For senior wide receiver Keith Nichol and senior quarterback Kirk Cousins — the duo who combined for one of college football’s most exciting plays this season — Saturday’s rematch with Wisconsin is exactly what was expected.
“I knew as soon as I walked off the field,” said Nichol, who hauled in a 44-yard Hail Mary pass from Cousins as time expired, giving MSU a 37-31 win over the Badgers in their last meeting.
“You could kind of see it on their faces that ‘We’ll see you again.’ Kirk told (Jared) Abbrederis, ‘We’ll see you again,’ and Nick Toon was talking to B.J. (Cunningham) and said ‘See you in Indy.’”
So, as both teams apparently predicted back on Oct. 22, they will battle one more time Saturday (8:17 p.m., Fox) at Lucas Oil Stadium in the inaugural Big Ten championship game.
This time, however, the stakes are much higher with a trip to the Rose Bowl on the line.
And according to Nichol, you couldn’t draw it up any better than this.
“Two teams coming down to the last play with four seconds left, meeting again in Indianapolis to win the Big Ten title outright,” he said. “And it’s winner takes all because the team that loses is probably going to be out of a BCS bid.”
The play, deemed “Rocket” by MSU head coach Mark Dantonio, is one of the most unforgettable this year. Dantonio said Tuesday at a press conference his team had to be “blessed” to complete that pass.
But while that last play was certainly a miracle, neither the head coach nor his players believe beating the then-No.4 and undefeated Badgers was about luck.
“We beat them three of the last four times, and I don’t think that’s luck right there,” senior wide receiver B.J. Cunningham said.
After going down 14-0 in the first quarter and running only one offensive play, the Spartans settled down and rallied off 30 points, taking a 14-point lead of their own.
It wasn’t luck, but rather solid defense and special teams — forcing an interception, safety, blocked field goal and blocked punt on consecutive drives — and a stellar passing game.
Cousins threw for 290 yards and three touchdowns, but with the way the Badgers’ defense has played since, allowing an average of 115 passing yards in five games, that success might be hard to find.
“You don’t really see a weakness when you watch them on film,” Cousins said. “There’s 11 guys who all do their job very well … they’re all solid, solid players.”
The Badgers’ defense is allowing the least points (15.2) in the conference, which complements their highest-scoring offense.
Wisconsin running back Montee Ball is leading the Badgers 44.8 points per game, as he has 34 touchdowns and needs only five more to tie an NCAA record set by Barry Sanders in 1988.
And, as it stands now, with a passer rating of 192.9, quarterback Russell Wilson also is making NCAA single-season history as the most efficient passer.
With its evidently powerful offense and defense, and perhaps because they’re expected to be looking for revenge, Wisconsin has been chosen as a heavy favorite. But for the Spartans, it’s a role they have embraced all season long.
“People are going to say what they want to say,” Cunningham said. “That’s our job, to show it on the field — who the real team is. And on Saturday, we’re going to find out.”