Michigan State football has shown tremendous improvement ever since current head coach Mark Dantonio took over the program. He has not only improved the quality of his players, he has produced a brilliant staff team that has made all the difference in chemistry for this program.
Spartan fans are attacking the ticket office in hopes of witnessing every moment in Spartan Stadium this upcoming season, and you can't blame them for what Dantonio and his previous football teams have brought to the sport. Michigan State AD Mark Hollis and staff expect year 2012 to be the most highly anticipated season in Spartan history for alumni and fans alike.
Now the question is "why get so pumped up for Dantonio and the 2012 football team?"
To answer that question, here are some of the most memorable plays that Dantonio and his former teams have earned their reputation from.
The Michigan Wolverines were going through some rough times in 2009; however, the Spartans weren't the cream of the crop that season either. With that said, this game was mostly a toss-up, and it certainly turned out to be that way once the teams entered overtime play. Michigan State seemed to have the momentum throughout most of the game, but the Wolverines quickly caught up in the fourth quarter to keep the game running.
Michigan was given the first attempt to score in overtime. And once third down came up, UM quarterback Tate Forcier threw a pass that was deflected and intercepted in the end zone by Spartan defensive back Chris L. Rucker. The Spartans went on to win the game by a touchdown when Spartan running back Larry Caper broke a tackle for the end zone.
This victory over the Wolverines was a historic moment for the Spartans, as they have never posted two wins in a row since 1966 and 1967.
The Spartans ended up losing in a scrapper against a stellar Iowa team who went on to win the Orange Bowl against Georgia Tech in 2010. Both teams struggled to put up points all game long until the final two minutes came around. The ending to this game was unfortunate for the Spartans, but they did produce a great final offensive drive in the end for fans to remember.
Quarterback Kirk Cousins threw a right side deep hook pass to tight end Brian Linthicum, who secured the pass and instantly performed a designed lateral pitch to wide receiver Blair White. White was able to earn the Spartans a first down as the play ended up being a 38-yard gain.
Many Spartans fans would have thought their team deserved the win that night, but they couldn't go home without a little pride after witnessing a successful hook and lateral.
The Spartans ended up making a huge statement early in 2010, for they performed one of the greatest overtime finishes in college football history against Notre Dame. Senior punter Aaron Bates for the Spartans played quarterback throughout most of his time in high school, and his skills proved useful once he threw a perfect pass to senior tight end Charlie Gantt for the game-winning touchdown.
The field-goal attempt would have been 46 yards to the left of the uprights, and Michigan State needed at least a field goal to continue the game into double overtime. Head coach Mark Dantonio decided to take a risk and call the "little giants" play, which ended up being one of the gutsiest calls in the 2010 football season.
There was some controversy regarding the timing of the snap compared to the ESPN play clock displayed on public television. The ESPN play clock clearly displayed zero seconds before the ball was snapped. However, the NCAA reviewed the situation and confirmed that there was substantial evidence of lag time between both the stadium play clock and ESPN's play clock. The NCAA declared the snap was within the lag time between both play clocks; therefore, no penalty was necessary.
I couldn't tell you what exactly happened with the play clock situation. All I know is that the Spartans pulled of a spectacular play that night, regardless of time.
Michigan State and Wisconsin entered this game as undefeated teams heading into Big Ten conference play. Wisconsin was the favored team to win in East Lansing, but the Spartans performed spectacular special teams plays that gave them enough momentum to win the game. The biggest highlight that decided the outcome of this game was wide receiver Keshawn Martin returning a 74-yard punt in the second quarter.
The Spartans managed to maintain the lead for the rest of the game after the punt return. This win for the Spartans was a huge boost for their chances to win the Big Ten title. Sadly, they only received a share of the title after losing to Iowa later in the season. The loss to Iowa also favored the Badgers over the Spartans to represent the Big Ten in the Rose Bowl.
Michigan State fans entered the stadium in hopes of seeing their team dominate on senior day. Surprisingly, it turned out to be just the opposite. The showdown against Purdue quickly became a gut-wrenching experience for the Spartans as the Boilermakers posted a 13-28 lead in the third quarter.
Once the doom and gloom started to settle in on MSU fans, the Spartan offense came alive by executing multiple touchdown passes in the fourth quarter along with a two-point conversion to trail the boilermakers by three. The defense also became a factor when linebacker Denicos Allen blocked a Purdue punt attempt inside the 5-yard line. The ball was recovered by the Spartans who immediately scored two plays after the blocked punt.
The Spartans never did dominate like they hoped to, but at least the seniors got to experience a great game for the last time in East Lansing.
Michigan State was considered one of the best defensive teams in the nation in 2011, and it could have been because of a team viewing of the classic football comedy "The Water Boy" just before facing the Ohio State Buckeyes.
Spartan linebacker Denicos Allen performed a true Bobby Boucher tackle as he leaped over Ohio State running back Jordan Hall and sacked quarterback Joe Bauserman in the backfield. The Spartans were mostly effective with their defense in this game, while the offense could only produce one touchdown and a field goal.
Michigan State continued to be a stellar offense after the battle against the Buckeyes, and coming into the 2012 season it seems that the Spartans are primed to continue this trend of defensive success. The team is relatively young compared to the 2011 season, but eight starters will be returning to the field, which should greatly help the situation.
For the second time in a row, the Spartans pulled off another big win over the Wisconsin Badgers, only this time it came down to a final heave to the end zone.
Most football fans would remember this instant classic game for the amazing "rocket play" pass at the very end of regulation, but there were many points in the game where both teams shined. Wisconsin played a great game in East Lansing, but the Spartans stole the show, as they produced some of the craziest plays the sport could offer.
Michigan State started out rather harshly in the game, as they gave up two touchdowns within the first seven minutes of the game. After the rough start, the Spartans finally got going, as they posted two interceptions, a blocked field goal, a blocked punt for a touchdown and a safety in the first half.
Once the second half began, the Badgers ended up rallying back to tie the game near the end of regulation. The Spartans would have one more shot at winning the game before entering overtime. This situation turned out to be a blessing for the Spartans, as they performed one of the most epic finishes of the 2011 football season.
Kirk Cousins threw a long pass to the end zone that was magically caught by wide receiver Keith Nichol. Officials ruled Nichol down at the 2-yard line; however, video evidence overturned the call, and Nichol penetrated the plane enough with the football to grant the Spartans a victory.
Not only was this win special for the Spartan alumni on homecoming day, but the actual game was televised by ESPN College GameDay, which is always an honor for a football program to come by.
Michigan State was chosen to face the Georgia Bulldogs in the 2012 Outback Bowl after losing to the Wisconsin Badgers in the Big Ten championship game. This bowl game featured two of the strongest defenses in the nation along with two smart quarterbacks on offense.
The Spartans started out strong on defense. But the Spartan offense couldn't follow suit, as the Bulldogs forced a safety on Michigan State's very first offensive play. The rest of the first half was a nightmare for the Spartans, as the Bulldogs posted 14 more points before halftime.
Once the second half began, the Spartans gained enough momentum to make up the deficit. They pulled off two crucial interceptions along with solid offense to get themselves back in the game. They tied the Bulldogs in the final minutes of regulation to force an overtime that repeated itself three times.
Both teams struggled to find the end zone in all three overtimes, yet the Bulldogs had an opportunity to defeat the Spartans with a field goal, which was unsuccessful. Michigan State posted a final field goal in third overtime to take a 33-30 lead just before the Bulldogs had their final drive of the game. Spartan defensive tackle Anthony Rashad White made the play of the game as he blocked Georgia's tying field goal attempt.
Mark Dantonio and staff finally received a bowl win after having five straight bowl appearances in his coaching tenure. This win for the Spartans can only give more confidence to the returning players heading into the actual 2012 season.