Through three quarters of football this game looked entirely like every other disheartening game we have had to endure this season. The defense was doing everything it could to keep the team in the contest but the offense kept proving itself lacking. Nothing displayed this continuing problem more clearly than when Marcus Rush blocked a punt in the second quarter and set the offense up with a first and ten at the Wisconsin 11, and yet the offense did not score on the possession. Maddening stuff, honestly. Before I go any further I want to share some notables from the defensive unit:
- MSU held Wisconsin to 19 rushing yards(they average 200).
- Wisconsin was held under 200 yards of total offense for the first time since 2004.
- Max Bullough led the team in tackles for the 4th time this year, and set career highs with 3 TFL and 2 Sacks.
- Will Gholston had a career high 5 tackles for loss.
- Taiwan Jones is a human wrecking ball.
We knew the defense was capable of playing at a championship level, so while none of the above is surprising it is still remarkable in the face of having to carry the team for
most all of this year. This game was supposed to be Bell vs. Ball according to conventional wisdom and even though Le’Veon Bell had the edge on Montee Ball in ground production(77 yards to 46)both teams did an excellent job of forcing the opposing offense to the air in order to be successful. Wisconsin’s Joel Stave did enough to keep the Badgers in the lead, but once he was forced out with an injury Danny O’Brien found the sledding rather rough in his stead. Despite the tremendous pressure being applied by the defense, the Wisconsin offense refused to make any huge mistakes and would not allow the dreams of many of the Spartan faithful to come true by surrendering a pick-six or something of the kind. Indeed, we were left staring at a little over 6 minutes remaining in the game and left to wonder if the Spartans would ever score as Wisconsin tacked on a field goal to extend their lead to 10-3.
Just when all seemed lost, as if by magic(and it’s not even Christmas yet)the Spartan offense sprang to life in the form of the hurry-up. Shotgun, single-back(Bell), mostly 3 wide. They moved the ball. They converted 3rd down situations(9-17 on the day)and receivers caught passes. Andrew Maxwell put passes largely on the mark and always away from the defenders en route to ultimately tying the game on a shovel pass to Bell with a minute remaining. Shovel pass. A basic, yet nifty little play of the variety not seen often this year. Not to be outdone, the defense stopped Wisconsin cold to force overtime, then proceeded to stuff them again and force them to settle for a field goal. Maxwell and company would not let this victory elude them and no more fitting receiver than Bennie Fowler could have caught the winning touchdown pass in this game which exorcised many demons. On the day, Maxwell was 24/39 for 216 yards and 2 touchdowns. He completed 5 or more passes to 3 different receivers. The production was largely of the better late than never variety, but I am sure we can all live with that for now.
I am not convinced of what we will see next week against Nebraska, nor do I believe anyone should proclaim the offensive woes a thing of the past. I know the defense will show up again and I would like to think that the game plan on offense will involve some of the things the team did well in this game and not revert to the conservative shell from whence it came. Time will tell, of course, but I plan on exhaling and enjoying this win for now.
Two more items of import to pass along: This was the first win in Camp Randall for Mark Dantonio, and the first by the Spartans since 2001. Also, I discovered via Twitter that today is Jameson’s birthday. Good news all around.