Spartans' Rose Bowl hopes shaky but intact
At the end of a wild weekend for Michigan State, the Spartans are right back where they started.
Trailing by 15 points in the fourth quarter, banged-up quarterback Kirk Cousins led Michigan State on a memorable rally in its home finale Saturday. His 3-yard touchdown run with 4:32 left gave his team a 35-31 victory over Purdue - but the good news ended there for the Spartans.
Ohio State rallied to beat Iowa later on, meaning Michigan State (10-1, 6-1 Big Ten) remains in a three-way tie atop the conference with the Buckeyes and Wisconsin. The Spartans would win a two-way tiebreaker with Wisconsin, but if Ohio State is also involved, the tie would be broken by the BCS rankings. In the new BCS standings Sunday, Wisconsin was No. 7, Ohio State was No. 8 and Michigan State was No. 10.
In The Associated Press poll, the Spartans stayed at No. 11. They play at Penn State next weekend.
''We've talked a lot about leaving a legacy here in our time and we want to leave something that people will remember,'' Cousins said. ''We have a chance to do that next weekend.''
The Big Ten tiebreakers nearly became an afterthought for Michigan State when its trailed 28-13 in the fourth quarter. The Spartans still trailed by two scores at 31-20 after Purdue's Carson Wiggs made a 52-yard field goal, but Cousins threw a 9-yard touchdown pass to Mark Dell with 6:54 remaining, and a 2-point conversion made it 31-28.
With momentum shifting, Denicos Allen came charging in from the right side and blocked a punt, giving Michigan State the ball inside the 5 and setting up Cousins' winning touchdown.
It was the fourth game-turning special teams play of the season for Michigan State. The Spartans beat Notre Dame with a fake field goal in overtime, returned a punt for a touchdown in a big win over Wisconsin and ran a fake punt while rallying to beat Northwestern.
''We put a premium on special teams,'' coach Mark Dantonio said. ''Every aspect of special teams will allow you to win or lose a football game. That is what we talk about and our players believe that.''
Cousins missed a series in the first half after apparently hurting his non-throwing shoulder. He said after the game he's been fighting shoulder and ankle injuries but was determined to tough it out.
''With a banged-up ankle, you could see the determination (Kirk) had, even when he went in for the TD,'' Dell said.
A win at Penn State would give the Spartans at least a share of the Big Ten title for the first time since 1990.
''We're playing for a championship next Saturday,'' Cousins said. ''And I'll be ready to go. We'll have six weeks off after that.''
Michigan State hasn't won at Penn State since 1965, dropping all eight meetings there since the Nittany Lions joined the Big Ten.
Michigan State was favored by around three touchdowns for its home finale against Purdue, which has now lost five straight and cannot become bowl eligible. But the Spartans heard some boos from the crowd after falling behind.
''It's not a perfect world out there - just like some guy can be sitting there booing, and the next minute he can be cheering,'' Dantonio said. ''But that's why you buy a ticket. If I could've booed, I would've too.''
Cousins heard the boos as well, and he responded by leading his team to its 10th win of the season, only the third time Michigan State has won that many.
''This is Division I football,'' Cousins said. ''It's a big business with big expectations.''
Now the Spartans face one more huge challenge. They'll play Penn State at the same time Michigan faces Ohio State, knowing if the rival Wolverines pull off the upset, Michigan State controls its own destiny in the Rose Bowl race.
''Defensively we gave up some plays, but somehow, some way, we got back into it,'' Dantonio said. ''All I can tell you is that we are a 10-win football team.''