When the final play of the Michigan State vs. Wisconsin game during the regular season had been reviewed and the officials announced that the Hail Mary pass from Spartans’ quarterback Kirk Cousins to wide receiver Keith Nichol would stand, giving Michigan State a stunningly-spectacular victory as time ticked off the play clocks, many Spartan fans had to imagine one thing…
If Wisconsin battles back and wins the Leaders Division, and Michigan State can clinch the Legends Division, the Badgers are going to be looking for some major revenge in the first-ever Big Ten championship game in Indianapolis come December.
Well, love it or hate it, Spartan fans, you’ve got yourself one hell of a rematch coming up this Saturday in Lucas Oil Stadium.
Michigan State head coach Mark Dantonio remembers the details the regular season match up against Wisconsin quite well, and knows that both teams, at times, can be fairly evenly-matched.
“We were up substantially, and then in the last four or five minutes of the game they rolled back and tied it,” Dantonio told reporters. “Then again we rolled down the field … and with seconds to go we hit the Rocket play.”
The “Rocket play”, much like the “Little Giants” play, is a play that will go down in infamy among some of the greatest in Spartan Stadium history. Then-ranked No. 15 Michigan State and No. 6 Wisconsin battled back and forth with an MSU lead late into the game that was cut short by a surging Badgers’ offense as the final minutes rolled on. In the end, both teams were clearly determined to win.
“Both teams have a way of continuing to hang in there and continuing to play,” Dantonio said. “So, to me, that’s impressive. It’s one thing to be a good football team when everything’s going well for you, but when things don’t go so well and someone has to make a play and you keep playing, that’s the things that impress people.”
The Hail Mary pass in the final seconds for the win is not something that any losing team is bound to take lightly. In fact, according to Wisconsin coach Bret Bielema, it can never be truly forgotten. As he spoke with athletic director and ex-coach Barry Alvarez in the week following the upset loss to Michigan State, Bielema learned that some defeats just linger longer than others.
“We’d been walking a couple minutes and nobody said anything and I just said to him, ‘When do you stop thinking about it?’ ” Bielema said. “He started laughing. He knew exactly what I was talking about. He said, ‘Never.’ “
Tack on the fact that Wisconsin would follow-up that loss just one week later with yet another at Ohio State to yet another long touchdown pass with less than a minute on the clock, and you’ve got a team that’s loaded with some of the Big Ten’s top talents out looking for blood.
“That’s a great thing to write about and for the outside world to think about,” coach Bielema said. “What we focus on is what we do. Obviously, we’ve gotta execute against Michigan State. Put in a game plan that goes against their three phases of the game. I think our kids are internally motivated to have success.
“Michigan State earned that victory, obviously. They scored more points than we did and were able to execute at the end of the game in a way that gave them a victory. Our kids had to take that and learn from it.”
One question that remains is just how much did the young Spartan athletes learn from their victory? This Saturday’s championship game marks the sixth meeting between the Spartans and Badgers with Dantonio at the helm of the Michigan State squad. If it’s any indication, recent history does favor the Spartans. Then again, recent history could mean absolutely nothing with the Big Ten title on the line in Indy.
“We’ve won three of the last four,” Dantonio said. “I think that needs to be recognized by our players. It gives us confidence. We understand though what we’re up against, the challenges we face. We look for a great football game. But it’s exciting to play Wisconsin. It always is.”
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