Published November 20, 2014
No matter where Mark Dantonio is watching, the Michigan State coach influences his Spartans.
With Dantonio missing for a second straight weekend, 24th-ranked Michigan State upended No. 11 Wisconsin 34-24 Saturday, and the Spartans did it with the same aggressive, gutsy play calling they used when Dantonio was on the sideline. Michigan State went for it on fourth down three times, including in the final minutes when Kirk Cousins helped ice the game with a 1-yard touchdown pass to B.J. Cunningham.
"It's not too dull around East Lansing these days, is it?" said offensive coordinator Don Treadwell, who has led the team in Dantonio's absence.
Dantonio, who had a mild heart attack Sept. 19, planned to return for this game, but the Spartans (5-0, 1-0 Big Ten) announced hours before kickoff that he had been hospitalized again Thursday because of a blood clot in his leg. School officials said his prognosis was excellent.
The school said Dantonio planned to watch on television, and Treadwell was coy when asked if the coaching staff had any contact with him during the game.
"I don't know how much that I had, but I think at times some of the assistants would have potentially had some contact with him," Treadwell said. "He was involved as much as he could be, absolutely."
Dantonio's heart attack came immediately after Michigan State's overtime win over Notre Dame in which the Spartans scored the winning touchdown on a fake field goal in overtime. Michigan State didn't do anything that tricky Saturday, but the Spartans were unafraid to go for it in short-yardage situations. Leading 27-24 in the fourth quarter, Michigan State went on a 15-play, 84-yard drive that used up 7:57 and ended with Cunningham's touchdown catch on fourth down.
"We've had that play in since camp, and I've wanted to call it three or four times," Cousins said. "It was coach Treadwell's call to go for it and coach Treadwell's call for the play."
Michigan State converted three third downs on the drive before needing all four to score near the goal line.
"Three third downs and a fourth down," Wisconsin coach Bret Bielema said. "We thought we had some calls we talked about in the huddle. Then they hit us on the critical fourth one in the end zone that ultimately decided the football game."
The Spartans' win sets up a tantalizing matchup next week: undefeated Michigan State at undefeated Michigan. The Spartans are 5-0 for the first time since starting 6-0 under Nick Saban in 1999. The last win in that streak came against the Wolverines.
Wisconsin (4-1, 0-1) forced three early turnovers but still trailed 20-10 at the half. Keshawn Martin gave Michigan State a 13-10 lead at about the midway point of the second quarter, catching a punt at his own 26, running straight up the middle and then veering to his right after crossing midfield. Nobody on Wisconsin was in a position to catch him.
On fourth-and-1 from the Wisconsin 48 with about a minute remaining in the first half, Le'Veon Bell took a pitch to the left and raced past the surprised Badgers for a 23-yard gain. The play helped set up an 8-yard touchdown pass from Cousins to Mark Dell with 23 seconds left in the half.
Cousins finished 20 of 29 for 269 yards and three touchdowns with two interceptions.
Wisconsin's John Clay was held to 80 yards on 17 carries, snapping his streak of 10 straight games rushing for at least 100 yards. James White picked up the slack, running for 98 yards and two touchdowns.
"They know what's our strength," Clay said. "They started loading the box. They tried to stop the run game. I was able to work around in the second half, getting the ball out around the perimeter to help us out more."
White's 34-yard scoring run early in the third quarter made it 20-17, and Wisconsin stopped Michigan State near the goal line on fourth down. But the Spartans' defense got the ball back quickly, and Cousins threw a 1-yard touchdown pass to Charlie Gantt with 2 seconds left in the third quarter.
Scott Tolzien threw a 12-yard touchdown pass to Jacob Pedersen for Wisconsin to make it 27-24 with 10:53 to play.