By Robert T. Burns
Last Saturday, Lee Corso and the rest of the College GameDay crew traveled to East Lansing as the 16th ranked Michigan State Spartans hosted the 6th ranked Wisconsin Badgers for the second consecutive year. Seeing ESPN’s College GameDay is a once in a lifetime event, so I couldn’t miss the opportunity to attend and be part of the tailgate and the game.
The scene around the GameDay set was unlike anything that I had ever seen before. Tailgating started early, as if it was a noon kickoff when the game didn’t start until 8 p.m. Throughout the entire day, the excitement grew. Taking a break to relax was simply not allowed. With a night game against a rival, fans would have been crazy regardless of GameDay coming , but that made it even more intense. The more red that State fans saw, the louder the environment became. Lee Corso and Kirk Herbstreit had picked the perfect day to come to East Lansing.
This game was a showdown between strength vs. strength. Wisconsin had Heisman hopeful Russell Wilson and a rushing attack behind him that had been unstoppable. The Michigan State defense led by Jerel Worthy and Max Bullough was ranked second in the nation.
Little did I know, the craziest party would be inside Spartan Stadium. Moments before kickoff the stadium was packed with students, fans, and alumni all taking part in the “Go Green, Go White” chant that would have even given anyone, even a non-football fan, chills. However, that momentum created by the crowd was short-lived. Wisconsin jumped out to a 14-0 lead in the first quarter. Fans were screaming, and putting their arms above their heads in shock. What seemed like the worst possible scenario for State had occurred during that first quarter, but the Spartan faithful never gave up. Michigan State managed to rally off 31 of the next 34 points in the ball game, holding a 31-17 lead late in the fourth quarter. The energetic crowd was back in the game, and louder than ever before. They needed to be. Led by quarterback Russell Wilson, Wisconsin mounted an amazing comeback, tying the game at 31 with 1:26 left.
And then it began. Kirk Cousins and Michigan State took over on their own 22 yard-line needing to make a drive. With every completion that Cousins had, the crowd began to grow louder and believe more. Then it happened. With four seconds remaining in the game, enough time for only one more play, and the ball on the Wisconsin 44 yard-line, it seemed that everyone knew that a Hail Mary was coming. When Kirk Cousins let go of the football, the crowd became silent for what seemed to be a lifetime. Then a bounce off the helmet of a Spartan receiver led to a catch by wide receiver Keith Nichol. The crowd erupted and sounded as if a bomb had gone off. Fans were jumping around and grabbing the person next to them as if they needed to be convinced that what they just saw was real. It was real, but the ruling on the field was that Nichol was short of the goal line, and time had expired. Fans at Spartan Stadium began yelling for an instant replay, and that is exactly what the officials on the field did. As the head official came back to announce the ruling on the field he said, “ After further review, the runner did cross…” and that is all that you could hear him say. After those words were completed the stadium went crazy once again. The players and coaches ran onto the field and the fans couldn’t believe what they had just seen. It wasn’t until after I watched a replay of that play the next day that I noticed the band was playing shortly after the play. The stadium was so loud that you couldn’t even hear the person standing next to you, let alone the entire band.
Undoubtedly the play of the year thus far in college football was lucky, but don’t think the Spartans won this game based on pure luck. They made plays in every facet of the game leading up to the “Hail Sparty”. Michigan State’s defense forced two interceptions by Russell Wilson, who had just one when entering the game. The defense also got a safety and special teams played a huge role by blocking a field goal, and then blocking a punt and recovering it in the end zone for a touchdown.
State’s offense arguably looked their best all season against the Badgers, behind the play of Kirk Cousins. Cousins was 22 of 31 for 3 touchdowns, and more importantly no interceptions, earning him co-offensive player of the week in the Big Ten. Perhaps the biggest reason for winning the game was due to the fact that the Spartans committed zero penalties after having 13 against Michigan the week before. So much for being “thugs”.
As a Spartan fan, Michigan State’s victory on Saturday proves to me that they can play with anyone in the country. The Spartans should be proud and ecstatic about beating the number 6th ranked team in the country. There is an excellent chance that there will be a rematch December 3rd at Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis for the Big Ten Championship. If that were the case, Wisconsin would be seeking revenge while the Spartans would be looking for their third straight win over the Badgers.