NCF Nation: Spartans-Wildcats-102310

EVANSTON, Ill. -- Mark Dantonio comes off as an all-business coach, but he has a playful side.

It comes out in how he labels his fakes on special teams.

Mark Dantonio
AP Photo/Nam Y. HuhCoach Mark Dantonio and Michigan State remained unbeaten with the help of a fake punt.
America knows all about "Little Giants," the fake field goal named after the Rick Moranis/Ed O'Neill comedy that lifted Michigan State to an overtime win against Notre Dame in Week 3. On Saturday, Dantonio introduced us to "Mousetrap."

Yep, just like the kids' game.

"We had to get them to take the cheese," Dantonio said with a big grin.

Northwestern bit hard, punter Aaron Bates found redshirt freshman receiver Bennie Fowler for a first down, and Michigan State added another unforgettable moment to its unforgettable season.

"Mousetrap" didn't decide Saturday's game like "Little Giants" had against Notre Dame, but Dantonio's decision swung the momentum back to Michigan State's side early in the fourth quarter. The seventh-ranked Spartans went on to complete their comeback -- they trailed 17-0 midway through the second quarter -- and beat Northwestern 35-27 to remain perfect at 8-0.

"You see any of the championship teams, their coaches are always going for it all," Fowler said. "Because not everything is promised."

This much is promised: Michigan State heads to Iowa City at 8-0, one step closer to becoming the Big Ten champion.

Dantonio returned to the field Saturday for the first time since calling "Little Giants" against Notre Dame. His subsequent heart attack and surgical procedure kept him away from the stadium for two games, and then in the coaches' booth for wins against Michigan and Illinois.

By midweek, he felt good enough to coach on the field but didn't make the final determination until five minutes before kickoff Saturday. It was a good decision, setting up an even better one several hours later.

Michigan State trailed 24-14 and faced fourth-and-6 from the Northwestern 31-yard line. A stiff headwind prevented a long field-goal try, and the Spartans originally lined up to go for it before calling timeout.

"I had weird feeling that [the fake] was going to be called, just knowing coach D for so long and how we've practiced," receiver Keith Nichol said. "I was hoping he'd call for it. ... He trusts his players. He put that game, essentially, in a redshirt freshman's hands, and that's huge."

MSU took a delay of game penalty: in part to create more separation for Fowler to make a play, and in part because Fowler originally lined up on the wrong side of the formation. The Spartans had always practiced "Mousetrap" to be run along their own sideline, but the ball was on the opposite hash.

"We noticed on film that the DBs would play hard for about 10 yards, and then they would just release," Fowler said. "I was able to slip behind the defense."

Just like Michigan State had planned, Northwestern cornerback Jordan Mabin lost Fowler, which allowed the freshman to catch Bates' pass, thrown into the wind.

"We felt like we could sneak one in there, especially with Bates," Dantonio said. "It's timing, it's execution. I just name the play."

He also shows his players just how much he believes in them.

"It tells you that he's a man about winning," Fowler said, "putting all the chips in and just let it ride."

Michigan State scored on the next play to cut Northwestern's lead to three points.

"To have a special season, you have to be willing to roll the dice at times," quarterback Kirk Cousins said. "Right now, we're rolling the dice and getting the right number."

There was nothing fancy about the way the Spartans took their first lead. Down 27-21 with 7:18 remaining, the Spartans marched 88 yards in 11 plays, most of which were the clutch variety.

[+] EnlargeKirk Cousins
AP Photo/Nam Y. HuhKirk Cousins led Michigan State on an 11-play, 88-yard drive for the go-ahead TD at Northwestern.
Michigan State faced a second-and-20 and a third-and-15 on the drive and twice found ways to move the chains. Cousins completed 7 of 8 attempts for 98 yards. Receiver Keith Nichol made two huge catches on long-yardage situations, and B.J. Cunningham capped it off by squeezing a 9-yard touchdown that had deflected off of Northwestern's Brian Peters.

"On that drive, things clicked, things worked our way," Cousins said. "To have a special season, you need some breaks to fall your way. And we just found a way."

Cousins finished the game 29-for-43 passing for 329 yards and three scores with no interceptions.

Now only if he could catch up to Bates, who now boasts a passer rating of 475 (2-for-2, 50 yards, 1 TD) on the season.

"Hey, if he's giving out quarterback lessons, I'll be sure to come in and attend," Cousins said.

If Dantonio gave lessons on gutsy calls, he'd certainly get a larger turnout after "Little Giants" and "Mousetrap."

Although Dantonio claims he's always been a risk-taker, the gambler has truly come out this season.

And it had to, for Michigan State to be 8-0.

"I believe in our football team," he said. "I'm going to give ourselves a chance to win every opportunity. We're going to take calculated risks. That's all a part of it. ... When your players can execute and when you have the right timing on things, I don't care what you call, things can happen for you."

Right now, things are happening for Michigan State. Great things.

And the Spartans seem to be at their best with their backs against the wall.

"You go 8-0 with players that believe," Dantonio said. "You go 8-0 when you build a program and there's a ripple effect, top down, throughout our program that people believe in what's going on.

"If you're going to be 8-0 and have an opportunity to maybe, maybe, maybe, play for a championship, you've got to be able to play in this environment."

Adam Rittenberg talks with Spartans linebacker Eric Gordon who made the game-clinching interception against Northwestern.

Adam Rittenberg talks with Michigan State punter Aaron Bates after the win over Northwestern.
EVANSTON, Ill. -- Michigan State's quest for perfection is still alive.

The Spartans made the plays when they counted in the second half, especially on an 88-yard scoring drive to take their first lead with two minutes remaining. Northwestern quarterback Dan Persa lost his mojo with one final chance to rally -- he wasn't helped by another dumb penalty by Al Netter -- and the Spartans escaped Evanston with a 35-27 win.

Everyone's going to be talking about Little Giants 2, the fake punt call by Mark Dantonio to set up a Michigan State score in the fourth quarter. But Kirk Cousins and his receivers really deserve the credit for this one. Cousins went 7-of-8 for 98 yards on the decisive drive.

I'll have much more from Ryan Field, so stay tuned.video
EVANSTON, Ill. -- Maybe it's fate.

Michigan State took its first lead of the game with two minutes left following an 11-play, 88-yard drive that personified clutch. Kirk Cousins made big play after big play, while Northwestern couldn't get the stop it needed.

Credit receiver Keith Nichol and Mark Dell for making some huge catches, none bigger than Dell's 9-yard grab in the end zone after Northwestern safety Brian Peters tipped the ball. This Spartans team is clutch, converting a third-and-15 and a second-and-20.

Can Dan Persa answer after a tremendous game?
EVANSTON, Ill. -- Mark Dantonio strikes again.

It wasn't quite "Little Giants," but Dantonio's decision to call a fake punt has put Michigan State right back in this game with 13:12 left. Facing fourth-and-6 from the Northwestern 31-yard line, Michigan State originally looked to be going for the first down. But after a timeout, the Spartans took a delay of game, setting up a seemingly obvious punting situation.

But nothing is obvious with Dantonio and the punt team.

Aaron Bates' pass wasn't great, but it reached Bennie Fowler for a 21-yard gain and a first down. Northwestern's Jordan Mabin appeared to stop running on the play.

You would think Northwestern would have learned from the Michigan State-Notre Dame game. The Wildcats have to feel a little deflated right now.

If Michigan State comes back to win, everyone will be talking about The Call, Part II.
EVANSTON, Ill. -- Dan Persa built his reputation earlier this season with his impressive completion percentage.

The Northwestern quarterback is enhancing it with some incredibly gutsy runs today against No. 7 Michigan State.

Persa kept an 80-yard touchdown drive alive with two tough runs and finished it off by spinning into the end zone for his third score of the day. At only 6-foot-1, Persa plays a lot bigger.

Northwestern answered Michigan State's quick burst to begin the second half. Let's see how the Spartans respond, but Persa looks like a guy who won't be denied today.

Northwestern leads 24-14 late in the third quarter.
EVANSTON, Ill. -- Michigan State isn't going to give up its perfect record without a fight.

The Spartans got the perfect start they needed to begin the second half, forcing a three-and-out and then marching down the field for a touchdown. The energy level on both sides the ball is noticeably different for Mark Dantonio's squad, and I loved the play-action pass call by Don Treadwell on Michigan State's fist play.

After a sloppy first quarter, Michigan State's offense is starting to hum a bit and different players are contributing in the run game, like Bennie Fowler.

The Spartans are right back in this one, down 17-14 early in the third quarter.

Halftime update: MSU-Northwestern

October, 23, 2010
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EVANSTON, Ill. -- A few halftime thoughts at Ryan Field, where Northwestern leads No. 7 Michigan State 17-7.

Turning point: Northwestern didn't let a fumble at the Michigan State 1-yard line become a momentum swing. The defense forced a three-and-out and the offense converted for a field goal, before marching down field on its next drive to extend the lead to 17-0. Rather than letting Michigan State get back into it, Northwestern kept the pedal down.

Best player in the half: Northwestern quarterback Dan Persa. Persa showcased his dual-threat abilities on the national stage, completing 8 of 13 passes for 115 yards. The junior also has 38 rush yards and two scores on 11 carries, including a 22-yard burst. Wildcats freshman Adonis Smith also has stepped up with 32 rush yards on five carries.

Stat of the half: Michigan State finished the first half with only 50 rush yards on 14 carries. Northwestern allowed 232 rush yards and 165 rush yards in its previous two Big Ten games. The Spartans rushed for 175 yards or more in each of their first six games and 200 or more in five of their first six, but they had only 93 rush yards last week against Illinois.
EVANSTON, Ill. -- Michigan State really needed that.

The Spartans are beginning to execute on offense in the second quarter. After getting nothing on their first possession, the Spartans looked very good on a 68-yard touchdown march that ended with a 7-yard pass from Kirk Cousins to Mark Dell.

The big key there was MSU's run game finally showing up. Northwestern had done a tremendous job limiting the Spartans' backs on the outside, but Le'Veon Bell got free for an 11-yard dash, and Cousins made several big throws.

It's important for Northwestern to avoid any major mistakes before half, as MSU has regained some of the momentum now.
EVANSTON, Ill. -- Four years ago, Michigan State mounted the biggest comeback in NCAA history against Northwestern on this field.

The Spartans might not have to rally from 35 down again, although at this rate, anything could happen.

Northwestern continues to dominate play on both sides of the ball. After forcing a field goal attempt, which Dan Conroy pushed for his first miss of the season, the Wildcats marched 79 yards in six plays. Offensive coordinator Mick McCall is calling a tremendous game so far, getting freshmen Venric Mark and Adonis Smith involved much more.

The bye week clearly is paying off.

But the big story continues to be Dan Persa, who sneaked into the end zone to complete the drive. Northwestern wisely kept the ball in his hands this time.

Michigan State absolutely has to get a score before halftime to regain some confidence before a crucial second half. The Spartans must get their run game going as they trail 17-0.
EVANSTON, Ill. -- Michigan State is fortunate to be down only 10-0 right now.

After an Edwin Baker fumble, Northwestern was poised to score a second touchdown as it lined up for first-and-goal from the Spartans' 1. But an opportunistic Spartans defense came up big again, forcing its 21st takeaway of the season, a Jacob Schmidt fumble recovered by Johnny Adams.

Northwestern's defense continued to play tough, forcing a punt, and the Wildcats converted good field position into a Stefan Demos field goal. They still have to feel a little unsatisfied after another turnover near the goal line, a season-long problem.

Schmidt likely won't return after suffering an ankle injury on the play where he fumbled.

Freshmen giving Wildcats lift so far

October, 23, 2010
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EVANSTON, Ill. -- Pat Fitzgerald really doesn't like playing true freshmen.

You know if the Northwestern coach gives in, the player has some game. And it's showing up today.

Northwestern already has received production from three true freshmen as it leads Michigan State 7-0 after the first quarter.

Receiver Rashad Lawrence had a huge 44-yard reception to set up Northwestern's touchdown. Venric Mark has provided a nice lift on punt returns, a chronic area of weakness for the Wildcats.

But the biggest contribution has come from Adonis Smith, who might be the Wildcats' answer at running back. Smith is showing good moves against a strong MSU defense and running well on zone plays.

Pass-happy Wildcats strike first

October, 23, 2010
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EVANSTON, Ill. -- Northwestern is playing to its strength today, and it's working.

The Wildcats took to the air and attacked Michigan State on a 72-yard scoring drive. The Wildcats converted three third downs on passes, none bigger than a leaping grab by true freshman receiver Rashad Lawrence, who beat cornerback Johnny Adams for a 44-yard gain. Northwestern doesn't play many freshmen, but Lawrence looks like he belongs.

Northwestern's Dan Persa is showing why he's one of the nation's more underrated players. Persa has several nice scrambles and made a tough throw to Jeremy Ebert before absorbing a big hit by Eric Gordon on a blitz to set up first-and-goal. The junior then took it in on the next play in a Wildcat-like formation.

The play calling has been solid by Mick McCall, and Northwestern leads 7-0 with 5:11 left in the first quarter.
EVANSTON, Ill. -- He's baaack.

Michigan State coach Mark Dantonio had spent pregame the past two weeks on the field, but when the ball was kicked, he had returned to the coaches' booth. Not today.

Dantonio led the Spartans onto the field and is coaching from the sideline for the first time since the Sept. 18 game against Notre Dame. The 54-year-old suffered a mild heart attack following the Notre Dame win and underwent a surgical procedure. He watched a game from home and another from the hospital before spending the past two weeks in the coaches' booth.

I thought the bad weather would keep Coach D in the booth today, but it's good to see him back where he belongs.

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