EAST LANSING, Mich. (AP) — The recent history of Michigan State football includes some of the most extraordinary plays anywhere in college football.
The fake field goal in overtime against Notre Dame in 2010. A Hail Mary to beat Wisconsin a year later. And of course, the botched punt by Michigan that gave the Spartans a victory in Ann Arbor this season.
Now Michigan State has The Drive — a march to victory in last weekend’s Big Ten championship game that may become as talked about in East Lansing as John Elway’s NFL version is in Denver.
“It just shows that we’re a tough football team and we’re going to play every play,” offensive lineman Jack Allen said Sunday. “No matter what the score is, no matter what the circumstance is, we’re going to go out there and play, and if we’ve got to go 22 plays, we’re going to go 22. If we’ve got to go 30, we’re going to go 30.”
The drive that won Saturday night’s game against Iowa in Indianapolis was 22 plays for 82 yards. It began with 9:31 remaining and ended with only 27 seconds on the clock and the Spartans finally ahead 16-13. That score held, and now No. 3 Michigan State will face No. 2 Alabama in a Dec. 31 national semifinal.
It was a drive that included so many tense moments that no one play stands out as the most significant. There were four conversions on third down and one on fourth, and that was before the winning touchdown — a twisting, reaching 1-yard run by LJ Scott on third-and-goal.
The Spartans had established control of the line of scrimmage in the second half, but with quarterback Connor Cook having a surprisingly erratic game, it seemed unlikely that they could move the ball over 80 yards just by running it. On third-and-4 from their own 24, they called a pass, but it was an easy shovel to tight end Josiah Price, who went for 13 yards against a startled Iowa defense.
Cook eventually had to make one big throw — the type of play he’s made all season but had proved elusive on this night. On third-and-8 from the 50, he threaded a pass to Aaron Burbridge between two defenders. Burbridge was hit hard, but he held onto the ball for a 16-yard gain.
That was the final pass of the game for Michigan State. It was slow going from there, but that suited the Spartans just fine. Cook kept the ball on an option on fourth-and-2, barely picking up the first down. Then on third-and-goal from the 1, Scott ran to the right and was stopped, but with a defender trying to wrap him up, he managed to turn, face the goal line and reach the ball over.
The victory turned Michigan State’s selection into the four-team playoff into a virtual formality. Coach Mark Dantonio said most of the celebrating was done after Saturday’s game — as opposed to when the selections aired Sunday.
“It was crazy in Indianapolis,” Dantonio said. “I think that probably everybody is pretty tired (Sunday). … I don’t think that anybody really had to make an announcement to know that Michigan State was going to be in the playoff.”
The Spartans are in because after being kept out of the end zone the entire game, they finally reached it thanks to a little finesse, one terrific throw and catch — and a whole lot of brute force.”
“Nothing that we’ve got has ever been given to us,” Allen said. “We’ve had to fight through adversity, fight through hard times, and we’ve earned everything we’ve gotten.”