Key was a revelation for the Spartans down the stretch playing like a seasoned veteran against Northwestern. How this for confidence? Key actually intentionally played off the Northwestern receiver to trick quarterback C.J. Bacher into throwing the ball into his zone.
"I knew I was going to get it," said Key of his game-changing interception that set up Brett Swenson's game winning 28-yard field goal. "The [receiver], when the quarterback looked at him, looked wide open and I knew he was going to try to lay it up there."
He did just as Key wanted him to and the junior, making his first start of the season, jumped the route. After thinking about it for a moment, Key admitted "This is the highest level for me so I guess that's probably my biggest play."
Key wasn't even supposed to be in the game. Earlier in the week, coach John L. Smith had talked about switching bandit SirDarean Adams to the strong safety position and using Nehemiah Warrick at the bandit.
But Warrick got knicked up during this week of practice and the move was scrapped. Adams stayed at the bandit and Key got his shot at strong safety and made the most of it. He finished with eight tackles on the day, just behind free safety Otis Wiley's team leading nine stops.
Also stepping us was defensive tackle David Stanton. Stanton who sunk down the depth chart early behind dismissed tackle Bobby Jones and junior college transfer Ogemdi "OG" Nwagbuo, got the call and his starting job back.
He responded with two tackles for loss in the second half as Northwestern tried unsuccessfully to run out the clock. Stanton held his gap and could not be moved by the Wildcats offensive front.
Then there was A.J. Jimmerson. Many expected Jimmerson to pick up where the injured Javon Ringer left off, but instead, MSU head coach John L. Smith moved receiver Jerramy Scott back to give them better pass protection than Jimmerson was provided.
That had to be somewhat of a ego bruise for the redshirt freshman. But in cruch time, there he was running five times for 22 yards (4.4 per carry, tops for MSU in the ball game) and catching four passes for 21 yards and above all, blocking for Stanton in critical must convert situations.
"Maybe the person I'm most proud of today is A.J. because I think A.J. stepped up and really grew up today," said Stanton of his backfield mate. "We needed him to come in the latter part of the game and he had some very crucial plays that he was involved in and, you know, really helped us out from that standpoint."
From the most unlikely source, playmakers stepped forward for MSU. They'll need them in Bloomington on Saturday.