Wow. . .
My Spartans are Big Ten champions, and earned a place in the 4-team national championship playoff, with a grueling victory in the conference championship game against Iowa Saturday night (and into Sunday morning). That was one of the best football games I've seen in quite some time - just two really good, really solid, really strong teams going toe-to-toe for the full 60 minutes. Another of those games that it's a shame one team has to lose. Iowa came into the game undefeated, and while some made light of their schedule, I am never one to take lightly any team that hasn't lost a game, nor am I inclined to glibly predict that our team will be someone else's first loss. I expected a tough, close, hard-fought game that would have my stomach in knots as the final minutes wound down, and in that expectation, I was not disappointed.
The Spartans won the game with a 22-play drive covering 82 yards, converting six first downs and using up over 9 minutes of time on the game clock, even with Iowa using their three time-outs along the way. I mean, seriously - I don't think I've ever heard of a 22-play drive before; you couldn't use very many more plays than that, and still keep the chains moving. I haven't seen a complete play-by-play transcript of The Drive, but off the top of my head, I can't think of any set of downs that was converted before third down, and we converted at least one fourth down. It seemed every time we made another first down, it was by inches, rather than yards. I'm almost as exhausted just from watching it, as the players were who executed it (of course, they're in much better physical condition than I am).
The final few plays of the drive were a high drama of sheer will. We converted a fourth down by the length of the football, on the 3-yard line (after getting absolutely stuffed on third down), and then it took us three plays to score the winning touchdown (our only touchdown of the game) starting from first-and-goal at the three-yard-line. On the winning score, it looked for all the world like our runner was stopped inches short of the goal line, but by some superhuman second effort, the runner surged again, stuck his hand out with the ball in it, and scored with 27 seconds left on the clock. Just incredible.
(And I should give a special mention to the runner, LJ Scott, who will certainly go down in Spartan lore; I don't think I've ever seen a runner get so many yards on second effort, after he'd been, to all appearances, stopped dead in his tracks. I'm a little in awe that he's a true freshman; I shudder to think of him, a year ago, playing against high school guys like my son.)
I tip my hat to the Hawkeyes; that was a really, REALLY good team, there, and it's not hard to see how they came into the game undefeated. Their defense gave us darn little, and even by the fourth quarter, when our offensive line started to get it rolling a bit, we were getting three yards and four, not eight or ten. And I don't think I've ever seen a defensive backfield knock so many passes out of the hands of receivers at the last instant. And my goodness, when did Kirk Ferentz (the Iowa coach) become such a wide-open, go-for-broke coach? There was a stretch early in the fourth quarter, where they passed deep on three plays out of five, including a picture-perfect (if you're an Iowa fan) 85-yard touchdown that put us in the position of needing a long drive to the winning score in the first place. So hats off to our more-than-worthy opponents.
So now, we go on to the 4-team National Championship playoff. Our first opponent is Alabama, which ought to be interesting enough, even if their coach hadn't been our coach once upon a time, and won four national championships at two schools since he left us. I think we've gotten past wishing he was still our coach; Mark D'Antonio has had more success at MSU than Nick Saban ever did. So God bless you, coach; we're doing just fine, thanks. We played the Tide in a Citrus Bowl back in 2010, and they fairly well handed us our asses. But I'm pretty sure we're a better team now than we were then. Besides, our friends from Ohio State beat them in last year's playoff, and we've won two of our last three against the Buckeyes. Which is to say, I expect it to be a competitive game, and I'm not conceding anything to our Southeastern friends; win or lose, they will know they've been in a football game.
And besides all that, our basketball team is #1, and looking as good as any team we've ever had. Good times to be a Spartan, let me tell you. . .