If this game was a litmus test for Michigan State’s national stage worthiness, Sparty passed — by the skin of its teeth, some would say. And notwithstanding some quizzical late-game playcalling, others would add.
Last year in Eugene, Oregon took a six-point halftime deficit and turned it into a 19-point runaway win. A dozen months later, the Spartans took a seven-point halftime lead in East Lansing and turned it into a proclamation of sorts, with their 31-28 win vividly announcing that MSU will be in the College Football Playoff talk for the duration.
Sure, there are potential potholes along the way — like at Michigan, Nebraska and Ohio State in the coming weeks and months — but Sparty showed Saturday night that it can stand toe-to-toe with one of the best college football has to offer and not blink (much). In fact, it can throw some knockout haymakers of its own — especially on the defensive side of the ball.
Leading 14-7 at the half, MSU pushed the lead out to 10 points twice in the second half, the second coming with 10:51 remaining in the fourth quarter. The Ducks then pulled to within three at 31-28 with 3:25 remaining on a 15-yards touchdown pass from FCS transfer Vernon Adams to Byron Marshall. Then came the quizzical, and on both sides.
On the first play of the ensuing possession and starting at their own 22-yard line, a five-yard loss was followed by two inexplicable Connor Cook pass attempts and two incompletions that stopped the clock. The Spartans were only able to run a little over a minute off the clock, giving the ball back to the Ducks with just over two minutes remaining and just shy of midfield. After getting the ball down to the MSU 33 and into field-goal range, and facing a third-and-six, Adams did something you simply can’t do in that situation, even in the face of the blitz: he took a sack. Adams’ pass on fourth-and-16 fell incomplete, essentially icing the game for the Spartans.
Regardless of how it ended, it was a huge win for Mark Dantonio and his football program, one that should resonate with voters — and, more importantly, the playoff committee — when it comes to both squads. Sparty in particular, though, showed the kind of resilience and resolve and talent that will serve them well as they face some stiff road trips on down the road.
All is not lost for the Ducks, mind you. Should UO run the table and claim the Pac-12 title, they would certainly be deep in the discussion for a playoff spot — especially if MSU were to be able to run the table as well.