While the Spartans continue their magical season, they know they are a long way off reaching their goal of a Big Ten Championship and BCS berth. Nevertheless, this victory, one with a fake punt and comeback, has the Spartans showing signs of a champion.
As we said back in Chicago during Big Ten Media days, Mark Dantonio knew he had put together a group of players capable of playing championship football. With a sly grin, Saturday proved to provide another example of what Dantonio knew about his team.
"I think that great teams in special seasons find ways to win and today we found a way. I don't really know how. I'll have to go back and watch the game to figure that out, but I just know that we ended up with more points on the scoreboard when the clock said zero."
Northwestern looked prepared to knock the Spartans off the list of unbeatens with an early 17-0 lead. But the Spartans opened up their offensive playbook as Kirk Cousins hit Mark Dell with a 7-yard pass to pull the Spartans into striking distance and giving Dantonio confidence his team could turn the tables and get back on the positive side of the scoreboard. As Dantonio walked off the field at the half, he even told a television sideline reporter the Spartans had the Wildcats right where they wanted them.
After the game Cousins stressed what his head coach believed.
"We said it at halftime that we are a second half team. I mean I don't want to be here down trailing at halftime, but the fact of the matter is we play well in the second half and we tend to come back if we're down. We did just that today. We draw strength from each other and strength from the preparation we've had. Not just this past week, but since last January to get ready for a game like this to battle all four quarters."
While the Spartans would have several plays prove to be difference makers, the fake punt by the Spartans to keep a drive alive and set up a score, proved to be a game of cat and mouse.
"It was a mouse trap." Dantonio said after the game. "We had to get them to take the cheese. We felt like they would drop their receiver after 15 yards, and we felt like we could sneak one in there, especially with (Aaron) Bates. It's timing, its execution; it was a great job executing. "
While the fake punt proved to be a momentum changer, the key play of the game came much earlier when the Spartans defense got a huge turnover as cornerback Johnny Adams recovered a Jacob Schmidt fumble at the goal line stopping the Wildcats from adding to their early first half point total.
"It was a great strip by Tyler Hoover," Said Adams about his fumble recovery. "I just tried to get around the ball as much as possible and try to make a play for my team."
Northwestern quarterback Dan Persa showed why he might be one of the best in the Big Ten going 18-of-29 for 187 yards. While he did not throw a touchdown and had an interception, Persa kept drives alive with his legs posting another 46 yards on the ground.
Kirk Cousins led the Spartans attack going 29-43-0, 331 yards and three touchdowns as Mark Dell (109-yards, 2 TD) and B.J. Cunningham (113-yards, 1 TD) were the main targets.
The Spartans rushing attack was held in check early and not until Edwin Baker ran off a 25-yard touchdown run with 1:07 left in the game, could you say played any factor in the outcome of the game.
Tyler Hoover played perhaps his best game as a Spartan with nine total tackles, 2 sacks and the force fumble on the goal line.
The Spartans saw several players leave the game with Keshawn Martin being the biggest player missing from the game after suffering an early injury at the start of the game.