Special 2010 Spartans Complete a Stunning Comeback, Clip Purdue 35-31 on Senior Day

Jonathan Schopp
Injured and struggling to perform, like a warrior Kirk Cousins led the Spartans to victory.  Photo courtesy of Mark Boomgaard.
Injured and struggling to perform, like a warrior Kirk Cousins led the Spartans to victory. Photo courtesy of Mark Boomgaard.

Down 15 with only a quarter to go, banged up and badly struggling throughout the day, the Spartans' Big Ten title hopes looked to be vanishing. Their Rose Bowl dreams looked to wilted and dead. For a team seeking its 10th win and first Big Ten title since 1990, MSU appeared to be completely out of magic. But as you know, these are the “Same Ole Spartans” now. They never quit. And this is a special team. Once again, they simply kept playing, and somehow found a way to pull out another home season finale comeback (a la Penn St. ’07) in dramatic closing fashion.

Credit Purdue, however, for dominating the first 3 quarters. They out coached and out played the Spartans today from essentially the 9:01 mark of the 1st quarter until the beginning of the 4th quarter. “If I could’ve booed, I would have too,” Coach Dantonio said in the post game press conference about the Spartans sluggish start. Purdueplayed like they had it all on the line, and they played with an urgency you would’ve expected out of a team chasing a Big Ten title and shot at the Rose Bowl. They are a young and injured football team, but clearly show signs today of a Boilermaker revival in the coming years.

After Purdue’s Keith Carlos (Sr. RB) broke a run up the middle for 80 yards and a TD with 8:04 left in the 1st, Michigan St. realized the Boilermakers were not going to lie down and roll over. On the ensuing drive, things went from bad to worse as Kirk Cousins (Rs.-Jr. QB) threw consecutive passes off his back foot, the second being picked off by Purdue’s Ricardo Allen (Fr. CB) and taken back 35 yards for the second Purdue TD in less than 2:00. Allen, by the way, looks to be a serious player in the future of the Big Ten.

So rather quickly, a sunny Senior Day cruise to victory looked completely out of the question. Late in half, Purdue started their final drive on their own 15. After taking advantage early of a brutal out of bounds Personal Foul penalty on Johnny Adams (Rs.-So.), the Boilers drove 12 more plays (14 total for the drive) and 85 yards total for the score to go ahead 21-13. It was hardly the half that Spartan Nation expected from their 9-1 team, but you have to credit the Boilermakers for coming to play and more than matching the intensity of the home team (again, amongst the biggest keys to winning games on the road). Going into the locker room, the Spartans had issues to correct. They went flat after a fast start. They lacked emotion, urgency, and just weren’t playing very well as a team.

Worse, Cousins was more than banged up (shoulder and leg) during the 1st half, and truly appeared to be more injured than hurt. While you can play hurt, you really can’t play effectively when injured. It’s not yet clear why Andrew Maxwell (Rs.-Fr. QB) wasn’t put in early in the 3rd quarter, given Cousins’ condition. Cousins was at the point where he couldn’t step into throws, was at best throwing “flat-footed,” and appeared to be doing more harm out there than good.

The 3rd quarter didn’t go much better than the first two. By the end of 45:00 of play, the Boilermakers had extended their lead to 28-13, and the Spartans Rose Bowl hopes had realistically appeared to crash. With a banged up QB, a hungry and inspired opponent, and none of the special magic flowing like in earlier games this year, the 4th quarter 15-point comeback didn’t even look possible, let alone promising.

But these "Same Ole Spartans" play all 60 minutes. And in fashion reminiscent of the Senior Day-Bowl clinching comeback against Penn St. game 2007, MSU pulled off the incredible comeback.

Anatomy of the Comeback

The first big cog in the comeback was the Chris L. Rucker (Sr. CB) INT of Purdue’s Rob Henry (Fr. QB) with 12:42 left. Captain Kirk Cousins (Rs.-Jr. QB), who deserves a heap of credit for continuing to play while clearly banged up pretty badly, led a quick 4 play, 20 yard drive to cut it to 28-20. Cousins found B.J. Cunningham (Rs.-Jr. WR) for the 5 yard TD, which captured the Rucker INT spark, and reversed the overwhelming Boilermaker momentum to that point. The urgency that had been lacking for most of the day in Green and White had suddenly appeared. However, the clock clearly still an issue.

On the ensuing kickoff, MSU's kick coverage appeared to take a nap. Purdue was suddenly at midfield , and in great position to begin a critical drive. Yet, the Spartan D stood tall, and the Boilermakers needed every yard of that field position just to try for an iffy 52 yard Field Goal. When Purdue's Carson Wiggs (Jr. PK) showed the leg and direction needed to pull off the bomb, the lead was stretched to 31-20, and the spurt of Spartan momentum was considerably slowed.

The Spartans were really forced to pick up the pace from there. With 7:25 left in the 4th, Kirk Cousisn threw a 37 yard beauty into the End Zone for B.J. Cunningham. Cunningham appeared to catch the ball and then lose it on the ground after a tie up with Purdue’s Ricardo Allen (Fr. CB). The play was called incomplete on the field, and after a worthy challenge, a brief booth review confirmed the call.

But the drive continued. These “Same Ole Spartans” again refused to quit. They simply kept playing. Three plays later, Cousins found Mark Dell (Sr. WR) for a 9 yard TD leaving 6:54 left to play, and the Spartans down only 5. On the 2-Point try, Cousins found Dell again to cut the Boilermaker lead to only 3. Dell played better overall than probably any of the Spartans today, and probably had the best game of his career (8 catches, 108 yards, 2 TDs). What a way to say goodbye to the Spartan Stadium faithful.

The Boilermakers’ momentum that had been building for 3 quarters seriously slipped away come crunch time. The Spartan Defense, led by Seniors like Jones, Rucker, and Gordon, began to turn up the heat. The Boilers struggled to even get plays off in their second to last drive, which began on the 20 after the Kevin Muma (Rs.-Fr. K) touchback. With only 6:00 on the clock, MSU stood down 3 points, and had Purdue facing a 3rd and 21 from their own 9. After picking up only 4 yards on a simple safe running play, Purdue was forced to punt from the shadows of their own End Zone. And then, a play happened that will live forever in Spartan Nation lure.

“The Block” is now a play to be added to the Spartan Nation’s All-Time favorite moments. When Denicos Allen (Rs.-Fr LB) flew off the edge and stretched out to block the punt (when a Punt Block wasn’t even called from the sideline), the magic of 2010 made another amazing appearance. A team that had been down 15 points less than 10:00 earlier now stood down only 3, with a 1st and Goal from the Boilermaker 3 yard line. Just when you thought you’d seen all the magic the 2010 Spartans could muster, “The Block” instantly brought back the dreams of a Big Ten title and trip to Rose Bowl. The comeback was there for the Spartans to complete.

Two plays later, on a 2nd and Goal from the Purdue 3, Cousins saw no open receivers, but opening in the middle of the field. The hobbling Captain took a run at what was there, despite being well less than 100%. Cousins run is a play that should go along with Allen’s block in the 2010 chapter of the Spartan Football history books.

As Cousins lumbered his way towards the Goal Line, Purdue began to close in. So Cousins dove and stretched the ball out for the End Zone's plane, but it began to come loose. Though it was ultimately ruled a TD on the field, the ball squirmed around the End Zone for a few terrifying seconds for Spartan Nation until the ultra aware and on-the-spot Joel Foreman (Jr. LG) dove on the loose ball to preserve TD. MSU was somehow up 4 with 4:32 to go. What an incredible turnaround, yet again, for this special Spartan bunch. Their refusal to quit and commitment to keep playing had paid off once more, and put them in the unthinkable position to close out the incredible 4th quarter comeback.

So it would ultimately be up to the Defense lock up, which was gashed for two big plays earlier in the game, and did not have their best day early on. The Seniors on the Defense simply would not let Purdue get to the End Zone. Playing with an urgency and resolve that has been built over four years now, not just in 2010, the Spartan D did just enough, when they had to, in order to seal the deal.

Despite another bad late hit-Personal Foul, this time on an out of bounds bump from Trenton Robinson (Jr. FS), MSU sealed the deal by stopping Purdue on the doorstep of the Spartan Red Zone. The Spartans forced Purdue into a 3rd and 8 from the 20 when Greg Jones displayed his signature pressure up the middle, which forced the ball out of Henry’s hands far too soon to find an open receiver. And on 4th and 8, Jones again went after the young Heny, who threw badly under Jones’ duress, and right into Chris Norman’s (So. LB) hands to complete the unbelievable comeback win.

What an incredible comeback, what a home field finish for Jones, Gordon, and Rucker on Defense, and what a way for this transitional Senior class to end its Spartan Stadium career.

These 2010 “Same Ole Spartans” are now 10-1, and without question, very special Spartans.

The Outlook Moving Forward

Offense

The numbers did not tell the story of the Offense today. It wasn’t the amount of yards gained (386), or incompletions thrown, but rather when they happened, and the impact they carried on the ultimate outcome. The numbers were also understandably a bit skewed towards the passing game given the 15 point comeback. But again, MSU scored more than 30 points, which is something that Spartan Nation now must nearly take for granted.

MSU has enough weapons on Offense to put up big numbers, big point totals, and always stick around for a shot at a late game comeback. Today The BBC (Running Back Firm of Le’Veon Bell (Fr.), Edwin Baker (So.) and Larry Caper (So.)) was again led by “Rock” Baker (16 carries, 90 yards, 1TD). Baker continues as a star in the making. He’s got star skills, star ability, and apparently the mentality to play with an “edge” like many of the game’s star backs of the past. The BBC should be back in tact next year, and even stronger. Yet they’ll be again counted on heavily, especially given Cousins’ apparent ailments, to close the deal next week at Penn St.

Kirk Cousins was banged up today. It’s not that His numbers were all that bad (28/37, 276 yds, 3 TD, 1 INT), they were terrific. But that some blemishes early were quite damaging. The INT for the TD was probably the momentum turning play of the first 3 quarters. And Cousins took far too many hits from the aggressive and effective Purdue Defensive line, which was of course led by All-American to be DE Ryan Kerrigan (Sr.).

Again, for some reason, MSU felt more comfortable with a banged up Cousins leading the Offense than a fresh but inexperienced Andrew Maxwell (Rs.-Fr.). Spartan Nation has said throughout the year that the coaching staff had done a poor job of getting Maxwell enough valuable game experience to this point. Today, that error showed up, and nearly cost them a shot to complete this special run towards a Big Ten title.

The main concern with the Offense right now is clearly Cousins' health, both physically and mentally. Physically, he’s got a short period of 7 days to get right for Penn St. Mentally, he looks a bit affected by his physical condition, and a little bit more unsettled now than he was earlier in the year. With Cousins, it’s not the number of incompletions that’s hurts him, it’s the nature (ex. INT for TD) and timing of them that has made them count for more than a stat sheet might suggest.

Defense

The Defense did not play to a Championship level for much of the day. The “big plays” that have killed MSU in the past reappeared at the worst time in the form of the 80 yard TD run in the 1st quarter, and the demoralizing 67 yard pass late in the 3rd from the shadows of the Boilermaker’s Goal Line. Yet somehow, when they needed to most, the Defense found a turnover to start the great comeback, and stopped Purdue from scoring in the final 10:47.

It’s hard to imagine that Greg Jones (Sr. LB) and Eric Gordon (Sr. LB) have now played their last game in Spartan Stadium. Spartan Nation became so comfortable with their presence and relative dominance over the course of these four improving years. No future LB tandem will go without comparison to this All-Time pair. Both were fine players who came in without a lot of hype, and consistently played with an outstanding motor and level of effort. They have set the standard for the Spartan LBs of tomorrow.

The Defense does need to tighten up a few things and sharpen their spear for the trip to Penn St. They cannot let the “big play” show up again next week and cancel the “Big Ten Champions” T-Shirt orders that will have already been filled. Part of avoiding "big plays" is getting set up properly and communicating well. Yet, more often than not, it comes down to execution, which was not as sharp today overall as Spartan Nation had hoped for coming off of the bye week.

Special Teams

No doubt the biggest reason the 2010 Spartans are 10-1 is the performance of their Special Teams. From “Little Giants,” to “Mouse Trap,” to the Keshawn Martin (Jr. WR) TD punt return against Wisconsin, to “The Block,” the Spartan Special Teams have never been more important. Remember our conversation with 5-time reigning Big Ten Champion Head Coach Jim Tressel earlier this year who told us clearly that a Special Teams play here or there would probably be the difference in crowing this year’s Big Ten Champion. I guess you could say the Senator knows a thing or two about what separates a Championship caliber team from the rest. This Special Teams unit has made that difference.

Next to "The Block," the return of Martin was the other Special Teams' highlight of the day. You cannot understate his importance to elevating this team from a good team to a Big Ten title contender. Although he hobbled slightly at a time or two during the day, he appeared to be in relatively good shape overall. He’s must be “on” next week in Happy Valley.

Dan Conroy (So. PK) had been 38/38 on extra points. Fortunately, his miss after the second Spartan TD of the day did not end up costing them in the end, but did feature a rare "off" snap (high), which threw off the play’s timing. It was much more likely an aberration than something to be concerned with moving forward.

Overall

For the second time in three years, Spartan Football will travel to Happy Valley with a chance to clinch a Big Ten Championship. Though that did not appear at all possible as the 4th quarter began, it is now the reality. You are, as Bill Parcells is probably still explaining today, as good as your record. This team is 10-1! They were perfect at home in 2010! And they’ve earned another shot to play for a Big Ten Championship! That’s what this program builds towards every day, all year, and that’s where they are right now. Spartan Nation should be extremely proud that this 2010 bunch has arrived again at this special opportunity to play for a Conference Championship.

Penn St. is a better team than they were earlier this year, however. After talking to Joe Paterno a couple times throughout the season, you can tell how much that confidence has grown in the Nittany Lion program. Penn St. is a very young team, which makes them dangerous next week. It should not be an easy waltz to the first win in Happy Valley since the dawn of Cable TV. The Spartans will need to play their best road game in years to get out of Happy Valley with a “W,” and the first Big Ten title in 20 years. But this is a special Spartan team.

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

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