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The inaugural Big Ten Championship Game set the bar pretty high for future B1G Championship Games.
A wild, back-and-forth affair between Wisconsin and Michigan State looked like it was going to come down to the wire, just like their first meeting this season back in October, which was ultimately decided on a last-second Hail Mary.
Unfortunately, there was somewhat of an anti-climactic finish in this one due to a running into the punter penalty called on MSU, preventing the Spartans from getting the ball back with a little over two minutes remaining while trailing by three. The penalty gave the Badgers a first down and, with the Spartans having no timeouts left, allowed Russell Wilson to take a knee a few times to run out the clock.
The penalty, enticed by a little diving by the punter, wiped out any chances of a similarly exciting last-second finish and a long Keshawn Martin punt return that would've given the Spartans first-and-goal from inside the five.
Despite the ironic finish, a game decided by kickers won't (and shouldn't) take away from the amazing preceding 58 minutes. The instant-classic saw over 800 yards of offense, 81 points and seven touchdowns from two players. It was exactly how one would expect acalled championship game to play out, of course.
The Spartans were forced to punt on their last possession after a completion to Keshawn Martin was overturned following a review. Martin made an unbelievable effort, attempting to stab his left toe inbounds, but replays showed Martin's same foot simultaneously landing out of bounds (according to the head referee). Instead of a first down in Wisconsin territory, the Spartans punted on fourth down from their own 39.
The Spartans looked like they were going to get the ball back with over two minutes left after stopping Montee Ball on a third-and-five run, but the running into the punter penalty all but ended the game and punched the Badgers' ticket to Pasadena.
The fallout of this heartbreaking loss for Michigan State will be like pouring salt in the wounds, as it will likely drop the Spartans below Michigan, who they beat earlier this season, and land them a bid to the Outback or Insight Bowl.
Montee Ball scored his 38th touchdown of the season on a seven yard run up the gut to give back the lead to his Wisconsin Badgers. Ball's fourth touchdown of the game means he is now just one touchdown shy of Barry Sanders' FBS touchdown record.
Ball has been relatively quiet since exploding in the first quarter, but he managed two of his longest runs since the first quarter on the Badgers' eight play scoring drive. In addition to four touchdowns, Ball has 130 yards rushing, 32 yards passing, and seven yards receiving on three catches.
The key play of the drive, however, was Russel Wilson's 36 yard desperation throw to Jeff Duckworth on fourth-and-six. Wilson was able to avoid Spartans' pass rushers and essentially tossed up a prayer that Duckworth was able to pull down despite a couple Spartans defensive backs in the vicinity.
Wisconsin extended the one-point lead to a field goal (the missed Dan Conroy field goal at the end of the first half) by converting an exciting two-point conversion. Wilson, again, had to maneuver away from a heavy Spartans rush before finding Jacob Pedersen between two MSU defenders in the end zone. 42-39 Wisconsin and a little under four minutes remaining in the inaugural Big Ten Championship Game.
Michigan State kicker Dan Conroy missed a 50 yard field goal at the end of the first half, but made up for it with a 25 yard field goal a little over half way through the fourth quarter. The three points give the Spartans a five point lead and forces the Wisconsin Badgers to score a touchdown to take the lead in the Big Ten Championship Game.
Michigan State had first-and-ten at the Wisconsin 13 yard line, but couldn't muster it past the eight. The key play of the drive was a 24 yard wide receiver reverse run by B.J. Cunningham, who has been having a huge game.
Cunningham, a senior, has five receptions for 115 yards, 24 yards rushing, and three touchdowns. Kirk Cousins is 24-of-28 passing for 281 yards, three touchdowns, and an interception.
The Badgers have over six minutes to score, so this one is far from over.
Wisconsin started with the ball in the fourth quarter already at the Michigan State 37 yard line and immediately picked up 25 yards on two Russel Wilson passing plays. They gained another 10 yards thanks to a Spartans' pass interference, putting them at the Spartans' two yard line. After Ball got stuffed for a three yard loss on first down, Wisconsin went to Ball on a screen pass, which he took in for the score to cut MSU's lead to 36-34.
Wisconsin opted to go for two with over 13 minutes left in the fourth quarter, but failed to convert. Russel Wilson's pass attempt was tipped by Jerel Worthy, preventing an easy grab in the end zone.
Wilson is 14-for-20 passing with 134 yards and three touchdowns. Ball has been shut down on the ground since recording over 100 yards in the first quarter, but he has three touchdowns and nearly 150 all-purpose yards.
Facing a third-and-six from the Wisconsin Badgers' 44 yard line, the Michigan State Spartans decided to take a timeout to get their play in order. Similar to how they started the second quarter, the Spartans came back from break and scored a 40-plus yard touchdown.
The Spartans benefited from great field position, which they obtained after holding the Badgers to a three-and-out inside their own 10 yard line. The Spartans pinned the Badgers back after opting to punt rather than go for a fourth-and-three at the Wisconsin 35 yard line.
Starting at the Wisconsin 48, the Spartans picked up nine yards on the first two plays, but were pushed back five for an ineligible man downfield. After the aforementioned timeout, Kirk Cousins found a crossing B.J. Cunningham just across the first down marker and he took care of the rest.
Kirk Cousins is now 21-of-25 for 270 yards, three touchdowns, and an interception. B.J. Cunningham has five receptions, 115 yards, and three (3!) touchdowns.
Spartans lead 36-28 heading into the fourth quarter.
Michigan State started with the ball in the third quarter of the Big Ten Championship Game with a 29-21 lead, but was stopped to its first three-and-out of the night.
Wisconsin took over first-and-ten at their own 38 and tried to re-establish the running game that worked so well in the first quarter. Unfortunately, Ball was stopped for no gain on the first carry, similar to how he was stuffed in the second quarter (only two yards on three carries), so they resorted to the pass again, which actually worked well this time around.
Russel Wilson completed 4-of-5 passes for 61 yards on the drive, including a 42 yard touchdown pass after eluding a corner blitz. The Badgers opted to kick the extra point to make it a one point game rather than trying for two for the tie.
This game has over 560 yards of total offense and we're not even half way through the third quarter. Stick around.
The Wisconsin Badgers exposed the Michigan State Spartans' defense in the first quarter for three touchdowns on three possessions, but they've failed to convert even a first down on their first three possessions in the second quarter. In all, they have negative-11 yards in the second quarter opposite Michigan State's 124.
Michigan State's offense has kept motoring. After stopping Wisconsin to a third three-and-out after a Kirk Cousins' interception, the Spartans went 84 yards on eight plays for a score.
The Spartans ran six times on the eight play drive and scored on a Le'Veon Bell eight yard run, but two lengthy pass completions paced the drive. Keshawn Martin made a nice 28 yard catch along the sidelines on a third-and-six and Keith Nichol caught a 17 yard pass to put the Spartans into the red zone.
Kirk Cousins is 10-for-11 with 134 yards, two touchdowns, and an interception. The Spartans have now scored 22 unanswered points.
After scoring on all three possessions in the first quarter, the Wisconsin Badgers were held to a three-and-out on their first possession of the second quarter, giving the Spartans a chance to cut into the 21-14 deficit or tie the game ... Let's be honest, nobody expected Dantonio to go for two if they scored, not this early, right?
Go for two is precisely what they did, though. Lining up to kick a game-tying extra point, wide receiver/holder Brad Sonntag took the snap and ran it in for a two-point conversion and a 22-21 Spartans lead.
The play call was brilliant, especially considering how Michigan State scored the play before. Kirk Cousins completed a short pass to Keith Nichol, the hero from October, who appeared to be stopped short of the end zone. Instead of simply conceding and going out of bounds, setting up a second-and-goal at the seven or so, Nichol showed his 99 AWARENESS and pitched it back to B.J. Cunningham, who then had an easy path to the end zone.
While fans around the world were picking their jaws up off from the floor, and Wisconsin still shaking their heads, Dantonio successfully pulled another rabbit out of his ol' trusty hat.
As Gus Johnson said: WOW.
I hope you like scoring, because Michigan State and Wisconsin are coming out with their offenses blazing.
The Badgers outscored the Spartans 21-7 in the first quarter, but both teams scored touchdowns on every chance their offenses had a chance to see the field. The only difference was the turnover on a kickoff return that gave the Badgers the ball at the Spartans' 24 yard line.
The Spartans started the second quarter at the Badgers' 30 yard line, facing a fourth-and-one. Kirk Cousins rolled out and found a wide open B.J. Cunningham for an easy 30 yard touchdown to cut the deficit back to a touchdown following the extra point. It was the senior Cunningham's 10th touchdown of the season.
The 80 yard scoring drive took all of seven plays. Cousins is now 4-for-4 passing with 73 yards and a touchdown. Cunningham has two receptions for 43 yards and a touchdown.
Following Montee Ball's 35th touchdown of the season to give the Wisconsin Badgers a 14-7 lead in the Big Ten Championship Game, the Michigan State Spartans fumbled away the ensuing kickoff, leading to another Montee Ball touchdown, his 36th of the season.
Nick Hill took the return for 19 yards, but fumbled when he was hit by Badgers' Conor O'Neill and it was recovered by Jacob Pedersen at the Spartans' 24 yard line. Two Montee Ball runs later, the Badgers are rocking a two-score first quarter lead.
Montee Ball now has 105 yards rushing on 13 carries and two touchdowns. He is also 1-for-1 passing for 32 yards.
Don't count out the Spartans, though -- they were down two scores back in October and wound up coming back to win. They are currently driving and in Wisconsin territory with the second quarter set to begin. Kirk Cousins is 3-for-3 passing for 43 yards and Le'Veon Bell has 41 yards on four carries.
The Wisconsin Badgers called the Michigan State Spartans' touchdown and raised them another. Following Edwin Baker's touchdown run to put the Spartans on the scoreboard and tie the game at 7-7, the Badgers re-took the lead on seven plays behind the play of Montee Ball.
And Montee Ball did it all really. After starting the drive with 19 yards on three carries, Ball took his fourth handoff and opted to throw it instead of running for more yards. He completed the pass to his quarterback Russel Wilson for 32 yards, setting up the Badgers at the Spartans' nine yard line. Ball scored two runs later on a second-and-goal from the six.
The touchdown was Ball's 35th of the season, leaving him just four shy of Barry Sanders' record now. With still four minutes remaining in the quarter, he has 11 carries, 113 all-purpose yards and a touchdown.
It's the Spartans' turn now...
After the Spartans took the ensuing kickoff 39 yards to their own 41 yard line, they needed just six plays to answer the Badgers' quick strike and knot up the Big Ten Championship game, 7-7.
Bell got the Spartans offense rolling like Ball did for the Badgers, taking his first carry 26 yards into Wisconsin territory. After a 13 yard pass from Kirk Cousins to his second favorite receiver Keshawn Martin on the next play, the Spartans scored four run plays later on an Edwin Baker eight yard run to the right side of the end zone.
Bell ran three times for 35 yards on the scoring possession. Baker ran twice for 11 yards. Cousins was 1-for-1 for 13 yards.
We're just over half way through the first quarter and both offenses have scored with ease. Saddle up, partners.
Wisconsin started with the ball in the inaugural Big Ten Championship Game and marched right down the field on the nation's eleventh best ranked defense.
After five runs for 53 yards from their stud running back Montee Ball, the passing game opened up nicely for Russel Wilson, who then found Nick Toon for 22 yards and a first down inside the Spartans' 10 yard line. On third-and-goal from the three yard line, Russel Wilson hit a wide open Jeff Duckworth for the first score ever in a Big Ten Championship Game to give the Badgers an early 7-0 lead on the Spartans. It was also Duckworth's first touchdown of the season.
Montee Ball, who has 34 touchdowns (just five behind Barry Sanders for the FBS record), rushed for 53 yards on six carries. Russel Wilson was 3-for-3 for 28 yards and a touchdown pass.
The Spartans will have their hands full if Wisconsin's offense is clicking like it was on the first possession -- of course, that's because it was flawless.
In a rematch of what was perhaps one of the better games in years, Michigan State will take on Wisconsin in the inaugural Big Ten Championship Game for a Rose Bowl berth.
The Spartans defeated the Badgers back in October on a tipped Hail Mary as time expired in East Lansing. The following week, Wisconsin lost again on a Hail Mary to Ohio State but defeated its next four opponents by an average of 31 points.
After Michigan State's thrilling win over Wisconsin, the Spartans put up a stinker against Nebraska the following week before rattling off four straight wins themselves by a difference of over three touchdowns.
This one should be a doozie, so here's all the information you'll need going into the game:
Location: Lucas Oil Stadium (turf); Indianapolis, Indiana
When: Saturday, Dec. 3 at 8:17 p.m. ET
Announcers: Gus Johnson, Charles Davis, Tim Brewster, Dhani Jones
Radio stream: ESPN Radio 1070 (Wisconsin); WXYT 97.1 FM, 1270 AM (Michigan State)
Betting Line: Wisconsin -10
ESPN's blog experts are already split on the rematch between the Wisconsin badgers and the Michigan State Spartans, but that isn't a surprise. Since the Spartans won the regular season meeting on a final play Hail Mary that avoided the toss-up that is overtime, the badgers have been waiting for their second chance. They will get it Sunday night, and ESPN Big Ten blogger Adam Rittenberg thinks they will get it:
Wisconsin is heavily favored, but this will be a close game. Both teams are playing good football right now and you can argue Michigan State has played even better during the month of November.
His partner, Brian Bennett, goes the opposite way, saying that Michigan State will win this season's second contest between the two.
Bucky's 5th Quarter credits a Player's Only meeting for getting things going again:
And in circumstances like the ones the Badgers faced in October, team captains prove whether they deserved that title.
"It says a lot. These guys, they're great leaders and they know when to kind of be there for you, and when to get on you," Allen said. "It speaks volumes for the direction this team has gone since those two losses."
Michigan State is trying to reach its first Rose Bowl since 1988.
The inaugural Big Ten Championship Game will be played next Saturday at Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis in what should be a spirited rematch with the Rose Bowl on the line.
Michigan State has clinched the Legends Division title and a spot in the first ever Big Ten Championship Game.
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