"I definitely thought there was a momentum shift there" Cromartie said. "The offense seized it with three points, hopefully next time we can get a touchdown but that's not my call. Our coach just told us when we went out on that plays play to win the game, don't play to lose. We were playing to win; we just came out on the wrong end."
The momentum definitely did seem to be lost after the field goal because the Spartans next two drives undid everything the defense had worked for in the first three quarters. As a result, Michigan State quarterback Andrew Maxwell threw two touchdown passes on the Spartans' final two drives to stun the home crowd with a 16-13 overtime defeat Saturday.
Missed opportunities permeated the Wisconsin offense, as the Badgers (6-3, 3-2 Big Ten) failed to capitalize against the conference's best defense. To make matters worse, the only time the Badgers did find the end zone in the second half, the play was wiped out because of a holding penalty.
"The touchdown that got called back, that was a big momentum shifter to have that touchdown called back," junior safety Dezmen Southward said. "Even after that, we had the lead at that point. As a defense, you have to feel comfortable as long as you have the lead, you have to stay aggressive and understand if you can get off the field you can win the game. I think it was tough not to do that in the last three minutes."
The defense played well throughout the first three quarters and midway through the second quarter forced Michigan State to punt after the Spartans blocked a Wisconsin punt that set their offense with a first-and-10 at the Wisconsin 11 yard-line.
The Badgers jumped on the Spartans' squandered opportunity that drive that included two penalties and a David Gilbert sack that pushed MSU out of field goal range.
"If we've got the lead it's our game," said Southward. "It's our game to win or lose."
After that series, it seemed as if the Badgers defense would be able to hold onto the lead and win. It wasn't until the final six minutes of the game that the Badgers began to fully lose their grip on the game.
Michigan State's final two drives in the fourth quarter and overtime totaled 100 yards and brought them from down 10-3 to up the win.
The defense made mistakes that they weren't making, like drifting too far in a version of Cover 4 on second-and-18, leaving sophomore receiver Keith Mumphery open on a seam route up for a big gain.
"They just ran a seam route, maybe a vertical route or shake down the seam and, you know, he's open," linebacker Mike Taylor said.
Michigan State picked up where they left off in overtime after Le'Veon Bell's game-tying touchdown in the fourth quarter. The Spartans drove down the field and on the fifth play; senior Aaron Maxwell hit a well-covered Bennie Fowler for the final score.
"We just weren't able to come through," Southward said. "Even on that last play Darius (Hillary) had the slot covered up pretty good. That was just a great throw and catch. That was really great defense; it was just a great play by the wide receiver."
Added Cromartie: "[We were] not fatigued, we're not tired, we're none of that. We know that the game was on our shoulders and we know we had to go out there and play well."
The Badgers defensive effort was something that the team as a whole hasn't quite been able to do all year: play a full four quarter game.
"At the end of the day we didn't come out with the win so it's not even at the top," said Southward. "Any game that we've won we had a great game. As a defense you really pride yourself on protecting your offense and giving those guys the chances to get back out on the field."
To make matters worse, Wisconsin will have an extra week to stew about another regular season loss to Michigan State, as the Badgers bye week apparently has come at the worst possible time.
"[We are] very disappointed," said Cromartie. "When you have a group of guys that care that much about football and we invest so much and we lose, it's a big deal. When you win a lot, especially at home, you tend to take these things to heart."