSU!
This game was great for so many reasons. A win over an AP top-15 team, the first of many conference wins for MSU in a Big Ten championship season, and one of many great games against Wisconsin (our true rival) in the first half of Dantonio’s career. Add into that the fact it was a feel good win in Coach Dantonio’s absence as he was still recovering from his heart attack, and you could tell this season was going to be a special one.