Tuesday, January 3, 2012

An incredible start to 2012!: Michigan State 33, Georgia 30

I don't know where to start.  I am enveloped in a warm golden glow after Michigan State's thrilling, stunning come-from-behind victory over the Georgia Bulldogs in yesterday's Outback Bowl.

I wanted Michigan State to win this game so badly, so desperately--although probably not nearly as much as the Spartan players and coaches themselves wanted to win.  I was awed by the urgency, resilience, grit, and guts that the Spartans displayed in the second half and three overtimes of that game.  This was, without a doubt, the most thrilling and exciting MSU bowl game I have ever witnessed.

This Spartan senior class deserved this win, and they went out and got it.  After a dreadful first half that saw them fall behind 16-0, and caused the knee-jerk emotional sports fan in me to doubt them and vent on Facebook about how the SEC is so much better than the Big Ten, the Spartans came back with a vengeance and played with a passion that was awe inspiring.

Will we ever see a better quarterback at Michigan State than Kirk Cousins?  He was perhaps not at his best yesterday, but he was brilliant when it mattered the most.  He displayed incredible composure and leadership in MSU's game-tying drive with only about 2:00 left in regulation and no timeouts left.  He will go down as one of the best leaders the MSU football program has ever had, and will be sorely missed.

After the game was over, and I had some time to digest it, it occurred to me that great special teams play is one of the key's to MSU's success under Dantonio.  Perhaps that's not an original thought, but it doesn't get nearly the attention it deserves.  The Spartans won that bowl game due in part to proper execution of the little things that are often overlooked in football, a perfect example being Brad Sonntag's brilliant placement of the ball on field goal attempts.  The Spartans had a backup long snapper, consequently many of the snaps were a little off, but Sonntag's calm under duress allowed kicker Dan Conroy to convert some critical extra points and field goals.  It's little things like these that win games, and these small details have vastly improved under Mark Dantonio's leadership.

Now a word about the defenses for both teams: awesome.  On a day where little defense was played in any of the other bowl games (the Rose Bowl and Fiesta Bowl in particular resembled basketball games on a gridiron) it was refreshing to see two teams bring it on defense the way MSU and Georgia did.  Georgia's defense was as good as advertised and maybe better, and the Spartans made some huge plays.  Will Gholston may be the best Spartan defensive end since Bubba Smith, and that's no exaggeration.

"Program win" has become a college sports cliche in recent years, but this bowl win over Georgia is truly a "program win" if there ever was one. The Spartans had gone 10 years without a bowl win, and as everyone knows by know, Mark Dantonio was 0-4 in bowl games at MSU.  This win, over a top-flight speedy and talented SEC team, validates Dantonio's program.

Now the question is, how will the Spartan football team do next year.  It's true that the Spartans are losing several key contributors in Kirk Cousins, B.J. Cunningham, Keshawn Martin, Joel Foreman, Keith Nichol, Brian Linthicum, Kevin Pickelman, Trenton Robinson, and probably Jerel Worthy.  But the foundation of a great football team is defense (despite the glorified track meets that so many football games have become these days), and with such players as Max Bullough, Denicos Allen, Darqueze Dennard, Anthony Rashad White, Johnny Adams and Isaiah Lewis returning next season, the defense should continue to be solid and set the tone for gridiron success in 2012.  There may be some drop off next year, but a regular season record of 9-3 is certainly possible.

I'm not worried about next year right now, I am too busy basking in the glory of this big bowl win.  2012 has gotten off to a splendid start for Spartan Nation.

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