Daily Star photo/AMELIO RODRIGUEZ Michigan State quarterback Kirk Cousins, shown here against Michigan earlier this season, led the Spartans to a 33-30 victory over Georgia in the Outback Bowl on Monday in Tampa, Fla.

Archived Story

Hard-earned victory

Published 9:53pm Tuesday, January 3, 2012

By JASON LANDSTROM

Dowagiac Daily News

TAMPA BAY, Fla. — The first bowl victory of the Mark Dantonio era didn’t come easily for the Michigan State Spartans.
But when it did, Michigan State earned it.

The Spartans capped off the 2011-12 campaign with a thrilling triple overtime 33-30 comeback win in the Outback Bowl over the Georgia Bulldogs of the South Eastern Conference.

The game was sealed for the Spartans when junior nose tackle Anthony Rashad White blocked Georgia kicker Blair Welsh’s game tying field goal attempt in the third overtime.

“We got the call from coach, I think it was monster, and Jerel got a good surge off the ball. I followed right behind him, jumped as high as I could and blocked it,” White said.

As soon as the blocked kick hit the ground a celebration ignited on the field and in the stands at Raymond James Stadium and the reverberations could be felt all the way back in East Lansing.

For the Spartans and their fans, this bowl win has been long overdue. This was MSU’s first bowl game win since its 2001 Silicon Valley Classic 44-35 victory over Fresno State. The game also brought an end to the Spartans’ five bowl game losing streak.

“We’ve been waiting for this for five years and now that it’s here, it feels great. I know some may think it wasn’t pretty, and I’ll admit, at times unconventional, but it all brought us to this moment right now and trust me, this is something we will cherish forever,” Dantonio said.

The game most certainly did not come easily for Dantonio and crew.

On their first offensive play from their own 3-yard line, Spartan senior quarterback Kirk Cousins threw a bubble screen pass to senior wide receiver Keshawn Martin, who was immediately tackled by Georgia cornerback (and eventual game MVP) Brandon Boykin in the Spartans own end zone resulting in a safety and a 2-0 Bulldog lead.

The Bulldogs, en route to building a 16-0 lead, had a pair of record-setting scores. The first of which was an 80-yard strike from Georgia quarterback Aaron Murray to wide receiver Tavarres King completing the longest passing play in the history of the Outback bowl.

After a quick 3-three-and-out by MSU’s offense, Boykin fielded a Mike Sadler punt at his own 8-yard line and took it 92-yards to the house giving himself the longest return of any kind in Outback Bowl history and the history of Georgia’s football program.

Down 16-0 in the first half and marred by the fact that their offense had gone seven straight series without a first down, The Spartans got the spark it so desperately needed when sophomore cornerback Darqueze Denard intercepted a Murray pass and took it down to the Georgia 48-yard line.

Nine plays later, sophomore running back Le’veon Bell scored on an 8-yard run and a Cousins’ completion to senior tight end Brian Linthecum brought the Spartans to within a score of the Bulldogs at 16-8.

Michigan State would go on to sandwich two more touchdowns around a Georgia field goal.  First, Denard snagged his second interception and turned it into a pick six. After that, Cousins found senior wide receiver (and former quarterback) Keith Nichol for a touchdown that would put MSU up 20-19 with 8:22 left to play in the game.

Georgia got another score when Boykin caught a Murray pass and took it 13-yards into the end zone. With that score he became the first player ever in Outback Bowl history to score on offense, defense and special teams, putting Georgia up 27-20 with just under seven minutes to play.

After a few stalled drives and some huge defensive stops, the MSU offense got the ball back at its own 15-yard line with 1:55 seconds left. The Spartans drove the length of the field in 10 plays and capped off the drive when Bell plunged into the end zone with 14 seconds remaining and Dan Conroy added the extra point to send the game into overtime.

When Cousins threw an interception to Bulldogs’ free safety Bacarri Rambo and ended State’s scoring chance in the first overtime, the game came down to the leg of the SEC’s all-time leading scorer Blair Walsh, who sent the Spartan crowd into frenzy when he missed the 42-yard kick wide right.

The teams traded field goals in the second overtime and Conroy added one more in the third before Rashad-White ended the game with his field goal block.

In the end, Cousins finished his record setting career by passing for 300 yards with one touchdown and three interceptions. Georgia’s King set the record for the Outback Bowl with 205 yards receiving. The two teams combined for the lowest rushing totals in bowl history.

The win represents the first time since Penn State beat LSU 19-17 in the 2009 Capitol One Bowl that a Big Ten team beat an SEC team in a bowl game and adds to the list of accomplishments that the Spartan senior class has attained while restoring MSU to national relevance.

“We’re going to enjoy this right now, but we’re also going to use it to better ourselves in the future. Michigan State is on the map now and in my opinion, deserving of a top 10 ranking,” Dantonio said.

Michigan State 0 0 14 13 0 3 3 – 33

Georgia 2 14 0 11 0 3 0 – 30

UGA – Safety

UGA – Tavarres King 80 pass from Aaron Murray (Blair Walsh kick good)

UGA – Brandon Boykin 92 punt return (Walsh kick)

MSU – Le’veon Bell 8 run (conversion pass)

MSU – 38 interception return by Darqueze Denard (conversion failed)

UGA – Walsh 32 field goal

MSU – Keith Nichol 7 pass from Kirk Cousins (conversion failed)

UGA – Boykin 13 pass from Murray (conversion good)

MSU – Bell 1 run (Dan Conroy kick good)

UGA – Walsh 47 field goal

MSU – Conroy 35 field goal

MSU – Conroy 28 field goal

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