Spartans do a Little Overtime Jig, and Stun the Irish on an Overtime Fake Field Goal, 34-31

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The Spartan Nation had plenty to cheer about on Saturday night!  Photo courtesy of Mark Boomgaard.

The Spartan Nation had plenty to cheer about on Saturday night! Photo courtesy of Mark Boomgaard.

Add another “classic” to the Michigan St.-Notre Dame collection. The Spartans caught the Fighting Irish, if not the entire national television audience, completely off guard when Sr. Holder Aaron Bates stepped out of his Field Goal holding position and threw a 29 yard TD to Sr. TE Charlie Gantt to beat the Irish 34-31.

Talk about bold, Spartan Head Coach Mark Dantonio made the type of call that should have major program repercussions for years to come. That call, and certainly the outcome, should have the type of carryover effect that stretches beyond the one win, beyond the 2010 season, but possibly well into the future of Spartan Football. This is the kind of win that Championship programs are made of.

The 2010 Notre Dame game will go down as perhaps the foundation building, signature win, of the Mark Dantonio era. It’s not that the rebuilding project is near completion, but rather an acknowledgment that the foundation has been poured, and has now been built upon with this win. This could one day be looked back upon as the first win that really tested and built upon the foundation that’s been laid over the last four years.

There’s no question, Michigan St.-Notre Dame is a major rivalry for both schools, and it showed up all night long. The emotion of a rivalry game is different. The intensity is amped up, the nerves are more on edge, and implications are what legacies are made of. Every play and every series is these contests add up to 60 minutes of play (or more), but usually feel completely timeless.

Spartan Stadium was again electric for a night game, in its best finish since the Penn St. finale in 2007, and most exciting since the Michigan game of 2001. Through a sloppy game on both sides at times, filled with penalties, drops, and confusion, the Spartan Nation crowd (78,411) dialed turned up the whole night, often more so than the MSU sideline.

For much of the night, many Spartans were clearly frustrated and impatient. Their entire bench showed it. The MSU players frankly lacked some of the emotion and urgency needed to win a rivalry game with Notre Dame for much of the night. The Domers, however, appeared to have it from the start.

Notre Dame came out and matched Michigan St.’s intensity, which many feel is the key to winning on the road, especially in a rivalry game. Throughout most of the night, the Irish took much of what the MSU Defense gave them. Though the Irish never had clear control of the game, they appeared to carry the edge into the final minutes of regulation, and also into Overtime. They appeared to want it more. Unfortunately for the Irish, the Spartans struck that final stunning blow in Overtime, and into the record books.

This one will be talked about for ages. The “Little Giants” game could not have come at a better time for MSU. After a difficult and somewhat sluggish effort for much of the night, the Spartans managed enough to send the game to Overtime. And when facing a 46 yard Field Goal try to go to a second extra session, their Head Coach had the “stones” to go for the W, in a rivalry game. Dantonio: 1, Kelly: 0.

The Spartans’ Outlook Moving Forward

Offense

The Offense struggled much of the day to get into and maintain a solid rhythm. Rs.-Jr. QB Kirk Cousins finished 23/33, with 245 yards, 2 TDs, and 1 INT, but was rocky in some key situations. Cousins INT came in the first half on a play where he might have had Jr. TE Brian Linthicum open at the sideline on about the 2 yard line. Cousins appeared to become inpatient, and instead of simply throwing it away, seemed to again to force a throw he shouldn’t have made.

Cousins also struggled at the very end of regulation when he ran past the line of scrimmage, but then back behind the line to throw a pass. With Notre Dame only left with one Time Out, Cousins should have taken what the play gave him, and stayed in bounds on a run. By stopping the clock with the pass and subsequent penalty, Cousins probably left too much time on the clock for a Brian Kelly Offense to move the ball within Field Goal range. But thanks to a killer Notre Dame Block in the Back penalty on the ensuing punt, it didn’t really end up being an issue tonight.

Cousins will have to play with more poise for the Spartans to make the most of 2010. He has to get past a continuing tendency to force plays in key situations. Cousins’ borderline “panic” happened at least three times against Notre Dame, at somewhat critical moments. Though it’s part of the maturation process of a big time College Quarterback, it’s honestly not a part that every College signal caller gets through. Cousins needs to show progress moving forward in 2010, and once he finds more of a comfort zone, will take a big step forward as the Quarterback and leader of Michigan State Football.

The Spartans clearly had way too many Offensive penalties for anyone’s liking. That’s something they must clean up beginning next week with Northern Colorado. Penalties not only cost yards, but often the crucial momentum and rhythm that can be awful difficult to regain. Penalties flat out killed the Spartans’ drive to score at the end of the first half, for example.

On the ground though, two-thirds of the BBC (Bell, Baker, and Caper) put up more than 200 yards for the third straight game. Though So. Larry Caper did see action, it’s clear he’ll need a bit of time to get back in the groove. But yet another 100 yard game for Fr. Le’veon Bell’s is something for the entire Spartan Nation to celebrate. The fact that the Spartans were able to pound out 203 yards for the game, and 2 TDs on the ground, is perhaps the most promising part of the Offense right now. If this team can average somewhere around 250 yards per game on the ground, they will have a shot to win 10 games.

Defense

The Defense gave up 461 yards, and 369 of them through the air. For the fans looking for a “coming out party” for the MSU Defense, that really didn’t happen tonight. Though the loss of Sr. Eric Gordon, the glue to the MSU Defense, early in the game hurt deeply, they still had 11 players on the field for every play. The Irish took advantage of their excellent weapons (Floyd and Rudolph), and demonstrated clearly that the Spartan Defense still has a ways to go to be considered a team strength.

The Spartans did cause 3 big turnovers tonight, which was a welcome change for a Defense still trying to reach another level. Turnovers are forever a critical part of College Football, especially for a Defense that struggled so much in 2009 to create any. To see MSU turn the Irish over 3 times is a very encouraging sign moving forward for the rest of 2010.

They must get Gordon back, their young players more experience, and continue to get better as the season goes on. That’s not necessarily the easiest thing to do, but the Spartans are largely a young Defense which features many players who still have a good bit of their development in front of them.

Special Teams

Well they certainly were special tonight! Aaron Bates “surprise!” TD pass reminded the Spartan Nation that he was indeed a QB in his High School days, and was exactly the type of game changing, if not season changing play that will be talked about for years. “Little Giants” will be in the Spartan Nation’s living vernacular for years to come. It’s going to end up alongside of “the fumblerooski,” the Gari Scott catch, and the other memorable plays in the MSU-Notre Dame series.

Besides throwing the game winning TD and injecting Spartan Stadium with an adrenaline rush not seen since “Smoker to Duckett,” nearly 9 years ago, Bates ended the night with 4 punts, a 45.4 yard average, and 2 Touchbacks. Though Bates didn’t “catch it all” on each punt, he had a solid night in his “day job” to go along with history making magic.

So. PK Dan Conroy did not get a chance for a Field Goal try, but did convert 4 extra points off a damp field, on the biggest stage of his young kicking career. As did Rs.-Fr. Kevin Muma, who got his first action in a big time game in a big time stage tonight. That cannot be underestimated. A kicker’s experience cannot be taken for granted, and the kicking games’ experience tonight will likely prove a significant benefit for the remainder of the year.

Overall

MSU Football could not have any more momentum right now. To go “all in” against perhaps your top rival, on national television, in Overtime, and pull it off, cannot be beat. Now it’s up to Spartan Football to continue building…upon its now tested foundation…and upon this historical win.

*Interact with Jonathan on Twitter @JPSpartan or inside the Phalanx Forum