Wisconsin looked to close the gap and with 10:48 left in the third quarter as James White scored his second touchdown on the day from 34 yards out making the score 20-17.
The Spartans looked to get back into the groove but was held on the one yard line as Le'Veon Bell was stopped short of the goal line. Some questioned the call but the Spartans had another drive up their sleeves.
Just before the end of the quarter, Kirk Cousins hit Charlie Gantt on a 1-yard pass after going 51 yards on six plays making the score 27-17. The score place the Spartans in the drivers seat with a quarter of football left to play.
Wisconsin wasted little time getting back into the game driving 70 yards on 11 plays as Scott Tolzien found Jacob Peterson for a 12-yard score.
With the score 27-24 the Spartans looked to close the door on the Badgers and watched the Spartans have one of their more impressive drives of the season.
After driving 83 yards, the Spartans sat on the one yard line with a fourth and goal and 2:48 left in the game. Kick the field goal and force the Badgers to score a touchdown to win, or go for the final nail in the Badgers coffin with a touchdown?
The Spartans took a time out, regrouped and made the call. Go For It!... In their previous attempted from the one, the Spartans looked to use their power running game to score. This time they showed the run and allowed Cousins to find B.J. Cunningham in the end zone for the deciding touchdown and their first Big Ten victory of the season.
“I'm so proud of these kids. They played big-time football. I thing they earned respect across the country and the guys played committed to the entire game. A couple of drives we gave up, they did some good things, some different things. We adjusted to it the next series but I'm really proud of the guys that played their tails off, and played Spartan Football. They played Spartan defense the way it is supposed to be played. I thing we were good on third down, I do not really know what all the stats were, I really do not care. We got off the field on third down, and I thing we had three turnovers offensively. But guys did not really care and went out there and knocked the heck out of them the next series. I think the turnovers were in the first half and we were up by 10 points at the half with three turnovers at the half, and when that does not happen, that is character.”
The Spartans slowed down one of the countries top rushing teams by holding running backs John Clay and James White each to under 100 yards. They also pressured Badgers quarterback Scott Tolzien into having a poor performance as he went 11-25-0 for 127 yards and only one passing touchdown.
Offensively the Spartans used a balanced attack with Edwin Baker rushing for 93 yards on 18 carries and quarterback Kirk Cousins going 20-29-2 for 269 yards and 3 touchdowns. Cousins, who had two balls intercepted in the first half, kept his composure and played a vital role in the Spartans victory.
After the game members of the Spartans coaching staff made no secretes about the role Mark Dantonio played.
“Coach D was with me the entire game. I will not show you any texts, but he was texting and calling the entire game to the press box. I have never been on the phone so much during a game. He was with us the entire game.”
While both the Spartans offense and defense stepped up, the most memorable play of the game came in the second quarter when Keshawn Martin took a punt 74 yards for a touchdown. The play marked the first time since 2002 a Spartan had returned a punt for a score.
Wisconsin coach Bret Bielema gave the Spartans credit but also knew his team did not do what it needed to do for a victory.
“First off, I want to give credit to Michigan State. They played great football for all four quarters and were able to reap the rewards because of it. On behalf of me and our football family in Wisconsin, we want to give Coach Dantonio our thoughts. He is going through a difficult time, but he has a very good football team, so that should make him feel a little better. I just told our guys in the looker room, and this is no disrespect to Michigan State, that they got beat by a football team that played better than they did. That is an important point for us to move forward.”