When it comes to making a clutch drive in the final minutes of a college football game, what Michigan State did Saturday night in the Big Ten championship game against Iowa was remarkable.
You’d be hard pressed to find a more dramatic, determined and meaningful drive ever in a conference championship game.
The Spartans covered 82 yards on 22 plays while burning more than nine minutes off the game clock. Freshman running back LJ Scott finished the game with 73 yards on 22 carries. He picked up 40 of those yards on 14 carries on that game-winning drive that Scott capped with a bullish, twisting run with 27 seconds left.
“It was amazing,” said Scott after the 16-13 victory at Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis.
Michigan State coach Mark Dantonio has a motto, “Reach Higher.” Scott amended that with his “Reach Further” effort to get the football across the goal line by clutching the ball in his right hand after it was clear he wasn’t going to get his body into the end zone
“Nothing’s been handed to us,” center Jack Allen said, so a 22-play drive “describes us pretty well.”
Quarterback Connor Cook was named the MVP of the game. Cook did pass for 191 yards and rush for 8, accounting for 199 of MSU’s 365 yards of total offense. But after the game, he didn’t just praise the Spartans’ offensive line, he handed off the MVP trophy.
“They grinded it out, opened up the hole for LJ. They put the team on their backs that last series,” said Cook. “Whoever was watching, I mean honestly, couldn’t be more obvious they deserved that award.”
Now Michigan State (12-1), which was denied a spot in the playoffs last year, will be the No. 3 seed this year and will face No. 2 seed Alabama (12-1) in a semifinal on New Year’s Eve in the Cotton Bowl at 7 p.m.
ACC champion and top-ranked Clemson (13-0) will play No. 4 seed Oklahoma (11-1) in the other semifinal in the Orange Bowl that day at 3.
Both games will be televised by ESPN.
No doubt the disappointment of not completing an unbeaten season and being included in the four-team playoff was crushing for head coach Kirk Ferentz and his Iowa players, but they did receive a nice consolation prize. The Hawkeyes (12-1) will play Stanford (11-2) in the Rose Bowl on Jan. 1. It will be televised by ESPN.
If you are keeping score at home, there will be 10 Big Ten teams in bowls, matching the most by any conference. It’s the second-consecutive year that many teams have earned bowl bids, but the first time two teams with losing records were part of the crowd.
Nebraska and Minnesota both made it with 5-7 records because there were enough teams with at least six wins to fill the 80 spots in 40 bowl games.
PINSTRIPE BOWL: Saturday, Dec. 26, Indiana (6-6) vs. Duke (7-5), Yankee Stadium, New York, 2:30 p.m., ABC
FOSTER FARMS: Saturday, Dec. 26, Nebraska (5-7) vs. UCLA (8-4), Santa Clara, Calif., 8:15 p.m., ESPN
QUICK LANE: Saturday, Dec. 26, Central Michigan (7-5) vs. Minnesota (5-7), Detroit, 4 p.m., ESPN2
HOLIDAY: Wednesday, Dec. 30, Wisconsin (9-3) vs. Southern Cal (8-5), San Diego, 9:30 p.m., ESPN
OUTBACK: Friday, Jan. 1, Northwestern (10-2) vs. Tennessee (8-4), Tampa, Florida, 11 a.m., ESPN2
CITRUS: Friday, Jan. 1, Michigan (9-3) vs. Florida (10-3), Orlando, Florida, Noon, ABC
FIESTA: Friday, Jan. 1, Notre Dame (10-2) vs. Ohio State (11-1), Glendale, Arizona, Noon, ESPN
TAXSLAYER: Friday, Jan. 1, Penn State (7-5) vs. Georgia (9-3), 11 a.m., ESPN