Michigan State Storms Back in Outback Bowl, Defeats Georgia 33-30 in Triple OT

Seth NewmanCorrespondent IJanuary 2, 2012

Coach Mark Dantonio can cross another goal off his list at Michigan State. The Michigan State Spartans beat the Georgia Bulldogs 33-30 in triple overtime to win the Outback Bowl. The bowl victory is MSU’s first since 2001 and its first under Dantonio in five attempts.

The game looked like it might get out of hand in the first half when Georgia scored a safety, returned a punt 92 yards and caught an 80-yard touchdown pass to give them a 16-0 lead heading into halftime.

Michigan State’s defense should be recognized for winning this game. It did an incredible job time after time bailing out the offense and creating turnovers. At one point Michigan State’s offense went three-and-out on eight consecutive drives. MSU cornerback Darqueze Dennard, who was picked on earlier in the game, came up with two huge interceptions for the Spartans including a pick six.

Senior quarterback Kirk Cousins struggled in his last game as a Spartan, throwing three interceptions, but when MSU needed him the most he came through. Down 27-20, no timeouts, at their own 15-yard line, Cousins rallied his Spartans 85 yards for a touchdown with 18 seconds left in regulation. Cousins finished the game going 27-of-50 for 300 yards with one touchdown and three interceptions.

One of Cousins’ favorite targets was senior tight end Brian Linthicum, who finished with seven receptions for 115 yards. Linthicum caught a screen pass and rumbled 65 yards to the 10-yard line, setting up an MSU touchdown in the fourth quarter. 

In the first overtime Cousins threw an interception. Georgia opted to kneel the football to line up kicker Blair Walsh from 42 yards. Walsh’s kick went wide right, giving the Spartans hope in the second overtime. Walsh connected on a 47-yard field goal in the second overtime, and MSU kicker Dan Conroy connected on his own field goal to make it 30-30 heading into the third overtime.

One unsung hero is Brad Sonntag for the Spartans. If you haven’t heard of him, that’s because he is doing his job, Sonntag is the field goal holder, and he came up with some big holds after bad snaps. Conroy connected on another field goal in the third overtime.

The Spartans needed their defense to save the game once more, and they answered the call. Sophomore defensive end William Gholston had a career day. Gholston continued to harass Georgia quarterback Aaron Murray in the backfield.

The Spartans defense racked up 20 plays of negative yardage against the Georgia offense, including a third-down sack in the third overtime. MSU junior Anthony Rashad White blocked Walsh’s fourth field-goal attempt to win the game for the Spartans.

The win sends out the most successful class in MSU history. The class finished with 37 victories, a Big Ten championship, four straight victories over Michigan, and individual record holders including Cousins becoming the leader in wins, passing yards, passing touchdowns, and completion percentage in MSU history for a quarterback.

Senior wide receiver B.J. Cunningham leaves MSU as its all-time leader in receptions, and senior wide receiver Keshawn Martin holds the rare feature of scoring a touchdown five different ways (rushing, receiving, passing, punt return and kickoff return) in his career.

After the win Cousins circled the field giving high fives and hand shakes to almost every person in the stands wearing green. It was a memorable win for the three-year captain who helped build a losing program into a respected program that has more victories than any other Big Ten school over the past two years.  Cousins’ last farewell victory likely vaults Michigan State’s final poll position into the top 10.