Sunday, October 24, 2010
By Adam Rittenberg
EVANSTON, Ill. -- Like most college football fans, Ara Parseghian watched the Michigan State-Notre Dame game in Week 3 from the edge of his seat.
As the Spartans lined up for the potential tying field goal in overtime, Parseghian thought the Spartans probably were toast. It was a long kick, 46 yards, and a ton of pressure for a first-year starter (Dan Conroy). But would Michigan State go and ahead and kick? Of course it would.
Wisconsin's fake punt set up the game-winning score in the Badgers' 31-30 win over Iowa.
Until the Spartans didn't.
Parseghian, the Hall of Fame coach, was as surprised as anyone when Michigan State ran a fake field goal labeled "Little Giants" and scored the winning touchdown.
"That was a gutsy call," said Parseghian, the former Notre Dame, Northwestern and Miami University coach who returned to Northwestern as an honorary captain. "I tell you, I've never seen a gutsier one than that."
The 87-year-old might have revised his statement after Week 8 of Big Ten action.
The league known for percentage plays and conventional coaching has been overtaken by unlikely gamblers. Terms like "Little Giants," "Mousetrap" and "Chain" have become part of the Big Ten vernacular, thanks to coaches who went all-in and hit the jackpot.
Parseghian had a front-row seat for Michigan State's latest wager: a fake punt pass into the wind with a 10-point deficit in the fourth quarter on the road.
It's called "Mousetrap" because, as coach Mark Dantonio explained, "We had to get them to take the cheese."
Michigan State fooled Northwestern, and punter Aaron Bates found redshirt freshman receiver Bennie Fowler for a 23-yard completion. The Spartans scored on the next play and went on to win 35-27, preserving their perfect record while improving to 8-0.
Bates, who also made the unforgettable pass on "Little Giants," now boasts a passer rating of 475.
"I just felt like we had to take the shot," said Dantonio, who returned to the field Saturday for the first time since calling "Little Giants."
Michigan State had installed the play specifically for the Northwestern game, and although the situation to use it was far from ideal, players such as receiver Keith Nichol knew Dantonio would pull the trigger.
"It gives us that motivation to go out there, that extra yard, that extra inch, make that big play," Nichol said, "knowing that he's going to trust us to make another big play. It gives our whole team a lot more confidence when the coach does something like that."
Wisconsin knows the feeling after coach Bret Bielema took the biggest gamble of his coaching career. The Badgers trailed 30-24 at Iowa's Kinnick Stadium and faced fourth-and-4 from their own 26-yard line with about six minutes left in the game.
"Once we saw the personnel out on the field, it was game on," Bielema said.
Bielema called for "Chain," a play installed only days earlier, and designed to -- you guessed it -- move the chains. Punter Brad Nortman followed second-string guard Ryan Groy and raced up the gut for 17 yards.
Eleven plays later, Montee Ball scored the winning touchdown. Wisconsin notched back-to-back signature wins and kept its hopes for a BCS bowl very much alive.