NCF Nation: Badgers-Spartans-100210

EAST LANSING, Mich. -- Linebacker Jon Misch tried to get as close to the BlackBerry as possible, making sure he could hear one of the more unique post-game speeches in college football history.

Misch and his Michigan State teammates had just finished a 34-24 win against No. 11 Wisconsin, overcoming three first-half turnovers and a second-half rally by the Badgers. The Spartans validated themselves as a Big Ten title contender and beat their highest-ranked opponent since upsetting No. 10 Notre Dame in 2005. Michigan State had dropped 14 of its previous 15 games against ranked opponents.

The win was certainly cause for celebration, but Michigan State's raucous locker room quieted down for a few moments as a voice came through one of the coach's speaker phones.

[+] EnlargeMichigan State
AP Photo/Carlos OsorioMichigan State took a big step by beating No. 11 Wisconsin. "This game was a big-time game that if we come out and win it, people are going to start opening their eyes and saying, 'Michigan State's got something,'" linebcker Jon Misch said.
Head coach Mark Dantonio wanted to congratulate his team -- from the hospital.

"He said, 'I'm so proud of you guys, unbelievable win,'" Misch said. "People were yelling, 'I love you, coach! That's for you!' and things like that. It was honestly so hard to hear it, but I made out those few words."

Those few words meant a lot to a team that made a very loud statement to the rest of the country Saturday: These aren't the same old Spartans, so you better get used to it.

"People used to say the big games, when we had the national spotlight on us, we'd crack," Misch said.

Michigan State had its opportunities to crumble, even before Saturday's game. Players only found out Friday night that Dantonio wouldn't be in the stadium after the coach was readmitted to the hospital because of a blood clot in his leg.

Their response?

"Business as usual," quarterback Kirk Cousins said.

Michigan State came out a little shaky, as it had in so many other showcase games. Cousins threw two interceptions and Keith Nichol fumbled.

Wisconsin converted the giveaways into 10 points but did nothing else in the half, and Michigan State amazingly led 20-10 at halftime despite the minus-3 turnover margin.

But the real test came later. Michigan State held a second-half lead, as it had many other times against ranked opponents, only to fall apart. Wisconsin cut its deficit to three points with 10:53 left, and had Michigan State facing third-and-9 from its own 17-yard line.

At that point, Cousins began to lead the drive of his life. And offensive coordinator Don Treadwell, handling the head-coaching duties in Dantonio's absence, made some of the biggest calls of his life.

  • Third-and-9 from the MSU 17: Cousins hits Mark Dell on a slant for 12 yards.
  • Third-and-11 from the MSU 28: Treadwell catches Wisconsin in an all-out blitz, and Cousins finds Larry Caper on a screen pass for 35 yards.
  • Third-and-5 from the Wisconsin 21: The Spartans line up in the shotgun but hand it off to Caper, who scampers 11 yards for a first down.

It all set up a fourth-and-goal from the Wisconsin 1-yard line. Treadwell had gone 1-for-2 on fourth-down attempts, and he decided to pull the trigger again. Cousins, who had executed the play-action perfectly all afternoon, faked a handoff, waited for B.J. Cunningham to get open and fired a touchdown.

"We've had that play in since camp, and I've called for it three or four times," Cousins said. "I wanted it against Florida Atlantic, it didn't get called. I wanted it against Western Michigan, didn't get called. So I guess this was the moment to have it."

It was Michigan State's moment.

Treadwell validated himself as a play-caller and a decision-maker, making several bold decisions down the stretch.

"[Dantonio] has taught us if we don't get a verbal cue from him, then we're going to go play for the win," Treadwell said.

But did Dantonio provide a cue from the hospital? Treadwell said the fourth-and-goal decision was his call, but Dantonio managed to stay involved despite being a few miles away from the stadium.

"He was texting and calling the entire game," said defensive coordinator Pat Narduzzi, who coached from the press box. "I've never been on the phone so much during the game. He was with us the entire time. ... There was a couple times we called him and said, 'Do we go for it or not?' And he was right there with us."

It's not known when Dantonio will be released from the hospital or when he'll return to his full-time duties. But his assistants and his players are doing just fine without their leader, a major step for a program that has, in past years, had shaky leadership from the top down.

Why is Michigan State finally overcoming adversity?

"We had to learn how to win," Cousins said.

The dramatic overtime win against Notre Dame helped, but a convincing performance against Wisconsin left a stronger imprint.

"We don't feel like people respect us the way we want them to," Misch said. "This game was a big-time game that if we come out and win it, people are going to start opening their eyes and saying, 'Michigan State's got something.'"

The Spartans can gain more respect by beating Denard Robinson and archrival Michigan next week. But it's an uphill battle for a program that has disappointed so many for so long.

"I still feel like we're not respected," running back Edwin Baker said. "We're not going to get our respect until we're 13-0."

Michigan State took another step toward perfection Saturday. After the game, the Spartans sang their fight song, and through the phone, Dantonio listened to every word.

"He's still there," Cousins said, "leading us."

Video: Michigan State's Jon Misch

October, 2, 2010

Spartans linebacker Jon Misch talks about earning some respect with the win over Wisconsin.

Adam Rittenberg talks with Spartans defensive tackle Jerel Worthy about the win over Wisconsin.

Michigan State running back Edwin Baker discusses the win over the Badgers and what he’s expecting against Michigan.
EAST LANSING, Mich. -- Don Treadwell validated himself as a play-caller and a decision-maker. Kirk Cousins validated himself as a clutch quarterback.

And Michigan State validated itself as a threat in the Big Ten.

Mark Dantonio must be wearing a big smile in the hospital right now.

The Spartans overcame three first-half turnovers and answered every Wisconsin challenge, recording an impressive 34-24 victory at Spartan Stadium. Despite the continued absence of their ailing coach, the Spartans have evolved into a 5-0 team that could do some serious damage in league play.

Wisconsin once again can't get over the hump and become an elite program. The Badgers couldn't capitalize on Michigan State's early mistakes and didn't get a key stop when they needed one. Bret Bielema's struggles in the state of Michigan continue.

I'm heading down for interviews but will have much more from Spartan Stadium.
EAST LANSING, Mich. -- Kirk Cousins just led the drive of his life, and Don Treadwell just called the drive of his life.

The quarterback and the play-caller both came up huge as Michigan State marched 84 yards in 15 plays, scoring on a 1-yard Cousins pass to B.J. Cunningham on fourth-and-goal from the 1. Treadwell has shown no fear in making the big decisions Saturday in place of ailing head coach Mark Dantonio, and Cousins is executing extremely well in the second half.

Michigan State converted three huge third-and-long situations on the drive. Most impressive was a screen pass to Larry Caper on an all-out blitz that went for 35 yards on third-and-11.

Mark Dantonio has to be loving this, as Michigan State is poised for a huge win.
EAST LANSING, Mich. -- Wisconsin's receiving corps kept dropping passes, and Scott Tolzien's completion percentage kept getting worse.

But Tolzien turned things around on an 11-play, 70-yard scoring drive, eschewing his wide receivers in favor of tight ends Lance Kendricks and Jacob Pedersen. Offensive coordinator Paul Chryst made a great call on third-and-10, as Tolzien found Kendricks on a tight end screen that picked up 12 yards.

Moments later, Tolzien gunned the ball to Pedersen for a 12-yard score. Pedersen has done a nice job of complementing Tolzien today, and Tolzien's completion ratio (8 of 19) doesn't look quite as ugly now.

Michigan State's defense looked a little tired on that drive, so Kirk Cousins and the offense need to respond as the lead has been trimmed to 27-24.
EAST LANSING, Mich. -- Kirk Cousins hasn't played a perfect game today, but he has been perfect in one element.

Cousins continues to execute play-action passes to perfection and confuse Wisconsin's defense. The Michigan State junior quarterback had the Badgers' defense biting on a first-down fake, allowing him to hit a wide-open Charlie Gantt for a big gain. Michigan State ended the drive the same way, as Cousins found Gantt for a 1-yard score after another good play-action fake.

After a slow start, Cousins is outplaying Scott Tolzien, completing 17 of 24 passes for 221 yards with two touchdowns and two interceptions.

If Michigan State continues to run effectively with Le'Veon Bell and Edwin Baker and get this type of play-action execution from Cousins, it'll be tough to beat the rest of the season. Wisconsin is in big trouble now, down 27-17 entering the fourth quarter.
EAST LANSING, Mich. -- Don Treadwell made the right call to go for the touchdown on fourth-and-1 from the Wisconsin 1-yard line.

His play call and the Spartans' execution were poor, as a tight end slipped on the play, but Treadwell is making good big-picture decisions today. Playing at home with the defense playing relatively well and the run game humming, you go for it.

The Spartans' defense picked up Treadwell by forcing a three-and-out, and Michigan State continues to win the field-position battle, which could be huge down the stretch.
EAST LANSING, Mich. -- Le'Veon Bell is the front-runner for Big Ten Freshman of the Year, but Wisconsin's James White is making a run at it.

(Pun intended.)

White has been the most dynamic back on the field today, and he showed his speed and shiftiness in reversing field for a 34-yard touchdown run, his second score of the day. Wisconsin really needed a strong statement to begin the second half, and it got one on both sides of the ball. Star end J.J. Watt and the defense recorded three consecutive tackles for loss to force a punt, and following a good Aaron Henry punt return, White did the rest with 47 rush yards, getting help from his O-line.

It'll be interesting to see if John Clay can wear down the Spartans with his size in the second half. If not, Wisconsin has another very capable option in White.

Spartans lead 20-17 with 10:48 left in the third quarter.
EAST LANSING, Mich. -- Quick thoughts from halftime at Spartan Stadium, where No. 24 Michigan State leads No. 11 Wisconsin 20-10.

Turning point: After Michigan State stuffed John Clay and forced a punt, Keshawn Martin found a seam and raced 74 yards to the end zone to give the Spartans a 13-10 lead. Martin's return was part of 17 unanswered points by the Spartans.

Stat of the half: The Spartans are minus-3 in turnovers with two interceptions and a lost fumble, but lead by 10 points. Martin's return certainly helps, but Michigan State also is outgaining the Badgers 230-118, as Clay has been held in check and quarterback Scott Tolzien has been under constant pressure.

Best call: Michigan State offensive coordinator Don Treadwell rolled the dice on fourth-and-1 from the Wisconsin 47-yard line and made a great decision with a pitch play to Le'Veon Bell that went for 23 yards. Treadwell initially appeared to be trying to draw Wisconsin offside before a replay review, but he had the offense remain on the field and picked up a huge first down, leading to a Kirk Cousins touchdown pass to Mark Dell. Mark Dantonio had to be pleased with Treadwell's decision.

Keshawn Martin shows off speed

October, 2, 2010
EAST LANSING, Mich. -- You just knew it was a matter of time until Keshawn Martin found a seam.

Wisconsin provided one on a very mediocre punt, and Martin raced 74 yards for the first punt return touchdown of his career and Michigan State's first since 2002. Martin's speed sets him apart in the Big Ten, and when he gets a hole like the one he just did, fuhgettaboutit.

The Badgers' special-teams issues continue, meanwhile. Wisconsin allowed a kick return touchdown against Arizona State and would have allowed another if not for a tackle at the 1-yard line as the halftime clock expired.

Something tells me we won't see Wisconsin kicking to Martin again.

Michigan State leads 13-10 midway through the second quarter.

Wisconsin secondary stepping up

October, 2, 2010
EAST LANSING, Mich. -- The season-ending shoulder injury to Wisconsin star linebacker Chris Borland really increased pressure on the Badgers' secondary.

Today, the back four are answering the call. The Badgers already have an interception from cornerback Antonio Fenelus, a forced fumble by cornerback Niles Brinkley and a fumble recovery by safety Aaron Henry. Wisconsin forced another Michigan State field goal thanks to big hits from Henry and fellow safety Jay Valai, who has returned to the field after being shaken up in the first quarter.

Michigan State's offense is making plays here and there, but the Badgers' secondary has kept Kirk Cousins and co. out of the end zone. Wisconsin lacks a true shut-down secondary, but if the Badgers can generate takeaways and lay some big hits, they'll be in good shape today.

Michigan State's defense also looks good so far, especially Greg Jones.

Wisconsin leads 10-6 with 8:27 left in the first half.
EAST LANSING, Mich. -- I had a sense all week that today's game would come down to quarterback play.

Right now, Wisconsin's Scott Tolzien has the edge on Michigan State's Kirk Cousins. Wisconsin converted a Cousins' interception into a touchdown to take a 7-3 lead early in the second quarter.

The Badgers' eight-play, 74-yard drive was mostly classic power football, but Tolzien made the biggest play with a perfect throw to tight end Jacob Pedersen on third-and-4 from the Spartans' 42. Pedersen beat linebacker Eric Gordon and went for 26 yards, setting up a James White touchdown run on the next play.

Cousins has a habit of hesitating on passes and then throwing them anyway. He's such a smart guy that I wonder if he overthinks himself sometimes. I doubt we'll see a lot of mistakes on either side in this one, so Cousins needs to maker better decisions going forward.

Spartans defense comes out strong

October, 2, 2010
EAST LANSING, Mich. -- And that, my friends, is why Michigan State defensive coordinator Pat Narduzzi doesn't want to keep Greg Jones in coverage that much.

Jones remains Michigan State's best blitzer, and he showed it with a huge hit on Wisconsin quarterback Scott Tolzien on third-and-7. Michigan State's defense looks very good so far, holding Wisconsin to just one first down on its first two possessions. I still don't know why Wisconsin doesn't run John Clay up the middle more.

Safety Trenton Robinson already has a big hit, and Michigan State's defensive front seems to be generating good penetration.

Spartans lead 3-0 with 6:45 left in the first quarter.