From Sadler to Cook, MSU impressed
Iowa City, Iowa — Facing a punting situation to open the fourth quarter with the MSU football team clinging to a six-point lead, junior punter Mike Sadler entered the game to send the ball back to the opposing team as he had 24 previous times this season. It’s something he’s able to do as consistent as nearly anyone in the country since taking over the position in 2011.
Yet, this one was different.
Coming off the snap by sophomore long snapper Taybor Pepper, Sadler faked a punting motion before tucking the ball into his chest and sprinting to the right of the field, his feet moving with the swiftness of a wild deer crossing the highway, for a 25-yard gain — the longest rush for any Spartan on the day.
The play proved to be the difference maker for the Spartans (4-1 overall, 1-0 Big Ten), as the team finished the drive with a 49-yard field goal by freshman kicker Michael Geiger, pushing it to a two-possession game and ultimately preserving a standout offensive showing in a 26-14 victory against Iowa (4-2, 1-1).
A sheepish grin on the sidelines by head coach Mark Dantonio picked up by ESPN TV cameras again was shared with the media in the postgame press conference, discussing the play he coined as “Hey Diddle Diddle,” as in “Hey Diddle Diddle, send Sadler up the middle.”
“We came in this football game after sitting back for two weeks, you know, sort of thinking about our last game and trying to strengthen ourselves, reevaluate ourselves as a football team,” Dantonio said. “We came out and played. We kept talking about how you’re going to have adversity here and basically just storm the gates. And that’s sort of been our theme this week.”
Sadler’s run was his first since a 26-yard run on a fake punt in last season’s loss to Michigan, and it was enough to single-handedly outgain the Hawkeyes on the ground, who had come into the game averaging 244 yards rushing per game.
And for Sadler, it was a lesson in trying to catch the other team napping.
“It’s fun to always mix it up and it keeps the other teams honest,” Sadler said. “That’s what we saw against Iowa; they tend to turn their back and not actually see if the ball’s kicked, so we exploited that today and that’s something that we do against every team, just kind of find their weak spot and see how we can manipulate it.”
Sadler’s run was one of a handful of explosive plays for the Spartans in Saturday’s game at Kinnick Stadium.
Sophomore quarterback Connor Cook provided, by far, his strongest showing of the season, completing 25-of-44 passes for 277 yards and two touchdowns — the lone blemish coming on a fourth quarter interception to linebacker James Morris. And while Cook played as well as he has during any time during his MSU career, the wide receivers stood out as well.
Senior wide receiver Bennie Fowler had a career-high nine receptions for 92 yards and a touchdown while sophomore wide receiver Macgarrett Kings Jr., added five receptions for 95 yards, linking up with Cook for a touchdown for the third consecutive game.
Kings’ 46-yard touchdown in the second quarter also marked the first play of 40 yards or longer for the Spartans this season, making them the final FBS team to complete a play of that length.
“Everybody is catching the ball great,” Kings said. “We talk about (the criticism) all the time. We have a chip on our shoulder and we’re never going to forget the criticism that everybody was saying about us. We’re just going to use that as fuel to just continue to do great things at the game.”
At the end of the day, Sadler’s fake punt was another in a series of big plays by a guy who’s known to fill a series of important roles within the MSU football program.
All-Big Ten punter. Social media guru. Resident comedian. More recently, Seventeen Magazine eye candy.
But Saturday, he was MSU’s game changer, allowing the Spartans to leave Iowa City atop the Legends Division.
Dillon Davis is a State News football reporter. Reach him at email@example.com.