NCF Nation: Brad Sonntag


Michigan State gave the Big Ten a much-needed bowl win with a thrilling 33-30 triple-overtime win over Georgia in the Outback Bowl.

Here's an instant analysis:

How the game was won: Defense was king to start the day, but we saw both offenses catch some fire in the second half. After being outscored 16-0 in the first half, the Spartans outscored Georgia 27-11 in the second. Michigan State survived quarterback Kirk Cousins' third interception of the day to start overtime, then Georgia's Blair Walsh missed a 42-yard field goal attempt. Spartans kicker Dan Conroy won the game in triple overtime with a 28-yard field goal.

Turning point: Walsh's missed field goal attempt on Georgia's first possession in overtime kept Michigan State alive and allowed it to score in the next two overtime periods.

Stat of the game: The teams combined for 68 rushes for 124 yards.

Player of the game: Michigan State wide receiver Brian Linthicum had a spectacular day catching the ball. He hauled in seven catches for 115 yards, and his 50-yard reception in the fourth quarter helped set up a touchdown that gave Michigan State its first lead of the day.

Unsung hero of the game: Fifth-year senior wide receiver/holder Brad Sonntag saved the Spartans on two huge kicks. He snagged a low one on the tying extra point to send the game into overtime and grabbed a high one for the winner.

Best call: With 3:30 left in the fourth quarter, Michigan State coach Mark Dantonio challenged a play ruled a catch by Georgia's Marlon Brown. Even with pass interference being called on the play, a completion would have left the game clock at 3:30, but if it was incomplete, the clock would have had 13 seconds added. The play was overturned, 13 seconds were added, and Michigan State eventually scored its tying touchdown with 19 seconds remaining.

Second-guessing: Georgia coach Mark Richt has often been criticized for being too conservative, and it almost cost him, as he ran just two plays after Bacarri Rambo's interception before sending Walsh out for the 42-yard field goal attempt on Georgia's first overtime possession. Walsh missed, and Michigan State eventually won in triple overtime ... after a Walsh kick that was blocked.

What it means: Michigan State ends its five-game losing streak in bowl games and gives Dantonio his first bowl win as the Spartans' head coach. With 11 wins and a bowl win, Michigan State should be overflowing with confidence heading into the offseason. This likely will make the Spartans a top-10 team to open the 2012 season. For Georgia, this loss will sting for a while. The conservative play calling late and the missed field goal likely will be brought up a lot with this team. The Bulldogs should return a talented team that will have it near top-10 status, though.

Record performance: Brandon Boykin's stellar 92-yard punt return is the longest play in Outback Bowl history. Less than two minutes earlier, Aaron Murray's 80-yard touchdown pass to Tavarres King stood as the longest play in the bowl's 26-year existence. It was also a career-long pass for Murray and a career-long reception for King. Also, King's 205 receiving yards were a Georgia school record.

Record performance 2: Walsh's eight points on kicks made him the SEC's all-time leading scorer with 411 points.
IOWA CITY, Iowa -- Iowa's not dead yet.

After having its pride challenged midway through the quarter, the Hawkeyes have responded with two late touchdowns to get within striking distance entering the fourth. A big-play offense led by star wide receiver Marvin McNutt (7 catches, 119 yards, TD) has settled into a nice rhythm after struggling mightily in the second quarter.

Iowa needs to replicate its magic from the Pitt comeback, and do so against a much better defense in Michigan State.

The Spartans were in total control midway through the quarter and reminded Iowa that they haven't forgotten the beating it absorbed here last season.

Leading 31-7, Spartans coach Mark Dantonio called for a fake on a 42-yard field goal try and Brad Sonntag picked up the first down.

As one media member remarked, "That's called payback's a [expletive]." The fake undoubtedly was a shot at some aggressive play calling Iowa had with a big lead in last year's game. I like the way this rivalry is headed.

The Spartans need to regroup a bit on both sides of the ball. The defense has had no answer for McNutt, who became Iowa's all-time career receiving yards leader late in the quarter. The Spartans' safeties must find ways to keep McNutt in front of them.

Iowa's defense, meanwhile, must contain the run game in the final quarter. Michigan State established it early with Le'Veon Bell and Edwin Baker, and it will continue pounding away until Iowa makes some stops.

Should be a fun final 15 minutes. Stay tuned.
Michigan State will have quite a few open seats on the team plane as it takes off for San Antonio on Sunday morning.

White
Jason Miller/US PresswireBlair White provides one reliable option for the Spartans at wideout.
And when offensive coordinator Don Treadwell assembles the Spartans' wide receivers to begin final preparations for the Valero Alamo Bowl, the meeting room might feel a little empty. Fourteen Spartans players aren't making the trip to the bowl game, as 12 have been suspended and two, running back Glenn Winston and safety Roderick Jenrette, have been dismissed from the team.

The wide receiver group has been hit especially hard as four suspended players -- B.J. Cunningham, Mark Dell, Chris D. Rucker and Myles White -- play the position. Cunningham and Dell rank second and third on the team in receiving, having combined for 1,090 receiving yards, 74 receptions and five touchdowns.

Cunningham started nine games, while Dell started the final three regular-season contests. Their presence will be missed Jan. 2 against Texas Tech in a game where Michigan State likely needs to throw the ball a lot and put up points.

"We've talked about all season how at a lot of positions, we feel one of the strengths of our team is depth," Michigan State quarterback Kirk Cousins said. "We have lost some guys, and it's going to test our depth. There are guys who haven't had opportunities yet to play in games, who we know work very hard year-round behind closed doors when no one else is really watching.

"They're guys we know we can count on, come the bowl game."

Cousins knows what he's got in Blair White, a first-team All-Big Ten receiver who leads Michigan State and ranks third in the league in receiving average (73 ypg). The Spartans also can turn to sophomore Keshawn Martin, who, in addition to becoming a threat on returns, has 14 receptions for 325 yards (23.2 ypr) and four touchdowns.

After those two, though, it's slim pickings. Michigan State can turn to tight ends Charlie Gantt, Brian Linthicum and Dion Sims, but it needs more production from the wide receiver position.

So who steps up? Cousins thinks sophomore walk-on Brad Sonntag could emerge.

"He's got a lot of upside," Cousins said.

Sonntag and redshirt freshman Milton Colbert are listed as the backups to White and Martin on Michigan State's pre-bowl depth chart. Neither Sonntag nor Colbert has caught a pass this season.

"We're still tinkering with all that," Cousins said. "We don't have a set plan yet, and we're still figuring out what would be the best matchups to use. And we're a team that likes to use our tight ends, so we always want to get them the football, too."

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