All season long, the MSU football team has been a bounce here, a bounce there, away from pulling out a few close wins.
It’s been a run of bad luck that’s plagued MSU all season, but Saturday with their backs against the wall, the Spartans got to see what it was like when the bounces went their way as they beat Minnesota (6-6 overall, 2-6 Big Ten) 26-10 to improve to 6-6 and ensure a bowl berth.
And with that bowl berth likely sending MSU to Tempe, Ariz. for the Buffalo Wild Wings Bowl, it seemed only fitting that MSU won on the back of some unpredictable, wild plays, à la the commercials the restaurant chain has become known for.
On Minnesota’s opening drive, senior cornerback Johnny Adams picked off Gopher quarterback Philip Nelson, giving MSU a big defensive play it had been looking for all season.
The defense finished with four picks on the day, a season high that helped bolster the Spartan offense as well.
Later in the second half, MSU caught its luckiest bounce of the season, when a rocket from junior quarterback Andrew Maxwell bounced up in the air, and into the waiting hands of Bennie Fowler, who took it to the house for a 41-yard score.
Fowler’s touchdown was doubly lucky, in that although he was initially called out of bounds at about the two-yard line, an official review revealed he was able to tightrope into the end zone.
The play gave MSU a 13-7 lead from which the Spartans never looked back — but that doesn’t mean it was pretty.
In addition to Fowler’s version of the “Immaculate Reception,” Maxwell also had two interceptions on the day, one of which was returned 33 yards for a touchdown.
It was revealed after the game the first-year starter was playing with a bruised shoulder on his throwing arm, but Maxwell finished with 13-of-29 passing, for a completion percentage of 44.8 percent — far below than what’s expected of a starting quarterback in the Big Ten.
But the defense’s four interceptions kept the Spartans in it, and allowed for Mawell’s early mistakes to be forgotten. But the defense needed a little luck on their side at points as well.
On third and long, Nelson appeared to complete a pass to Minnesota wide out Derrick Engel over junior cornerback Darqueze Dennard that would have given the Gophers a first down to continue a critical drive in the third quarter.
However upon further review, it was revealed the ball had touched the ground during the process of the catch, and was ruled incomplete.
After the phantom pass interference calls, unforced errors and dumb penalties that had plagued the Spartans all year, MSU finally caught some breaks.
And they paid off, as the Spartans now find themselves going bowling for the sixth time in as many years, keeping alive head coach Mark Dantonio’s streak of netting a bowl berth, something he’s accomplished in each season since coming to MSU.
So now the Spartans have about a month to prepare for their next opponent — currently listed as “TBD” on the schedule.
And while they use that time to practice and get better, they can also use it to thank their lucky stars that for 60 minutes Saturday afternoon, the ball finally bounced their way.
Jesse O’Brien is a State News football reporter. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.