This season, many words have been used to describe Michigan State’s football team. They’ve been called gutsy, gritty, and determined. They’ve been called sporadic, and at times uninspired, in early-game performances against Iowa and Purdue. They’ve been called phenemonal, as well as memorable. After today’s 28-22 victory over Penn State, Spartan fans can add another adjective to that list: champions.
Michigan State snagged a share ofÂ its first Big Ten title since 1990 in knocking off the Nittany Lions, and in doing so, banished some long-suffering demons. Going into the contest, MSU hadn’t defeated Penn State in Happy Valley since 1965, when legendary coach Joe Paterno was an assistant on the squad. 401Â wins later, and Paterno led his team into their final home contest todayÂ with an aura of invincibility surrounding Beaver Stadium. Yet, MSU proved they were up to the challenge of delivering a killer blow in enemy territory.
In crossing that item off of their to-do list, the SpartansÂ did so many things the right way. They got off toÂ a strong start by driving down the field for a game-opening score, and then the defense held up its end of the bargain by limiting Penn State to only a field goal on the next possession, and zero points through the rest of the half.Â TheyÂ mixed the run and pass well throughout, and avoided drive-killing penalties, which halted several PSU possessions. They played with great discipline, and the Spartans’ calm toughness allowed them to withstand a late Nittany Lion TD and subsequent onside kick. More than anything though, this team displayed tremendous heart, and on a day when PSU said goodbye to its seniors, State proved that they simply wanted this game more.
They wanted it more when they put together a 9-play, 71-yard drive to start the game. They wanted it more whenÂ Edwin Baker lunged and lowered his shoulder through a hapless Penn State defender to score the Spartans’ first points. They wanted it more as they held Penn State to three first-half points.Â They wanted it more when Jerel Worthy and the Spartans’ ‘D’ continued to dominate the Nittany Lions through the third quarter. And, when it came down to a last-gasp, 19-point comeback attempt by Joe Paterno’s squad, the Spartans truly wanted it moreÂ as theyÂ recovered Colin Wagner’s onside kick.
Perhaps the best example of the Spartans’ unwavering desire came in the form of Edwin Baker. MSU’s sophomore tailback ran over, around, and through Nittany Lion defenders for 118 yards and an early TD and throughout the game, he consistently displayed strongÂ bursts of power.Â But, his defining play came early on. In a true display of classic grit, he reached for an extra yard, and the resulting touchdown, through a Penn State defender, at the tail end of MSU’s opening possession. When the play was over, and six points sat on the scoreboard for MSU, there was no doubt who wanted it more.
But, Baker wasn’t the only member of the offensive backfield who displayed uncommon desire. In playing with an injured ankle yet again, Kirk Cousins delivered a tough-as-nails performance. Although he only threw for 152 yards, he tossed just five incompletions, and most importantly, no interceptions. Time and again, he showed mobility and smart decision-making in stepping up in the pocket and making solid throws. On top of that, he led MSU down the field with effective passing, deliveringÂ two touchdowns in the process. Many quarterbacks might have ceded the reins of their team over to the back-up after sitting out four days of practiceÂ in just one week,Â but not Cousins. When the Big Ten championship was on the line, he just wanted it more.
Yet, these are onlyÂ two examples of Spartan desire. Â MSU’s driveÂ for aÂ piece of theÂ Big Ten title couldÂ truly be seen from sideline-to-sideline on Saturday.Â The entire Spartan defense stopped two Penn State two-point conversion attempts after late touchdowns. MSU’s special teams yielded no big returns in the kicking game.Â And the coaching staff dueled with one of the better units in the Big Ten, and came out on top.
For the first time in two decades, Michigan StateÂ hasÂ secured a share of the Big Ten title. For the first time since 1965, an MSU team hasÂ won in Happy Valley. For the first time in school history, the Spartans have hit the eleven-win mark . But, more than any of those accomplishments, they’ve showed us just how badly they wanted this win today.Â That wouldn’t be the first time that’s happened this season.Â That’s why they can call themselves champions.