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Seniors Sent off in Style: Spartans Smoke Indiana 55-3, Clinch Legends Division Championship

On a cloudy and windy Senior Day in East Lansing, Spartan Football came looking for a sharp and efficient effort. The early sleep walking witnessed against Minnesota two weeks ago would not be repeated. There would be no slow start this time for the less than announced 74,128 to enjoy. MSU pounded Indiana all over the field, for all 60-minutes, and closed out another perfect home season at Spartan Stadium (14 straight wins) with a bang.

The 17 Spartan Seniors have again won more games than any class in school history. And while that number has been inflated by a longer annual schedule that’s often stuffed with more cupcakes than in generations past, there’s no doubt this group has left Spartan Football in better shape than they found it. In fact, this program is now better off than it’s been in around 40 years. Without the commitment and efforts of those 17 Seniors, that would not be a reality.

The Spartans started strong as Kevin Muma (Rs. So. PK) touched Indiana back, and the Hoosiers were forced to punt on the game’s fifth snap. The MSU Offense started hot as well, going 60-yards on 4 plays, down to the Indiana 8. Yet, after moving it with ease through the air, the Spartans stalled out to force a 21-yard chip shot Field Goal from Dan Conroy (Rs.-Jr.).

Indiana moved the ball a little bit after starting at their 23, but went backwards fast thanks to a flag for Blocking in the Back. That flag stuck IU with a 2nd and 22 from the 28 that they could not overcome. The Hoosiers very much looked like a 1-9 team.

After Keshawn Martin (Sr. WR) took a good punt back to the MSU 24, the Spartans looked for a big play to break things open. Two plays later, MSU had a 1st and 10 from the 37, and saw the opportunity they were looking for. As Kirk Cousins (Rs.-Sr. QB) dropped back, he faked not one, but two handoffs to fool the young Hoosier D with play-action. They bit hard as Cousins did his best to look like Brian Hoyer (the best play-action faker in modern Spartan history) before launching a bomb to B.J. Cunningham (Rs.-Sr. WR) for a 63-yard TD to make it 10-0 MSU, and to add one last Spartan Stadium highlight for the Red Shirt Connection.

Indiana moved the ball only 5-yards on the next drive as the Spartan Dawgs continued their early domination. The Indiana punt was downed at the MSU 30, and they game was only a few moments away from being put out of reach.

After four straight running plays gave each member of The BBC (Running Back Firm of Le’Veon Bell, Edwin Baker, & Larry Caper) a chance get some yards, Cousins lined up under center for a 3rd and 8 from the Indiana 47. Cousins saw another hole in the Indiana coverage, and found Keshawn Martin open in space. As Spartan Nation has come to love over the past four years, that equation adds up to trouble for a Defense. Martin slipped by, and then sprinted past a couple Hoosiers on the way to the 47-yard highlight making Touchdown. It was a smooth 17-0 lead with 2:09 left.

Indiana’s QB Tre Roberson (Fr. QB) could get nothing going after another Muma Touchback, as Indiana quickly went 3 and Out. After another Hoosier punt, the Spartans started off at their 36 as the Quarter came to an end.

MSU’s 1st Quarter numbers were impressive. 227 total yards (183 pass, 44 rush) to 60 is more than a convincing edge. The Hoosiers were on the ropes and ready to be firmly put away before the end of the 1st Half.

The Hoosiers did force their first 4th down of the day on drive that carried over to the 2nd, and MSU lined up to punt from the IU 41. But Coach D thought it was time for a Senior Day surprise, and ran a fake with the snap going to Todd Anderson (Rs.-Sr. FB) to run with. Anderson was stuffed four yards short of a 1st though, and the Hoosiers had without a doubt their biggest play of the day.

After Roberson found Dre Muhammad (Sr. WR) for 19 on a 2nd and 6, Indiana arrived to the MSU 37. And when Jerel Worthy (Rs.-Jr. DT) was flagged for a 15-yard Personal Foul on that 2nd down, the combination of the three previous snaps had moved the over matched Hoosiers to the MSU 21. A shut out for the MSU Defense was suddenly in jeopardy. And though Indiana was stopped by the Spartans inside the 10, the Hoosier’s Mitch Ewald (So. PK) converted a 22-yard shorty to make it 17-3.

Ewald’s kick off was returned by Nick Hill (Rs.-So. RB) with a flash up the sideline. After 67-yards, Hill was caught by the last of the possible Hoosiers. Otherwise, we would have seen that kick return for a TD that Hill’s be looking for all year. After starting at the Hoosier 19 with a little pass from Cousins to Martin, Keshawn took the 2nd down hand off and reminded Spartan Nation again that he will go down as one the best Offensive weapons in school history. Martin slashed past the Defense for the 19-yard TD run. Up 24-3 with most of the 2nd Quarter to go, the Old Brass Spittoon was ready to award at Halftime.

Things got no better for the Hoosiers as they went “3 and minus 16” on the next series to set up another punt. And while the Defense did its job, Martin continued his work too as he added to his huge 1st Half numbers with a return for 20, down to the IU 33. A couple runs from Rock Baker and passes to Martin later, MSU was back to the IU 10. Baker then took a 2nd down run for 9 yards to the front corner of the End Zone to extend the damage to 31-3. The game was less than half over, but the result was no longer in much doubt.

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MSU would tack on another 3 after a drive that saw Kirk Cousins try three times to get Keith Nichol (Rs.-Sr. WR) a Senior Day TD catch. Conroy’s 33-yarder made it 34-3 MSU, and the Spartans walked out of Senior Day with their most dominant Half of the year.

MSU owned Indiana up and down the stat sheet. Perhaps most impressively, Cousins led the passing game to a 241-58 edge. The Spartans’ ground game had a decent edge too of 86-41. The last two Spartan 1st Half efforts have seen a MSU scoring spread of 65-10! Today’s knock out was swift, stiff, and right on target.

The 2nd Half was generally more of the same. Kirk Cousins surprisingly stayed in the game, but unsurprisingly completed his 60th career TD pass to Cunningham on the 3rd Quarter’s first drive. Given the Spartans would still be playing for their season’s goals in the coming weeks, it’s hard to understand why Cousins was still in when up 31 because he could be injured on any given play. Cousins said goodbye to Spartan Stadium and passed the torch to Andrew Maxwell (Rs.-So. QB) as he left the field for the final time with 5:00 left in the 3rd. For Cousins, it was a fine end to an incredible career, especially when you think about how far Cousins has come in his time at Michigan St.

A Defensive highlight of the 2nd Half came via an Indiana 4th and 3 gone wrong. As Roberson dropped back under heavy heat, he threw towards Johnny Adams (Rs.-Jr. CB), who picked it off with space to run. Adams displayed some of his top end speed that’s already gotten him Conference accolades as he went 87-yards to pile it on, 48-3. Indiana had no other answers in the 2nd Half, and the Spartans mixed in many Seniors, including Cancer beater Arthur Ray, Jr. (Rs.-Sr. OG), and other players to enjoy the final snaps at Spartan Stadium this year.

At the same time in Ann Arbor, Michigan pulled ahead of Nebraska by two scores, giving Spartan Stadium a stronger feeling that the Legends Division could be clinched for MSU by nightfall. Thanks to Nebraska’s melt down and Michigan’s convincing 45-17 win over the “not quite ready for the Big Ten” Huskers, the Spartans had closed the deal. The Legend’s Division title belongs to Michigan State Football. And more importantly, the Spartans have earned a trip to Indianapolis in two weeks to play for a Rose Bowl bid.

What a day for Spartan Football! For a program that’s been preparing for the Rose Bowl more than 11 months now, they’ve earned the opportunity to play for it with one game left to play. Though MSU wants to play well next week at Northwestern, they don’t have to win it to “play 14.” They’ve already punched the Spartan Nation’s ticket to the inaugural Big Ten Championship Game.

Their critics have doubted them from game one through last week’s romp over Iowa. Yet, the Spartans played on. After a rocky loss on the road at Notre Dame, many wrote them off as Big Ten “pretenders,” yet the Spartans insisted that their goals were still in place, and they would not be deterred. And after Nebraska played their best game of the year, shutting the Spartans down completely, MSU was again dismissed as not ready for the upper echelon of College Football. The Spartans have since bounced back from the loss in Lincoln with three straight wins to clinch the Division before Thanksgiving.

The 2011 Spartan Football season has become about making a powerful statement. Each time MSU has been questioned, they’ve come back with something stronger and louder to add to that statement. So for those who said MSU’s 2010 record was inflated and that the Spartan program wasn’t that good, what can they say now?

Here’s an idea…Spartans Will.

Today's Three Stars

1.        Keshawn Martin / B.J. Cunningham—A Senior Day farewell of dreams. Martin pretty much did it all, did it all well, and accumulated 182 total yards and 2 TDs. Cunningham continued to dominate as he caught 6 more for 132 yards and 2 TDs. Neither will be easy to replace, and together will be remembered together as one of the most productive pair of play makers in MSU history.

2.        Kirk Cousins—When you dream of a special Senior Day, you dream of numbers like 16/23 for 272 yards and 3 TDs. More than that, you dream of clinching the Division and spot in the Big Ten Title game on your own turf. Cousins has delivered two outstanding seasons in a row, and will go down as arguably the best QB in Spartan history.

3.        Joel Foreman—Did this Senior Captain start a trend by getting his first carry in his last home game, for 3 yards? He nearly broke it big! Print out that stat sheet, young man. And take a bow for leading this program to back-to-back Championship seasons. Foreman will be remembered with great reverence.