Monday, January 2, 2012
Spartans prevent another B1G debacle
By Adam Rittenberg
The gift baskets should be sent to East Lansing, Mich., care of Mark Dantonio.
The sender: commissioner Jim Delany and the rest of the Big Ten Conference.
Michigan State's electric triple-overtime win against Georgia in the Outback Bowl prevented the Big Ten from going 0-for-5 on college football's version of New Year's Day for the second consecutive season. The Spartans erased a 16-point halftime deficit and a 7-point deficit in the final moments of regulation to force overtime. Defensive tackle Anthony Rashad White blocked a Blair Walsh field-goal attempt in the third overtime to seal a 33-30 win, the team's first postseason victory under Dantonio.
With Robert Griffin III on the roster, one has to wonder about Kirk Cousins' future in Washington.
You had to be happy for senior quarterback Kirk Cousins, who led the tying drive in the fourth quarter and survived an interception in overtime. The Spartans' defense was brilliant for most of the day, particularly defensive end William Gholston, who had five tackles for loss, two sacks and a fumble recovery.
Just a great moment for Dantonio and the Spartans.
The rest of the league? Not so much.
Nebraska and Ohio State melted down in the second half, Penn State melted down in the first quarter and Wisconsin committed two second-half turnovers to lose a lead against Oregon. The result is a 1-4 ledger for the Big Ten, dropping its bowl record to 3-6 overall.
For the second straight year, Wisconsin lost the Rose Bowl in heart-breaking fashion, as a handful of plays and decisions led to Oregon's victory. Bret Bielema's timeout early in the third quarter when he thought Oregon had crossed the end line before downing the ball in the end zone came back to haunt Wisconsin in the final seconds. The timeout certainly wasn't Bielema's friend in losses to Oregon and Michigan State.
In the fourth quarter, Wisconsin's offense finally recaptured its big-play ability on a long pass to receiver Jared Abbrederis, who fumbled the ball away, the lone blemish on his otherwise masterful day.
The game ended with a questionable decision to spike the ball with only 2 seconds left and a winding clock. Very hard to do. And a hard way to lose.
The Big Ten now has won only one Rose Bowl since Wisconsin's back-to-back wins in the 1999 and 2000 games.
The league's bowl season wraps up Tuesday with Michigan going against Virginia Tech in the Allstate Sugar Bowl.
A few thoughts on the day:
Special teams played a huge role for Big Ten teams. While Michigan State blocked a field goal to win its game, the all-important third phase hurt the Big Ten teams more than it helped. Ohio State's kicking-game breakdowns led to two Florida touchdowns, a kickoff return and a blocked punt returned for a touchdown. Nebraska, arguably the Big Ten's top special-teams squad during the season, had a miserable day in the kicking game, as South Carolina returned a blocked extra-point try for two points and Huskers' All-Big Ten kicker Brett Maher missed a short field-goal attempt early in the third quarter. Even Michigan State had a special-teams breakdown in its win, as Georgia's Brandon Boykin scooted 92 yards for a touchdown on a kick return late in the first half. Wisconsin had a strong special teams performance against Oregon.
Penalties also were a theme for the five Big Ten squads. Nebraska drew 10 flags in its loss and star cornerback Alfonzo Dennard was ejected for fighting with Gamecocks receiver Alshon Jeffery (also ejected). Michigan State received eight penalties in its win against Georgia, and Penn State drew six penalties, one above its season average.
Nebraska thoroughly outplayed South Carolina in the first half and had to be beside itself following the Hail Mary touchdown pass from Connor Shaw to Jeffery with no time left. After a good drive to begin the second half ended in the Maher missed field-goal try, the Huskers were done. They melted down in the final 25 minutes, drawing seven penalties. This is a mostly young team that should improve in some areas for 2012, although the Legends Division figures to be tough once again.
Penn State's performance wasn't a huge surprise, although I thought the Lions defense would fare better against Case Keenum. Penn State missed Matthew McGloin at quarterback, and the offensive line didn't impose its will against a Houston team that hasn't stopped the run all season.
For both Penn State and Ohio State, it's good to get these bowls in the rear-view mirror. Both teams need to move forward after rough years with new coaches (Penn State's has yet to be named).