Spartans’ 3rd extra chance beats ’Dawgs
Posted: Tuesday, January 3, 2012 7:02 pm
By The Associated Press
TAMPA, Fla. (AP) — As he’s done so often over the past four seasons, Kirk Cousins kept his composure and found a way to help Michigan State win.
The senior shrugged off a slow start Monday and gave the 12th-ranked Spartans a nice parting gift — a 33-30 triple overtime win against No. 18 Georgia in the Outback Bowl.
The victory ended a five-game bowl losing streak dating to Michigan State’s win in the 2001 Silicon Valley Bowl. It also stated the Spartans’ case for a top-10 final ranking.
“We knew going into the game that it wasn’t going to be perfect,” said Cousins, who threw for 300 yards, one touchdown and three interceptions.
“Georgia has two first-team All-Americans. They have the third-best defense in the country. They have record breakers on offense. … They’re going to make plays. It was a matter of weathering that storm and being able to come back and not give up. We did that time and again, and that’s what I’m most proud of.”
Cousins led an 85-yard drive scoring to tie it in the closing seconds of regulation, and Dan Conroy’s 28-yard field goal in the third overtime won it. The Spartans, who trailed 16-0 at halftime, had been 0-4 in bowl games under coach Mark Dantonio.
“All week, all month, really, there was a sense of urgency in our preparation because the fact that for me as a senior, this was the last shot,” Cousins said. “Certainly all game long we felt that same way.”
Georgia’s Blair Walsh became the Southeastern Conference’s career scoring leader with a field goal in the second extra period. But he missed a 42-yarder in the first overtime after conservative play-calling and had a 47-yard attempt blocked on the final play of the game.
Nose tackle Anthony Rashad White got a hand on the potential tying kick, setting off a celebration among Spartans fans in the crowd of 49,429 at Raymond James Stadium.
The Spartans handed the Big Ten its lone win in three bowl matchups Monday against SEC opponents — Florida beat Ohio State and South Carolina stopped Nebraska.
“Big win against a great football team, against an SEC team, against a team that won their division and that was 10-2 in the regular season. … There’s not a football team that we cannot play with and not win against,” Dantonio said.
“We’ve beaten every football team in the Big Ten in the last four years. The standard has been set by our seniors. … Two 11-win seasons. There’s not too many football teams in the country that are saying that right now.”
Georgia (10-4) finished on a two-game losing streak, including a lopsided loss to top-ranked LSU in the SEC championship game. The Bulldogs beat Michigan State in the 2009 Capital One Bowl, one of four bowl losses the Spartans had under Dantonio during their stretch of postseason futility.
“It’s rough,” Georgia receiver Tavarres King said. “Every time you lose a game you think about it until you play another one, and we don’t play another one for over 200 days. So it’s going to be on our minds and in the back of our heads.”
Cousins guided Michigan State on its late drive without the aid of any timeouts, and Le’Veon Bell’s second touchdown of the game on a 1-yard run erased a 27-20 deficit. Cousins threw a 7-yard TD pass to Keith Nichol midway through the period and finished the day as Michigan State’s career passing and total offense leader.
The senior from Holland, Mich., was intercepted in the first overtime. After the Bulldogs had a short run on their first play in overtime, coach Mark Richt elected to simply center the ball for a field goal try on third down, and Walsh’s kick was wide.
“It just went a little bit to the right. I don’t know what pulled it that way,” said Walsh, who moved ahead of Billy Bennett on the SEC career scoring list with 412 points when his 47-yarder gave Georgia a 30-27 lead in the second overtime. “I’d trade all the points I could to just have three points (at the end) for us. I mean that.”
The Spartans’ comeback overshadowed a standout performance by Georgia’s Mr. Everything, Brandon Boykin. The cornerback scored a safety, returned a punt 92 yards for a touchdown and caught a 13-yard TD pass that helped the Bulldogs take a late lead that one of the nation’s stingiest defenses couldn’t protect down the stretch.
Aaron Murray was 20-of-32 for 288 yards, one touchdown and two interceptions for Georgia.GATOR BOWL
Florida 24, Ohio St. 17
JACKSONVILLE, Fla. (AP) — Special teams were Urban Meyer’s pet project at Florida, his pride and joy.
He coached the units for years, often using them to showcase his most talented players.
So he must have smiled when Andre Debose and Chris Rainey made game-changing plays on special teams in the Gator Bowl — even though they came against his future team.
Debose returned a kickoff 99 yards — the longest scoring play in bowl history — and Rainey blocked a punt that was returned for a touchdown. Those were the difference in Florida’s 24-17 victory over Ohio State in Jacksonville on Monday.
The speedsters helped the Gators (7-6) avoid their first losing season since 1979 and pick up some much-needed momentum after losing six of their previous eight games.
“We don’t want to be remembered as the team that lost, so it was a big game for us,” defensive tackle Jaye Howard said. “Not only for the seniors, but the program as a whole. It’s a building block for next year.”
Ohio State (6-7) dropped four straight to finish below .500 for the first time since 1988, and lost seven games for the first time since 1897.
The Buckeyes can take solace in knowing that Meyer, who officially takes over for interim coach Luke Fickell at Ohio State this week, will make it a priority to improve special teams. Meyer did that in his six seasons in Gainesville, and Rainey and Debose were two of his most prized recruits.
“When you have two good teams play each other, it’s usually special teams that will make the difference,” Ohio State defensive back Tyler Moeller said. “That’s what it was today.”
Ohio State fell to 0-10 in bowl games against teams from the Southeastern Conference. Yes, the Buckeyes beat Arkansas in the Sugar Bowl last year. But that victory was vacated as part of NCAA sanctions.
The latest loss had everything to do with Florida’s speed.
The Gators dominated the defensive line of scrimmage. They had a season-high six sacks, harassing Braxton Miller on nearly every passing play. Howard and Sharrif Floyd were disruptive all afternoon.
Florida had similar success the last time it played Ohio State. The Gators were dominant on defense in a 41-14 win in the 2007 Bowl Championship Series national title game in Glendale, Ariz. Meyer was coaching Florida that night.
Debose and Rainey proved to be the difference in the much-hyped rematch that centered around Meyer.
Just after Ohio State tied the game at 7 on Miller’s 5-yard pass to DeVier Posey in the second quarter, Debose took the kickoff, made one cut to the outside and went untouched for his third career kickoff return for a touchdown. The Buckeyes never got close enough to even swipe at him, let alone make the tackle.
“The two touchdowns on the special teams play were tough,” Buckeyes center Mike Brewster said. “It’s demoralizing. It’s like a free touchdown. But we had a lot of young guys in there. We had some injured guys who weren’t in there, and the people we had in there did the best they could.”
Florida was up 14-10 at halftime and essentially put the game out of reach on the opening possession of the third.
Rainey came off the left end and blocked Ben Buchanan’s punt. Seldom-used linebacker Graham Stewart scooped it up at the 14-yard line and scored the first touchdown of his career.
It was Rainey’s sixth blocked punt of his career, breaking the school and SEC record.
Rainey also ran for 71 yards on a warm and sunny day in Jacksonville. John Brantley completed 12 of 16 passes for 132 yards, with a touchdown and an interception.
Ohio State wasn’t nearly as effective.
Braxton Miller completed 18 of 23 passes for 162 yards and two touchdowns, and was sacked six times. He completed an 11-yard TD pass to Jordan Hall with 57 seconds remaining. The Buckeyes failed to recover an onside kick, and Florida ran out the clock for its sixth bowl victory in the last seven years, including four in a row.
Players doused coach Will Muschamp with ice water in the final seconds, but the coach later made it clear his team still has strides to make to get back to national prominence.
“We’re one game (better than) last year,” Muschamp said. “Sometimes you’ve got to put your realistic glasses on (to see) where you are as a program right at this point. It’s not where we’re going to be very long. I can assure you of that. Moving in the right direction.”
Ohio State has building blocks, too. Miller, a freshman, gives Meyer an experienced and improving quarterback for next season even though the Buckeyes won’t be bowl eligible.
“This whole season was a learning process,” Miller said. “I learned as the season went on. I could have played better. I’m anxious to get going for next year.”
CAPITAL ONE BOWL
So. Carolina 30, Nebraska 13
ORLANDO, Fla. (AP) — Connor Shaw threw two touchdown passes and ran for a score, and South Carolina had six sacks as the Gamecocks shut out Nebraska over the final three quarters.
The victory gave South Carolina 11 wins for the first time in school history and snapped a string of three straight bowl losses.
Published in The Messenger 1.3.12