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Saturday, October 22, 2011
Instant analysis: MSU 37, Wisconsin 31

By Adam Rittenberg


EAST LANSING, Mich. -- Instant analysis from Spartan Stadium, where No. 16 Michigan State upset No. 6 Wisconsin 37-31 on a Hail Mary on the final play. WOW!

Let's take a look ...

How the game was won: Michigan State quarterback Kirk Cousins outplayed Heisman Trophy candidate Russell Wilson most of the night, and he saved his biggest play for the end. Lining up at Wisconsin's 44-yard line, Cousins heaved a Hail Mary to the end zone. The ball was deflected to wide receiver Keith Nichol, who inched across the goal line for the winner. The Play of the Year in college football lifted the Spartans, who had squandered a 14-point lead in the final nine minutes.

Turning point: After throwing his second interception, Wilson came alive in the closing minutes of regulation, leading scoring drives of 43 and 87 yards.

Player of the game: Cousins. Who else? The senior delivered his most impressive performance in one of the biggest games of his career, cementing himself in Spartans' lore. Cousins completed 22 of 31 passes for 290 yards with three touchdowns and no interceptions. He threw the game-winning 44-yard touchdown to Nichol with no time remaining.

Stat of the game I: After drawing 13 penalties for 124 yards against archrival Michigan, Michigan State exhibited much better discipline in a game in which it had to. The Spartans avoided a penalty for the entire game while a normally disciplined Wisconsin team drew five flags.

Second guessing: After regaining momentum late in regulation, Wisconsin could have sent the game to overtime but used timeouts in the final minute to try and regain possession. Michigan State converted three third downs on the final possession, including the touchdown to Nichol.

What it means: The Big Ten won't be sending a team to the BCS title game for the fourth consecutive season. Wilson's Heisman hopes likely are finished. Wisconsin's early season dominance looks a bit different after the Badgers struggled in their first true road game. Michigan State is undoubtedly the team to beat in the Legends division, but next week's game at Nebraska is even more important for the Spartans than tonight's victory. These teams look like the class of the Big Ten -- along with Penn State -- and could reunite in the league championship game Dec. 3 in Indianapolis. We can only hope.