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Best Games of 2011: Kirk Cousins becomes a legend vs. Wisconsin

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It wasn’t a Game of the Century, but Michigan State and Wisconsin met one night in October and put together one of the more memorable performances of the fall.

Before we continue with a look back at the Baylor’s big win, and in case you have missed any of the previous segments, here are the games we have already reflected on:

No. 16 Michigan State vs. No. 6 Wisconsin
October 22, 2011

The Quick Slant: Michigan State stuns the undefeated Badgers with a Hail Mary pass that is ruled a touchdown following video replay.

Game in Brief: Michigan State 37, Wisconsin 31

Michigan State had this game circled on the calendar for a while. A season after being the odd-man out in the three-way Big Ten championship scenario as far as the BCS was concerned, the Spartans wanted to make a statement in 2012 against Ohio State (who went to the Sugar Bowl) and Wisconsin (Rose Bowl). They did just that with a road win in Columbus and a thriller at home against Russell Wilson and the Badgers.

Wisconsin had entered the game already flexing their muscles on a weekly basis, blowing away inferior opponents with their explosive and powerful offense fueled by stud running back Montee Ball and transfer quarterback Russell Wilson. The Russell Wilson Heisman campaign was already in full force at this point with Wisconsin making a push in the top ten rankings and thinking about another trip to Pasadena. And in East Lansing Wisconsin got off to a good start, scoring 14 points in a span of just over a minute midway through the first quarter. But these Spartans stormed back before halftime, scoring 23 second quarter points. The rally started with a safety when Denicos Allen brought down Wilson in the end zone early in the quarter, and Keshawn Martin broke loose for a 34-yard touchdown run. Sparty took the lead with a 35-yard pass from Kirk Cousins to B.J. Cunningham with 1:20 to play. Michigan State was not done though, forcing Wisconsin to punt and subsequently blocking the punt and recovering it for a touchdown for a 23-14 halftime lead.

The Spartans pushed their lead to 31-17 with an early touchdown pass from Cousins to Martin and a successful two-point conversion, but the Badgers were not about to roll over and pack their bus for Madison. Russell Wilson put the team on his back, running for a 22-yard touchdown to make it a single-possession game, and Montee Ball’s two-yard touchdown catch from Wilson with 1:26 tied things up, with overtime looking like a real possibility as Michigan State drove from their own 22-yard line to the Wisconsin 44-yard line with time for just one more play. Too long for a field goal attempt, the Spartans did what any team would do, throw a deep pass and hope for the best.

That’s when this happened…

 

What We Said Then (Full Story)

Before the Hail Mary win, Wisconsin’s Russell Wilson led the Badgers on a nice fourth-quarter comeback from 14 down. With one Cousins pass, though, Wilson’s Heisman moment was deflated. Wilson played well, but Cousins was better.

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There’s also a good chance Michigan State and Wisconsin could play again in the conference championship game.

If only it could match the intensity of the first meeting.


Hindsight is 20/20

Michigan State and Wisconsin did meet again, of course. The first ever Big Ten Championship Game set the stage for the anticipated rematch, and the second go around was every bit as thrilling as the first meeting. In that Big Ten championship game the Badgers got off to a fast start, leading 21-7 after the first quarter, but just as in this regular season game the Spartans roared back in the second quarter with 22 points to take a lead in to halftime. Wisconsin would have the last laugh though, outlasting Michigan State 42-39 and avoiding another final second loss. Wisconsin was granted a repeat trip to the Rose Bowl, where they fell short against Oregon in another one of our top gapes of the 2011 season. Michigan State would be more fortunate in the Outback Bowl against Georgia, another classic.

As the season progressed the Wisconsin Heisman campaign shifted from Russell Wilson to running back Montee Ball. Ball was a finalist for the Heisman Trophy but probably became a victim of late awareness to what he was doing on the field. To the surprise of many, Ball decided to return for one more season in Madison, and with all eyes on him now there is a good chance Ball could be one of the favorites for the Heisman Trophy in 2012.

In East Lansing quarterback Kirk Cousins certainly left his mark as a gritty leader. Often overlooked as a quarterback around the nation, Cousins quietly put together some solid performances en route to a share of a Big Ten title and the first Big Ten Legends Division championship. Now, where do Wisconsin and Michigan State go from here?

 

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Kevin McGuire

About Kevin McGuire

Contributor to College Football Talk on NBCSports.com. Member of the FWAA and National Football Foundation. College Football Hall of Fame voter. Also managing Bloguin's NittanyLionsDen.com and Macho-Row.com.

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