A smash-mouth defense, a physical, downhill running game and… professional quarterbacks who come through in the clutch? For one Sunday, that third point is a hallmark of Michigan State football as three former Spartans quarterbacked their professional clubs to victory.
Let’s start with the day’s most unlikely hero, Drew Stanton. Michigan State’s signal caller from 2003-06, Stanton hadn’t recorded a statistic since 2010 until earning a pinch-hit start for the Arizona Cardinals Sunday at the New York Giants. Shaking off the rust quickly and smoothly, Stanton’s first drive in a full World Cup cycle traveled 80 yards in seven plays and put his Cardinals up 7-0. After falling behind 14-10 through three quarters, engineered another lengthy march (13 plays, 74 yards) to pull Arizona to within 14-13. For the day, Stanton completed 14-of-29 passes for 167 yards in a 29-14 win.
Moving down the Eastern seaboard, 2009-11 Michigan State quarterback Kirk Cousins played a familiar role, filling in admirably for an injured Robert Griffin III. After RGIII went down with a dislocated ankle, and Cousins hit the ground running by hitting his first 11 passes. The third-year player completed 22-of-33 passes for 250 yards and two touchdowns, the first of which gave Washington a lead it would not relinquish. For the day, Cousins and company cruised to a 41-10 triumph over Jacksonville.
Finally, the afternoon concluded with a winning effort by the quarterback sandwiched between Stanton and Cousins on the Spartans’ timeline, Brian Hoyer. The quarterback who refuses to cede his job to Johnny Manziel completed 24-of-40 throws for 204 yards and a touchdown. Hoyer was great when he had to be, finding Miles Austin for a three-yard touchdown to give his Cleveland Browns a 7-0 lead in the first quarter, and then closed the game by guiding the Browns from their own four yard-line to the visiting New Orleans Saints’ 14 in 3:31 (Hoyer hit 8-of-11 passes for 78 yards on the march), setting up a Billy Cundiff 29-yard field goal with three seconds remaining to give Cleveland a 26-24 win. It was Cleveland’s second win in a home-opener since the franchise’s 1999 rebirth.
When informed of his former pupils’ 3-0 afternoon, rumor has it Mark Dantonio allowed observers a faint glimpse of something resembling a human smile before returning to preparation for Saturday’s tilt with Eastern Michigan.